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NFL Preview: AFC East

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The Sports Xchange

One week before the 2015 regular season begins, here is a snapshot of the AFC East teams through the eyes of Sports Xchange correspondents covering each team.

Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division

Teams here are listed in alphabetical order:

BUFFALO BILLS

2014 RECORD: 9-7

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2

COACH: Rex Ryan

1st season with Bills

7th season as NFL head coach

50-52 overall; 4-2 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Defensive line: The Bills have three Pro Bowl players in Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus, and a fourth in Jerry Hughes, who could have made a case for the Pro Bowl each of the last two years. This has the potential to be the best line in the NFL, though it will have to make do without Dareus in Week 1 because of his suspension. Still, in Corbin Bryant, the Bills have a reliable backup to plug in.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Quarterback: Rex Ryan named Tyrod Taylor the starter on Monday, and it was clear that he was the best player in the three-man quarterback competition. But that isn’t saying much when the competition was Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel. Taylor is an unknown quantity who has never started an NFL game and has thrown only 35 passes during four years as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore. Taylor is certainly exciting, but the question is, can he function once defenses start game-planning for him?

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Tyrod Taylor. Backups — Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, Matt Simms.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — RB LeSean McCoy, FB Jerome Felton. Backups — Boobie Dixon, Karlos Williams, Bryce Brown, FB John Conner, Bronson Hill, Cierre Wood.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Charles Clay. Backups — Matthew Mulligan, Chris Gragg, Nick O’Leary, Marqueis Gray.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods. Backups — Percy Harvin, Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley, Deonte Thompson, Andre Davis, Marcus Thigpen, Tobias Palmer, Dezmin Lewis.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Seantrel Henderson. Backups — G-C Kraig Urbik, T Cyrus Kouandjio, G Alex Kupper, G Cyril Richardson, C Dalton Freeman.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Mario Williams, DT Corbin Bryant, DT Kyle Williams, DRE Jerry Hughes. Backups — DT Corbin Bryant, DT Stefan Charles, DE IK Enemkpali, DE Alex Carrington, DE Red Bryant, DT Andre Fluellen, DE B.J. Larsen. Others: DT Marcell Dareus (starter, suspended for first game).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Manny Lawson, SLB Nigel Bradham, MLB Preston Brown. Backups — A.J. Tarpley, Tony Steward, Randell Johnson, Quentin Groves, Kevin Reddick.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Ronald Darby, RCB Stephon Gilmore, FS Aaron Williams, SS Corey Graham. Backups — CB Mario Butler, CB Ron Brooks, CB Nickell Robey, CB Merril Noel, SS Duke Williams, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Jonathan Meeks. Others: CB Leodis McKelvin (starter, NFI), CB Cam Thomas (backup, PUP).

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Dan Carpenter, P Colton Schmidt, KO Jordan Gay, LS Garrison Sanborn, KOR Percy Harvin, PR Marcus Thigpen.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .486; Division .500; Non-Division, .478.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, INDIANAPOLIS, 1:00

