The NFL preseason starts Sunday with the Hall of Fame Game between the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints, and then it truly gets underway with six more games the following Thursday.
So, starting this week, we’re going division by division providing a preseason primer for all 32 NFL teams.
AFC EAST LEVEL OF UNCERTAINTY (1-10)
Bills (5): After acquiring pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in the offseason, Buffalo is justifiably receiving a lot of hype. But can the Bills really compete in a division with the Patriots and Jets? Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to take the proverbial “next step” if so, and that starts with him cutting down on his league-high 23 interceptions a year ago.
Dolphins (10): Miami has a new coach and new quarterback after swinging and missing on both Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in the offseason. Now David Garrard is the presumptive starter, with incumbent Matt Moore and first-round pick Ryan Tannehill backing him up. No matter who’s in during the preseason, they’ll be under the microscope. Most of the Dolphins’ defense returns intact, but there are a ton of questions to answer for an offense that ranked 22nd in the league.
Jets (7): Sure, the Giants won their second Super Bowl title in five seasons, but all the Jets had to do was trade for Tim Tebow to generate all the buzz in the Big Apple. New York still has a Top 5 defense that should wear down a relatively weak schedule, but that won’t matter much if Mark Sanchez repeats on his 78.2 QB rating. Then again, if Sanchez tosses five interceptions in his first four games (like he did last season), he probably won’t have to worry about playing the rest of the year.
Patriots (1): New England is as stable as it gets in the NFL. Zero questions at coach or quarterback will do that for a franchise. Nine straight 10-win seasons also help. Sure, the Patriots must address a defense that ranked next-to-last in the league in 2011, but as usual, they perfectly executed the draft to land two probable starters in the first round.
Here’s how each AFC East team has fared for gamblers in the preseason since realignment in 2002 (10 years).
Bills: 19-21-1 ATS | 19-22 O/U
Dolphins: 19-19-3 ATS | 15-25-1 O/U
Jets: 24-16-1 ATS | 23-17-1 O/U
Patriots: 19-17-4 ATS | 19-21 O/U
Added: DE Mario Williams, DE Mark Anderson, CB Stephen Gilmore, OT Cordy Glenn
Lost: OT Demetress Bell, CB Drayton Florence
Added: QB Ryan Tannehill, QB David Garrard, WR Chad Johnson, OT Jonathan Martin
Lost: WR Brandon Marshall, QB Chad Henne, DE Kendall Langford, SS Yeremiah Bell
Added: QB Tim Tebow, WR Stephen Hill, DE Jay Richardson, FS LaRon Landry, SS Yeremiah Bell
Lost: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, OLB Jamaal Westerman, SS Brodney Pool
Added: WR Brandon Lloyd, OG Robert Gallery, DE Chandler Jones, DE Jonathan Fanene, OLB Dont’a Hightower
Lost: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, WR Chad Johnson, DE Mark Anderson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bills | RB Fred Jackson & RB C.J. Spiller
Jackson is the former undrafted free agent who consistently overachieves. Spiller is the uber-talented former Top 10 pick who showed flashes of brilliance after Jackson went down with a leg injury. Together, they form one of the best running back duos in the league, but can they co-exist? More importantly, can coach Chan Gailey find a way to utilize each effectively now that they’re both healthy?
Dolphins | CB Sean Smith & CB Vontae Davis
New coach Joe Philbin hired defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who spent the previous 11 years coaching the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive backs. Miami’s defense ranked 15th overall last season but just 25th against the pass, surrendering almost 4,000 yards. Smith and Davis have started for a couple years now and will now have the help of Coyle’s tutelage, so they need to show some improvement.
Jets | QB Tim Tebow & QB Mark Sanchez
You didn’t think we’d actually choose someone else, did you? Shame on you.
Patriots | DE Chandler Jones & OLB Dont’a Hightower
Put simply, these two first-round rookies have to step in and make an impact immediately for New England to improve its leaky defense from last season. The Patriots registered 40 sacks in 2011. Not a bad total (14th in the league), but half of those are gone with defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter departing via free agency. Jones is much more of a pass rusher than Hightower, so he’ll have to help fill that void.