Why The Patriots Should Still Reign The AFC East in 2013 — BBD Editor: Dan Hope
As Glenn mentioned, the Patriots have been the AFC East’s team to beat ever since Belichick and Brady combined forces to lead the team to the Super Bowl in 2001. While their offseason may not be going as planned, there is still no team in the AFC East, including the Bills, who is close to challenging them at least as far as 2013 is concerned.
The Patriots may have some cracks in the structure, but their foundation of Belichick and Brady remains solid.
The inexperience of their receiving corps, at least in terms of their unfamiliarity with Brady, is concerning. If Gronkowski is not ready for the start of the 2013 season, the Patriots will not have any of their top five receivers from last season on the field (barring an unexpected late return from Brandon Lloyd).
That said, a lack of experienced receivers isn’t going to stop the Patriots from winning the AFC East again. Brady is known for making his receivers look better, and he won three Super Bowls without the likes of Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker or Randy Moss. The Patriots need receivers to step up, but they have a number of promising options including Amendola, rookie draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman and tight end Jake Ballard.
Even with a subpar receiving corps, it’s a pretty safe bet to think that the Patriots will still have the AFC East’s best passing offense this year, and almost certainly better than the Bills with their uncertainty at quarterback. And aside from a passing offense that will still likely be one of the NFL’s best thanks to Brady (and an eventual return from Gronkowski), the Patriots have the division’s best all-around team.
The Patriots can still run the ball with two talented third-year running backs in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen behind a strong offensive line. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots brought back all of their key players from last season, while making some solid additions including safety Adrian Wilson, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, rookie linebacker Jamie Collins and rookie cornerback Logan Ryan.
Some have questioned whether the Patriots are losing their “way” in recent weeks, but that speculation is little more than overreaction to the Hernandez story. The Patriots released Hernandez within hours of him being arrested. Their strong foundation will help ensure that the team does not crumble around an off-the-field situation involving a player who is no longer with the team.
The Bills’ foundation, meanwhile, is one that is still being built under Marrone. Their future looks promising, but they still stand at least one year away from mounting a serious challenge for the division title. EJ Manuel has the ability to develop into a great franchise quarterback, but he is not an immediate savior of the franchise.
The Bills defense has the talent to be very good, but they were the NFL’s second-worst rushing defense in yards allowed per game last season. Full of players adjusting to a new defensive scheme, the improvement is more likely to be gradual than immediate through their transition. Additionally, it remains uncertain whether the most talented player on the Bills defense, franchise-tagged free safety Jairus Byrd, will be back for the start of the 2013 season as he remains unsigned.
The Bills are currently in a period of transition that could certainly result in immediate improvement, but don’t expect the division title to fall into their laps. It is reasonable to think the Patriots could take a step back, but it is highly unlikely that they will fall apart. The Patriots should still be considered heavy favorites to win the AFC East once again, and any other outcome at the top of the division for 2013 would come as a surprise.
Why Bills’ Success Won’t Be Determined By The Patriots — BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
If the Bills are going to succeed again, they need to create an identity. New regimes are all about building a new identity, so the Dougs (general manager Doug Whaley and coach Marrone) will surely do what they can to instill their values in this team. However, the main identity the Bills need to secure is one that is separate from the New England Patriots.
Since Bill Belichick took over and turned New England into a perennial powerhouse, all Bills fans have been doing is judging the team’s success based on how they match up with New England. At no time has this become more evident than as the Patriots struggle with off-field issues and depth concerns this offseason. Bills fans are now beginning to ask: “Are the Patriots weak enough for us to win the division?” In reality, the question should simply be: “Are the Bills talented enough to make a run this year?”
Buffalo’s success has nothing to do with the Patriots. Since the wild card was created in 1970, 10 wild card teams have gone on to make the Super Bowl, including the Bills in 1992. Of those 10 teams, six have won the big game, with the Packers the most recent example in 2010. Which is all to say that it doesn’t matter if the Patriots win the AFC East; the Bills could still have a successful season. Fans should instead be asking if the Bills have enough talent.
This year, I think the answer is finally yes. The defense was incredibly talented last year, but was brought down by poor schemes and coaching from Dave Wannstedt. This year, they added a solid rotational lineman in Alan Branch and some high-upside linebackers in Kiko Alonso and Jerry Hughes. Add that to the success that Mike Pettine has had in creating schemes that keep opposing offenses off balance, and the Bills defense could be a real force this year.
The offensive side of the ball has more question marks, but also has one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league in C.J. Spiller. Doug Marrone has promised a more wide open, up-tempo attack, which will be benefited by the addition of promising wide receivers Robert Woods and Da’Rick Rogers. If the offensive line can fill the void left by Andy Levitre, and get slightly above-average quarterback play from whomever wins the competition, then the team should be able to consistently score more points than the defense is likely to allow. As we all know, that translates into wins.
With the Jets still battling quarterback issues and the Dolphins needing to replace Reggie Bush and mesh plenty of overpaid new talent, the Bills are are in good position for, at worst, a second-place finish in the AFC East. With many other AFC teams needing to answer major questions (Can the Steelers replace Mike Wallace? Were the Colts a fluke? Is Philip Rivers actually finished? Is the Ravens younger defense any better? Can Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s health continue to hold up?), the Bills look likely to be a legitimate contender for an AFC wild card spot. But the only thing that’s going to get them there is their play between the white lines, which, believe it or not, is only affected by the Patriots twice during the season.