Sept. 20, NEW ENGLAND, 1:00

Sept. 27, at Miami, 4:25

Oct. 4, N.Y. GIANTS, 1:00

Oct. 11, at Tennessee, 1:00

Oct. 18, CINCINNATI, 1:00

Oct. 25, at Jacksonville (London), 9:30

Nov. 1, OPEN DATE,

Nov. 8, MIAMI, 1:00

Nov. 12, at N.Y. Jets (Thu.), 8:25

Nov. 23, at New England (Mon.), 8:30

Nov. 29, at Kansas City, 1:00

Dec. 6, HOUSTON, 1:00

Dec. 13, at Philadelphia, 1:00

Dec. 20, at Washington, 1:00

Dec. 27, DALLAS, 1:00

Jan. 3, N.Y. JETS, 1:00

MIAMI DOLPHINS

2014 RECORD: 8-8

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 3-3

COACH: Joe Philbin

4th season as Dolphins

4th season as NFL head coach

23-25 overall

–TEAM STRENGTH: Defensive line. These guys are absolutely ferocious when it comes to getting after quarterbacks or stopping the run. But getting after quarterbacks is what they do best. And it’s not only the starting front of tackles Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell, and ends Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon. It’s also the backups — tackles C.J. Mosley, Anthony Johnson and Jordan Phillips, and ends Terrence Fede and Derrick Shelby. They should be among the NFL’s best.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Offensive line. This has been a question for years, evidenced by quarterback Ryan Tannehill being the most sacked quarterback in the NFL over the last three seasons. The biggest concern right now is when left tackle Branden Albert will be healthy. If Albert, the Pro Bowl selection in 2013, is delayed past the first month it could mean big trouble because backup Jason Fox would face tough defensive lines such as Jacksonville, Buffalo, and the New York Jets. And, the guards — left guard Dallas Thomas and right guard Billy Turner — are still a big concern, although it’s eased somewhat. Still, pass protection can’t be relied upon until it shows it can be relied upon.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Ryan Tannehill. Backups — Matt Moore, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Josh Freeman.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Lamar Miller. Backups — Damien Williams, LaMichael James, Jay Ajayi, Mike Gillislee.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims. Backups — Jake Stoneburner, Tim Semisch.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews. Backups — Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, DeVante Parker, Christion Jones, Cobi Hamilton, Matt Hazel, Damarr Aultman.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Jason Fox, LG Dallas Thomas, C Mike Pouncey, RG Billy Turner, RT Ja’Wuan James. Backups — LT Branden Albert, LT Aundrey Walker, LG Jamil Douglas, C Sam Brenner, RG Jeff Linkenbach, RT Donald Hawkins, RG-C Jacques McClendon, G-T Michael Liedtke.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Cam Wake, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Earl Mitchell, DRE Olivier Vernon. Backups — DT Jordan Phillips, DT C.J. Mosley, DT A.J. Francis, DT Anthony Johnson, DE Terrence Fede, DE Derrick Shelby, DT Deandre Coleman, DE Emmanuel Dieke.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Jelani Jenkins, MLB Kelvin Sheppard, SLB Koa Misi. Backups — MLB Zach Vigil, SLB Chris McCain, MLB Jeff Luc, OLB Mike Hull, OLB Neville Hewiit, OLB Jordan Tripp, OLB Spencer Paysinger, OLB James Davidson.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Brent Grimes, RCB Jamar Taylor, FS Walt Aikens, SS Reshad Jones. Backups — CB Brice McCain, CB Will Davis, CB Zack Bronson, CB Bobby McCain, CB Tony Lippett, S Michael Thomas, S Ced Thompson, S Jordan Kovacs, S Don Jones.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Caleb Sturgis, LS John Denney, KOR LaMichael James, PR LaMichael James, K Andrew Franks, P Matt Darr.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .492; Division .521; Non-Division .475.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, at Washington, 1:00

