Even if things seem like they’ve remained the same from year to year, rosters are always churning.
This offseason in the AFC East, though, there were plenty of moves that were made with the intention of shifting the balance of power.
The Dolphins will see the Jets first–Sept. 23, at home–and there will be a few familiar faces on the opposing sideline. The Jets, of course, named Tony Sparano as their offensive coordinator, signaling an emphatic return to Rex Ryan’s beloved “Ground and Pound” offense.
It is yet to be seen, though, how much influence Sparano will have because Ryan, who felt he might have been too deferential last season, has taken a hands-on approach this off-season.
“Maybe he felt like he had too many irons in the fire. He wasn’t spending his time as profitably as he wanted to,” Lange said. “He says that’s going to change. He’s going to spend more time in the defensive meeting rooms, but he’s also doing it on offense.
“…He’s still letting Sparano run the offense, but he said he’s been in more meetings this year, so far, then he was all of last year, which is quite a total and quite a statement. But that’s where Rex is coming from.”
Though the Jets tend to be the division’s most colorful–and loudest–franchise off the field, the Buffalo Bills made the biggest splash during free agency, signing All-Pro defensive lineman Mario Williams.
It was just one of many moves made the past few seasons to shore up a shaky defense, which gave up a combined 65 points against the Dolphins last season.
“They’ve done pretty much all you can do,” Graham said. “If you look at it from just a pure personnel standpoint, there’s not a whole lot they could have done more to overhaul their defense. They committed a ton of money to it; they drafted at that position the least three years heavily.”
It will be interesting to see whether the defensive acquisitions will turn out to be franchise altering as the Bills are currently mired in the league’s longest playoff drought, failing to reach the postseason every year since 1999. Despite the recent relative futility, Graham said there’s a noticeable amount of optimism in Buffalo. If it does turn out to be the year they break through then the defensive line, perhaps already one of the best on paper, will likely be ranked among the league’s elite.
“If we wanted to have the discussion and you wanted to throw up the New York Giants, obviously their trophy case is going to be in their favor, you could theorize that the Bills could be the most talented defensive line in the NFL,” Graham said.
For all of the division’s burning questions, one thing seems pretty clear: the New England Patriots, the division’s perennial champion the past decade, enter the year as a preseason favorite. In fact, fresh off last year’s season-ending disappointment, it will probably be a Super-Bowl-or-bust type season for the defending AFC Champions. The success they have had recently has almost in spite of its defense, a unit that Bill Belichick tried to fortify during April’s draft as six of the team’s seven picks were used on defensive players.
“If there is a question about this team, it is the defense,” Price said. “In a lot of ways they’ve stepped up. They made those moves in the draft. I think they’re very happy with where they’re at.”
The Patriots, in a sense, added without having to add defensive players in free agency. Several players, including Ras-I Dowling and Brandon Spikes, missed nearly the entire season. Because of this, Price thinks the Patriots defense may be able to steady itself this season.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Patriots defense was starting to play their best ball towards the end of the year when (Patrick) Chung and Spikes came back,” Price said. “So it’s not just the guys that they were able to bring in the draft (this year), but I want to see some of these young guys that they’ve been able to bring in over the last couple of years and see them play a full 16-game season.”
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