- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here is the AFC East blog's ranking of defenses heading into 2012:
No. 1: New York Jets
Analysis: The perception was stronger than the reality for New York's defense last year. The common train of thought is the Jets' defense had a significant drop off from previous years. The reality was New York finished fifth in total defense in 2011. Some aspects weren't consistent, such as the Jets' pass rush and covering tight ends over the middle. But New York still has the best cornerback duo in football and talent at all three levels. The Jets also added first-round pick Quinton Coples and hard-hitting safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. Until the other division defenses rank in the top five, you have to give the Jets the edge in these rankings.
No. 2: Buffalo Bills
Analysis: The Bills were ranked No. 26th in total defense last year, but they are poised to make a big jump. Buffalo added a pass rush at defensive end with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and a starting cornerback in first-round pick Stephon Gilmore. Buffalo's defensive line with Williams, Anderson, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus should be one of the NFL's best. Nick Barnett is a talented linebacker. There's also talent in the secondary, particularly with safeties Jairus Byrd and George Wilson. Buffalo's defense has a lot of potential if it can come together quickly.
No. 3: Miami Dolphins
Analysis: This will surely upset Dolphins fans, many of whom feel their defense is elite. Well, as I've said before, Miami's defense is somewhat overrated. It's a good group and a tough group. But it's not elite. Miami was ranked No. 15 in total defense. Its pass defense was No. 25. The Dolphins are still looking for another pass-rusher opposite Cameron Wake, who had 8.5 sacks in 2011. They also lost their leading tackler in Bell and their leader in Jason Taylor, who retired. Miami will play more 4-3 concepts under first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
No. 4: New England Patriots
Analysis: The Patriots were the second-worst defense in the league last year. But this is an offensive team that got away with it and nearly won the Super Bowl. New England's defense doesn't cover well and needs to get to the quarterback more. The Patriots added plenty of pass-rushers in free agency and the draft. Perhaps that will help the back end. But New England's offense is so good that it probably won't matter much. If the defense improves from No. 31 to the top 20, that's enough for the Patriots to remain one of the elite NFL teams.
3dField Yates and Rich Cimini