Sept. 20, at Jacksonville, 4:05

Sept. 27, BUFFALO, 4:25

Oct. 4, N.Y. JETS (London), 9:30

Oct. 11, OPEN DATE,

Oct. 18, at Tennessee, 1:00

Oct. 25, HOUSTON, 1:00

Oct. 29, at New England (Thu.), 8:25

Nov. 8, at Buffalo, 1:00

Nov. 15, at Philadelphia, 1:00

Nov. 22, DALLAS, 1:00

Nov. 29, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00

Dec. 6, BALTIMORE, 1:00

Dec. 14, N.Y. GIANTS (Mon.), 8:30

Dec. 20, at San Diego, 4:25

Dec. 27, INDIANAPOLIS, 1:00

Jan. 3, NEW ENGLAND, 1:00

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

2014 RECORD: 15-4

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2

COACH: Bill Belichick

16th season with Patriots

196-73 overall; 21-8 postseason

21st season as NFL head coach

233-118 overall; 22-9 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: Passing offense. Deflategate aside, Tom Brady and his targets, when healthy, remain the focal point of any potential success in New England. Brady possesses weapons such as All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and slot machine Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell, assuming he comes off PUP, return the basic entirety of a passing game that should once be among the best in the game after a year in which it ranked No. 4 in points per game and No. 9 in passing yards.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Pass defense. The offseason departures of the team’s top three cornerbacks from 2014 — Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington — have left the new-look secondary a major question mark. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler has gone from undrafted rookie to presumed starter at left cornerback, despite having started only one game as a rookie last fall. The other cornerback spot is wide open to a competition between veteran newcomers Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain, as well as holdover Logan Ryan. Devin McCourty has a new $48-million contract to hold things down from his safety position, but there is little doubt opponents will attack the new pass defense. The only question is to whether the unit will be up to the challenge.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Toim Brady. Backups — Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Lindley.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Jonas Gray. Backups — Brandon Bolden, James White, Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet, Tony Creecy. Others: LeGarrette Blount (starter, suspended first game).

TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler. Backups — Michael Hoomanawanui, Michael Williams, Asante Cleveland.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell. Backups — Danny Amendola, Reggie Wayne, Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater, Chris Harper, Zach D’Orazio, DaVaris Daniels, Jalen Saunders.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Nate Solder, LG Shaq Mason, C Bryan Stork, RG Ryan Wendell, RT Sebastian Vollmer. Backups — T Marcus Cannon, G Tre’ Jackson, T Cameron Fleming, C/G Josh Kline, C David Andrews, G Ryan Groy, T Caylinn Hauptmann, T Chris Martin.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LDE Rob Ninkovich, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Dominique Easley, RDE Chandler Jones. Backups — DE Jabaal Sheard, DT Alan Branch, DT Sealver Siliga, DE Trey Flowers, DE Geneo Grissom, DE Xzavier Dickson, DE Zach Moore, DT A.J. Pataiali’i, DT Casey Walker. Others: Chris Jones (backup, PUP).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Jerod Mayo, SLB Dont’a Hightower. Backups — MLB James Morris, MLB Jonathan Freeny, OLB Darius Fleming, OLB Rufus Johnson, OLB Eric Martin. Others: Dane Fletcher (backup, PUP).

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Malcolm Butler, RCB Tarell Brown, FS Devin McCourty, SS Patrick Chung. Backups — SS Jordan Richards, CB Robert McClain, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Duron Harmon, CB Logan Ryan, S Tavon Wilson, S Nate Ebner, CB Daxton Swanson, S Brandon King.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .477; Division .438; Non-Division .500.

