AFC EAST: Survival of the Fittest

AFC East

On August 14th the landscape in the AFC East seemed a lot different in the mid afternoon than it does right now. Twitter was blowing up about the possible knee injury Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was thought to have sustained. Questions arose as to why wasn’t Brady wearing the knee brace he made famous since the 2008 season was lost. A loss courtesy of Bernard Pollard the strong safety at the time for the Kansas City Chiefs. Watching Brady hold his knee was a reminder of how fragile the NFL season truly is.

Looking at the terrain today, August 28th just two weeks later has given every General Manager and director of player personnel in the front offices of these division foes a better appreciation of how quickly things can spiral out of control like swings in a serious game of Texas hold ’em. As the league moves toward September, the New York Jets have made a circus out of their quarterback situation.

Coach Rex Ryan has come out publicly and criticized first round draft choice Geno Smith for his erratic play this preseason. Then to the dismay of all Jet fans, coach Ryan put quarterback Mark Sanchez in the game last week versus the New York Giants during the third quarter with the second-and-third-string players to get reps. In the process Sanchez suffered a bruised shoulder and his availability for the season opener is now in jeopardy.

Factor in the loss of arguably the best corner in the game, Darrell Revis, who was traded in the off-season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well as the injuries to incumbent Antonio Cromartie and defensive end Quinton Coples the former first-round pick out of North Carolina who was looking as if he was ready to have a break out season till he sustained a foot/ankle injury during the game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second week of the preseason. These Injuries for coach Ryan and the Jets are starting to pile up at a record pace.

The Buffalo Bills are preparing to start Jeff Tuel the undrafted free agent out of Washington State to open the season against the Patriots on September 8th. A few weeks ago their first round draft choice EJ Manuel out of Florida State had a minor procedure performed on a knee that has his opening week status up in the air. The Bills have also brought in former USC quarterback and first round bust Matt Lienart in  just in case the minor procedure keeps Manuel out longer than the first week.

Then after week three of the preseason it was learned Stephon Gilmore — the former first round corner of the Bills — had wrist surgery that will sideline him through half of the season. Also, the turmoil with star free safety Jarius Byrd seems to be at a boiling point still, even though he signed the tender and came back to the team. All indications are Byrd is ready for this season to end so he can leave town in a hurry. The Bills need to circle the wagons quickly before it’s to late.

The Miami Dolphins have been thought to be the sleeper team in this division. Unfortunately for the Dolphins their free agent pick up Dustin Keller, the former tight end of the Jets, had his season and maybe his career ended by Houston Texans strong safety D.J. Swearinger on a hit to the knee that tore every ligament as well as produced a dislocation. Also, the Dolphins are still trying to figure out the holes on the offensive line and the void left at corner back when free agent Steve Smith took off for Kansas City to play with the Chiefs.

More than ever Miami needs second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill to take the major step forward the front office believes he will make. Still in process of building chemistry with prized free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace the former Texas A&M Aggie needs to be the pillar the franchise desperately needs if they are going to contend for either the division title or a playoff spot. Tannehill has shown glimpses this pre-season of doing exactly that but everyone knows they need more than that to unseat New England by the end of December.

With major questions coming out of upstate New York, South Beach and the Meadowlands, the tumultuous Summer in Foxboro is starting to not look so bad. Due in large part to the emergence of undrafted free agent wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins out of Cincinnati, plus the acquisition of another wide receiver, this one from the St. Louis Rams, Danny Amendola. Who’s a perfect fit for the slot role vacated by Wes Welker. Should second-round pick Aaroon Dobson or fourth-round selection Josh Boyce emerge as a viable  fourth option in the passing game this Patriot offense will continue to amass league leading point totals and set the standard the division has gotten used to for twelve-plus seasons.

In the offseason the Patriots were thought to have been put in a compromising situation with the loss of near 90 percent of their passing production. The teams of the AFC East felt their time to pounce was now. So as we sit less than two weeks before the 2013 season kicks off most experts are now wondering if the Jets, Dolphins and Bills might be mathematically eliminated by the time America celebrates Thanksgiving in November. One thing is for certain, the uphill battle that was thought to be the Patriots season now seems as if it might be the equivalent to sledding down a mountain until the Divisional round of the playoffs this January.