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NFL 2012 Preseason Preview: The AFC East

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It will not matter to the New England Patriots or the New York Jets what Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow does if their offensive lines do not improve. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills have a new and frightening defensive line, while the Miami Dolphins can't figure out whom to start at quarterback -- again.

New England Patriots

Tom Brady took the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl with two TEs and not much else.

2011 wrap-up:

1. As long as the entire football world knows that you can beat the Pats by hassling Brady, the O-line will be under a microscope.
2. The Pats have made it to the Super Bowl four times without a WR deep threat (the Randy Moss year excepted).
3. Bill Belichick turned a group of uneven defensive talents into a unit that came very close to shutting down Eli Manning. The DBs were enough to make Bellicose Bill tear his hair.

2012 offseason:

1. Sophomore Tackle Nate Solder is taking a beating in preseason. Did I mention that Matt Light retired? So far, the steam coming out of Tom Brady's ears as he picks himself up off the turf isn't a good sign.
2. New England signed WR Brandon Lloyd, who is still a talent if he can get a grip on personality issues that make this his fifth team.
3. Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower appear to be NFL-caliber defenders. See Bill smile? No, really.
4. The Pats lost LB Dane Fletcher for the year already. Not smiling.

Storylines:

1. Can sophomore CB Ras-I Dowling make the secondary better? He was injured last year. DB Devin McCourty has struggled so badly that he ended up playing safety at times. Oh dear.
2. Wes Welker wants a long-term deal. He has been franchised. He isn't happy.
3. Guard Logan Mankins is trying to come back from January ACL surgery. Brian Waters hasn't reported to camp.
4. Despite drafting rocket-armed Ryan Mallett in 2011, the team paid Brian Hoyer $2 million to remain as Brady's backup. Hmmm.
5. Second-year rushers Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are duking it out for the starting position vacated by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

New York Jets

Immaturity took center stage in 2011, but the true problems were defensive injuries and under-performance at O-line and RB. The answer? Obviously -- bring in lightning rod Tim Tebow and install him as the backup quarterback/special teams/wildcat guy.

2011 wrap-up:

1. Jets quarterbacks were sacked 40 times and Mark Sanchez had to run 37 times. Two seasons ago, Gang Green had one of the top O-lines in the league. This unit must rebound or the QB controversy will be completely irrelevant.
2. Shonn Greene is not (and never will be) a "ground and pound" running back.
3. Rex Ryan is a legend as a defensive coach. Just ask him. And yet the team allowed almost 23 points per game last season, ranking 20th.
4. The Patriots won the division, scoring 513 points. The Jets scored 377 points. You see the problem.

2012 offseason:

1. S Eric Smith, the Jets 2011 leading tackler, is out for the year.
2. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano clearly intimidates just about everyone in the facility. That is a good thing.
3. The Jets should have four top-notch WRs in Santonio Holmes, rookie Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens. The reality must get closer to the theory.
4. Both young DE Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Quinton Coples are fanning the flames of pass-rushing hope.
5. Unless you live on the moon, you know that Gang Green has two excellent cornerbacks. They added former Redskin LaRon Landry at safety. If he is as healthy as he proclaims, the Jets' just dodged the bullet of losing Smith.

Storylines:

1. Can the Jets turn a deaf ear to fandemonium and use Tim Tebow only as the wildcat option? Or will they cave and ruin Sanchez' career and their own future by making Tebow the starter?
2. Will the defense play like the Ravens-clones they are supposed to be?
3. The Jets stuck with Greene and scatback Joe McKnight. McKnight is 5'11." We know Rex lost 100 lbs and all, but does he now think this qualifies McKnight to be a power runner? Or is Ryan planning to use Timmy in that role? Oh... my... goodness.

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills went on the biggest shopping spree in the NFL. For the last four seasons, they finished fourth in the division -- out of four teams.

2011 wrap-up:

1. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard and knew exactly when to negotiate his new $60 million contract. Right before the season went to hell. While no Dan Marino, Fitzpatrick can play if he doesn't have to do it alone.
2. The major reason that Buffalo took a walk off the cliff last year was injuries -- they must stay healthy.
3. Watching expensive rusher C.J. Spiller is like flooding your engine -- continuing to turn the key doesn't help.

2012 offseason:

1. The team lost their starting LT in free agency.
2. The Bills held DE Mario Williams virtual hostage until he signed a $100 million contract to bring the pass rush back to Buffalo. With former Giant Mark Anderson and sophomore Marcell Dareus, this defensive line took the Giants model to heart.
3. Rookie CB Stephon Gilmore is already a starter and joins a solid secondary.

Storylines:

1. While former No. 2 QB Tyler Thigpen wasn't a threat to anybody (including opposing defenses), Vince Young will be breathing down Fitzpatrick's well-educated neck this year. Just sayin.
2. Gilmore is a star in the making, but he's still a rookie. He will be tested early.
3. The team has, literally, 11 WRs on the preseason depth chart. Think they're serious about becoming a passing offense?

Miami Dolphins

The 2012 Miami Dolphins head into the NFL season with yet another new coach and (probably) another new quarterback. Former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is now calling the shots in Florida. He is charged with the not insignificant task of bringing the Green Bay Way to South Beach. Like, by Tuesday.

2011 season wrap-up:

1. The defense was downright dismal for the first half of the year.
2. The offensive line gave up 52 sacks. Fifty. Two.
3. Chad Henne is now the backup in Jacksonville. I'd say more, but that would just be mean.
4. QB Matt Moore played reasonably well after taking over.
5. All receivers (including TE Anthony Fasano and RB Reggie Bush) caught 280 balls on 469 targets. That doesn't strike fear into, well, anyone.
6. 2011 draft picks WR Clyde Gates and FB Charles Clay (don't you just love a pass-catching fullback?) seem to be able to hang onto a football.

2012 offseason:

1. Talented but troubled WR Brandon Marshall left for Chicago. Chad Johnson was cut after his arrest.
2. QB David Garrard is on a mission to prove that his tacky dismissal from the Jaguars was unwarranted. He was No. 1 on the depth chart until arthroscopic knee surgery. Now it's Matt Moore versus first-round rookie Ryan Tannehill, who followed a great second-string appearance in Week 1 with a very uneven performance against Carolina's (mostly) first-string D.
3. Rookie O-lineman Jonathan Martin is penciled in at starter. His first game had predictable rookie results.
4. The secondary looked dreadful early.

Storylines:

1. Tannehill knows this offense. He played under the new OC, Mike Sherman, in college. We'll see what happens when David Garrard gets back. Garrard's nickname for Tannehill is "The People's Choice." Uh-oh.
2. Talented but spoiled cornerback Vontae Davis does not appear to be "feeling" the Joe Philbin/Green Bay culture. That could be trouble for a young man who never met a discipline he didn't try to avoid.
3. Reggie Bush still wants to be the featured back. Will this fly in a Green Bay system? The Pack runs some plays with a totally empty backfield. Plus last year's rookie Daniel Thomas and this year's rookie Lamar Miller will also want to tote the rock. Hmmmm.
4. Must-see Football TV: HBO's Hard Knocks is being brought to you from Dolphins camp in Florida. Oh, goody!

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