The New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East. The Pats have won nine out of the last ten division titles outright and finished in a tie the one year they did not win it all. Is the Brady/Belichick dynasty past its peak?
The gap between starting quarterback Tom Brady and the second best quarterback in the division is larger than any other division in football. That alone is reason enough to pick the Patriots to repeat as division champs again in the 2013 season. The defense and run game will be challenged to produce with the departure of Wes Welker and without the Hernandez-Gronkowski combination. Despite these changes and an overwhelming offseason, football-genius coach Bill Belichick will have his squad poised to make another run in the playoffs.
Where they got better: Safety. Adrian Wilson, once a perennial pro bowler, is a substantial upgrade to the departed Patrick Chung.
Where they got worse: Wide receiver. The loss of Hernandez shocked football fans everywhere and the extended recovery of Gronkowski from offseason surgery isn't helping the consistency of the passing game.
Breakout player: Shane Vereen, RB. His dual threat as a runner and receiver should provide some of the versatility the Patriots are lacking on offense.
Do the Dolphins have the talent to keep pace with the Patriots? I don't believe this team will compete on all cylinders deep enough into the season to challenge their rival for the division title. Miami will live and die by the play of their second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Defensively the team should be solid and rank in the top five overall throughout the year.
Where they got better: The offensive line. The Dolphins acquired help with two free agent signings and one draft pick. The key for a recipe of success on the offensive line is whether or not these additions can function together as one unit to protect Ryan Tannehill.
Where they got worse: Running back. Lamar Miller is expected to fill the void left by Reggie Bush. Bush totaled nearly 1,300 yards last season and 1,400 the season before last. Miller has 50 career carries and could end up splitting playing time with rookie running back Mike Gillislee should the running game struggle early in the season.
Breakout player: Armon Binns, WR. The coaching staff has high hopes for Binns as he excelled throughout offseason workouts. Initially he will have to earn a starting role on the team but should his on-the-field contributions mirror his workout efforts he could wind up starting opposite Mike Wallace before season's end.
After eight consecutive losing seasons only one question remains, is this the year of the Buffalo? There is enough talent on this team to be competitive but not enough experience to overtake New England and win the division title. A coaching change along with uncertainty at the quarterback position makes it nearly impossible to raise expectations beyond that.
Where they got better: Wide receiver. Both Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin should help whoever is named the starting quarterback to start the regular season.
Where they got worse: Guard. Colin Brown and ex-Steeler Doug Legursky can't match the impact Andy Levitre delivered over the past four seasons. Levitre's decision to head to Tennessee definitely weakened Buffalo's offensive line.
Breakout player: Da'Norris Searcy, S. The physical style of play Searcy brings to the game could make him a high impact player in the secondary.
New York Jets
The number one concern coming out of New York is how will the offense score? The quarterback situation is an unsettled controversy at best and without a star receiver to catch passes the offensive side of this team doesn't look very promising. The defense may keep this squad competitive in close contests but that won't be enough to keep the Jets from being the division's cellar-dweller.
Where they got better: Quarterback. Believe it or not, drafting Geno Smith makes this team much better than the days of Tim Tebow. Until the future franchise gunslinger is ready to take the helm expect Sanchez to be named the started for the season opener.
Where they got worse: The secondary. This unit is young and talented but will the lack of experience at safety be enough of a glaring hole for opposing offensives to take additional shots down the field?
Breakout player: Jeff Cumberland, TE. The one talent in the receiving corps will be expected to have an impact on passing downs.