In 2016, the AFC East saw two teams make it into the playoffs, an unlikely occurrence for the past decade. The New England Patriots have won the AFC East division for the past eight years. One of the main reasons for this is because of the dominance of quarterback Tom Brady. After 2016, he now has five rings. This championship surpasses the four won by Hall of Fame players, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. He has also achieved the most Super Bowl MVP’s in NFL history, making a very strong case for best NFL player of all time. Unfortunately for the rest of the AFC East, no one has a clue when Brady plans to retire, which only spells trouble for the rest of the division.
Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots Stand Alone in AFC East Race
For numerous years, Bills, Dolphins, and Jets fans have been left disappointed when playing the Patriots, because the end result has been typically a series sweep. It would be an enormous accomplishment to split a series with this team, who is not only led by Tom Brady, but also master-mind coach Bill Belichick. Belichick has stuck to the fundamentals, as his offensive system focuses entirely on short passes and getting rid of the ball quickly. He utilizes a spread offense with five potential receivers and an empty backfield, which has given them favorable matchups. During games, he is very strategic, sometimes calling a no-huddle offense to tire out defensive personnel and prevent substitutions.
This should complement first-year head coach for the Dolphins, Adam Gase, who brought the Dolphins to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. His hybrid offensive system has brought life to a wide receivers corps that has been running primitive and predictable routes. A huge component of his offense relies on the screen game that begins off as a play-action and is followed by a unique blocking pattern that creates the open space for receivers like Jarvis Landry or Kenny Stills. Both of these players thrive in open space.
New England Patriots Outlook
With Brady, this Patriots team will always clinch the playoffs no matter what personnel is on the field. Outside of Wes Welker and Randy Moss, Brady has not had any elite receivers at his disposal. However, under the Patriots offense, any player can thrive, as long as they consistently keep up with wide receiver drills and study game film. This offseason, the Patriots have acquired elite talent at the wide receiver position by trading for Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks is coming off back-to-back 1,100 yard seasons with the Saints and has been emerging as one of the most dynamic receivers in the league. In his two years, he has a total of 17 touchdowns.
They also prioritized the re-signings of LB Dont’a Hightower and Malcolm Butler, two critical puzzle pieces to the Patriots defense. They have not lost anyone significant, so they have a chance to go 15-1 and clinch a top seed. A healthy Rob Gronkowski can also create matchup nightmares for teams, as the Patriots have extra threats at wide-receiver. Worse case scenario, the Patriots are going 12-4, with them going 5-1 in the division. Their one division loss would come to the Dolphins.
Miami Dolphins Outlook
After a promising 10-6 season under first-year head coach Adam Gase, the Dolphins have the ability to improve on that. With the acquisitions of LB Lawrence Timmons and tight-end Julius Thomas, it immediately fills up voids. With those two positions seeing the least production in 2016, there is the potential for a huge turn-around for the Dolphins. With the injury to linebacker Koa Misi for most of the season, the Dolphins were thin at linebacker. Coaches would have to conduct offensive line drills with practice squad players who have little experience in the NFL. This put the Dolphins at the bottom ten in the league in team defense, with a glaring weakness at run defense especially. This was exposed in the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where running back Le’Veon Bell rushed for over 150 yards.
With Tannehill improving steadily under Adam Gase, fans are hopeful he can build that connection with Julius Thomas. Thomas had two breakout seasons for the Broncos, scoring 24 touchdowns combining and getting into two Pro Bowls. The prediction for the Dolphins in the AFC East will be 9-7, due to their strong schedule. Within their division, they will go 4-2, with a loss to the Bills and Patriots. The tough trek of their season comes in three straight weeks between the end of November and beginning of December. They have to play the Patriots twice and the Broncos once. This is followed by two road games against divisional rival the Bills and the Chiefs.
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