- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here is a recap of the best and worst grades throughout the division:
Worst offense: Miami Dolphins, D
Miami is the only team unsure of its quarterback heading into the season. The Dolphins will stage a three-way quarterback competition and there’s a chance neither player -- Matt Moore, David Garrard or Ryan Tannehill -- is the answer. The Dolphins have no dynamic threats at receiver. Miami is hoping 34-year-old Chad Ochocinco can find the fountain of youth and be a No. 1 receiver. Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee are supporting receivers, at best. This is not good for a team trying to implement a West Coast offense.
Best offense: New England Patriots, A-
No surprise here. The Patriots are an elite offense led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. The passing game is dynamic with weapons like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. The only question is New England’s young running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, who have to prove they can produce when their number is called.
Worst defense: Patriots, C-
New England was awful on defense last year. But the offense was so good that it made up for most of the defense’s inability to stop opponents. New England spent much of its offseason plugging holes defensively. Many of the acquisitions make sense, which is why this grade was moved up from a F or D to a C-.
Best defense: New York Jets, B+
The Jets were not happy with their defensive performance last season, but this was still a top-five group. The standards are very high for New York’s defense. Jets players talked during minicamp of trying to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They have the talent, led by Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. If additions like rookie defensive end Quinton Coples and free-agent safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell pan out, New York’s defense will be tough to handle.
Worst coaching: (tie) Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, C-
Both of these grades are somewhat mysteries. The Dolphins have a rookie head coach in Joe Philbin. He seems to have a good mentality. But the real test comes in the regular season, when we will know more about Philbin’s game-planning and management. Bills head coach Chan Gailey is 10-22 in two years in Buffalo. But is this more of a reflection of Gailey’s coaching or Buffalo’s thin roster? The Bills have the most talented team on paper they’ve had in years. We will find out if Gailey can coach in 2012.
Best coaching: Patriots, A
No debating this one. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has built a dynasty in New England. He has three Super Bowl victories and five Super Bowl appearances. He’s dominated the AFC East over the past dozen years. Every AFC East coach has a lot of catching up to do with Belichick.
Worst intangibles: Jets, D
The Jets have a big mess to clean up. Chemistry issues, in-fighting and a potential quarterback controversy all loom over New York this season. Jets coach Rex Ryan says he will clean up all the issues and the team will just concentrate on football. That remains to be seen. I’m particularly curious to see how New York stays together if quarterback Mark Sanchez struggles and/or the team goes through a two- or three-game losing streak.
Best intangibles: Patriots, A
The Patriots rarely have locker room issues and this year is no exception. Even Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker, who failed to get a long-term contract, won’t make a big stink this season. The leadership is stellar in New England. The culture is all about football and winning, and that will continue.
Worst overall: Dolphins, C-
Dolphins fans have been on me this offseason for writing them off as a rebuilding team. I just don’t see how this Miami team can win more than six games this year. The offense won’t score enough points and the defense is good, but not elite where it can single-handedly carry Miami to the playoffs. That doesn’t mean the Dolphins won’t be tough to play against. They just don’t have the talent to win 10 games and get to the playoffs.
Best overall: Patriots, A
The Patriots are far and away the class of the AFC East. They were the only team to finish last year with a winning record, and they look even better on paper this year. Barring a significant injury, New England should win the division again and make a postseason run. The Dolphins, Bills and Jets have a lot of catching up to do.