All times Eastern

Sept. 10, PITTSBURGH (Thu.), 8:30

Sept. 20, at Buffalo, 1:00

Sept. 27, JACKSONVILLE, 1:00

Oct. 4, OPEN DATE,

Oct. 11, at Dallas, 4:25

Oct. 18, at Indianapolis, 8:30

Oct. 25, N.Y. JETS, 1:00

Oct. 29, MIAMI (Thu.), 8:25

Nov. 8, WASHINGTON, 1:00

Nov. 15, at N.Y. Giants, 4:25

Nov. 23, BUFFALO (Mon.), 8:30

Nov. 29, at Denver, 8:30

Dec. 6, PHILADELPHIA, 4:25

Dec. 13, at Houston, 1:00

Dec. 20, TENNESSEE, 1:00

Dec. 27, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00

Jan. 3, at Miami, 1:00

NEW YORK JETS

2014 RECORD: 4-12

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 1-5

COACH: Todd Bowles

1st season with Jets

1st season as NFL head coach

–TEAM STRENGTH: Cornerback. From worst to first. Ex-general manager John Idzik compiled an unsightly cornerback corps in his second and final season at the helm, but owner Woody Johnson gave the go-ahead for Mike Maccagnan to bring back Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Revis is as good as ever at 30, while Cromartie, 31, quelled concerns about his quiet summer by picking off Giants quarterback Eli Manning Aug. 29 and cruising 59 yards for a touchdown. Former head coach Rex Ryan surely recognizes the irony in the Jets now being built to win 17-14 slugfests thanks to the presence of Revis and Cromartie negating an opposition’s passing game.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Quarterback. The Jets’ best-case scenario — Geno Smith navigating the first half of the season before giving way to Ryan Fitzpatrick for the playoff push — went out the window when Smith sustained a broken jaw in a locker-room fight with ex-teammate IK Enemkpali on Aug. 11. Fitzpatrick has always been good in spurts, but has never put together a consistent full season. He might have to in 2015 in order for the Jets to contend for a wild-card berth. The Jets have lost patience with Smith, so it won’t take much in September for Fitzpatrick to keep the starting job. Fitzpatrick does have the weaponry and stout defense he lacked in his first five NFL stops, so maybe he can have a Vinny Testaverde-esque rebirth.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Ryan Fitzpatrick. Backups — Josh Johnson, Matt Flynn, Bryce Petty, Geno Smith.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Chris Ivory. Backups — Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy, Tommy Bohanon, Daryl Richardson, Julian Howsare. Others: Stevan Ridley (backup, PUP).

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jeff Cumberland. Backups — Kellen Davis, Wes Sexton, Arthur Lynch.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa. Backups — Jeremy Kerley, Shaquille Evans. Chris Owusu, Walter Powell, Devin Smith.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — C Nick Mangold, RG Willie Colon, LG James Carpenter, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, RT Breno Giacomini. Backups — C Wesley Johnson, G Dakota Dozier, G Oday Aboushi, G Brian Winters, G Jarvis Harrison, T Ben Ijalana, T Brent Qvale, T Charles Brown.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Damon Harrison, DE Leonard Williams. Backups — DE Stephen Bowen, DE Ronald Talley, DE Leger Douzable, DE Jordan Williams, NT T.J. Barnes, NT Deon Simon. Others: DE Sheldon Richardson (starter, suspended 4 games).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — ILB David Harris, ILB Demario Davis, OLB Quinton Coples, OLB Calvin Pace. Backups — OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, OLB Jason Babin, LB Trevor Reilly, LB Julian Howsare, LB Joe Mays, LB Erin Henderson, LB Deion Barnes, LB Taiwan Jones, LB Jamari Lattimore.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — CB Darrelle Revis, CB Antonio Cromartie, FS Marcus Gilchrist, SS Calvin Pryor. Backups — CB Buster Skrine, CB Darrin Walls, CB Marcus Williams, CB Dexter McDougle, CB Keon Lyn, S Rontez Miles, S Durell Eskridge, S Jaiquawn Jarrett, CB Dee Milliner.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .488l Division; .604; Non-division .419.

All games Eastern time

Sept. 13, CLEVELAND, 1:00

Sept. 21, at Indianapolis (Mon.), 8:30

Sept. 27, PHILADELPHIA, 1:00

Oct. 4, at Miami (London), 9:30

Oct. 11, OPEN DATE,

Oct. 18, WASHINGTON, 1:00

Oct. 25, at New England, 1:00

Nov. 1, at Oakland, 4:05

Nov. 8, JACKSONVILLE, 1:00

Nov. 12, BUFFALO (Thu.), 8:25

Nov. 22, at Houston, 1:00

Nov. 29, MIAMI, 1:00

Dec. 6, at N.Y. Giants, 1:00

Dec. 13, TENNESSEE, 1:00

Dec. 19, at Dallas (Sat.), 8:25

Dec. 27, NEW ENGLAND, 1:00

Jan. 3, at Buffalo, 1:00

–Correspondents covering each team for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this report. Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division


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