- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Five things to know and my all-division team:
Division MVP: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is once again a no-brainer. He is the wild card that separates the Patriots from everyone else in the AFC East and most of the NFL. Brady continues to play at an MVP level. He has thrown for 4,543 yards, 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
What has been most impressive about Brady this year is that he runs a high-tempo offense that is mentally and physically taxing. The Patriots took a page from the Oregon Ducks on how to speed up the offense, and Brady has made it look easy. The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring and total offense. As long as Brady, 35, can take the hits, there's no reason to think he cannot play at a high level for several more years.
Biggest disappointment: I was one of the first people on the Buffalo Bills' bandwagon, and that turned out to be a mistake. The Bills (5-10) are easily the biggest disappointment this year in the AFC East. Buffalo had a strong offseason via the draft and free agency. That led many to think the Bills had wild-card potential. But poor coaching by Chan Gailey and poor quarterback play by Ryan Fitzpatrick kept the team from moving forward.
Star defensive end Mario Williams signed a $100 million contract and has had a good individual season with 10.5 sacks. But his impact on the defense wasn't what the Bills expected. Buffalo's defense was pushed around a lot this year and is last in the NFL against the run. The offense is erratic, with the exception of tailback C.J. Spiller.
Rookie of the Year: The Miami Dolphins were not expecting much this year when they selected rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill in April's draft. Tannehill's rookie year was expected to consist of holding a clipboard while one of Miami's veteran quarterbacks ran the team. But Tannehill exceeded expectations from the moment he arrived in Miami. He won the starting job over Matt Moore in the preseason and has won seven games as a rookie. Tannehill's stats do not stand out. He has thrown for 3,059 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But Tannehill's impact in Miami has been felt in the win column. He should only improve in his second season.
Coaching, GM searches brewing? There will be nervous times next week at the headquarters of the Bills and Jets. Both teams will consider how to fix their broken operations after another disappointing season. In Buffalo, Gailey is very much on the hot seat. The Bills have not given any indication of their decision. However, Gailey's 15-32 record in three years speaks volumes. In New York, general manager Mike Tannenbaum appears to be a long shot to retain his post next year. He put the Jets' poor roster together and could be fired or demoted in the offseason. Jets coach Rex Ryan should be safe. Ryan had his first losing season with the Jets in four years.
Finding a quarterback: In addition to potential coach and GM changes, the Bills and Jets also will search for quarterbacks in the draft and free agency. Buffalo's Fitzpatrick and New York's Mark Sanchez are not the long-term solutions, even though both recently signed contract extensions. But the big difference is that the Bills can get out of their contract with Fitzpatrick and save $4.45 million this offseason. The Jets are stuck after guaranteeing Sanchez $8.25 million in 2013. He most likely will return to the Jets. The draft is a strong option for both teams, although the quarterback class isn't very deep. Other options in free agency, such as Alex Smith or Moore, could be in play for these AFC East teams.
There were several close calls for my All-AFC East team. For example, there was a trio of good defensive tackles: Vince Wilfork of the Patriots and Paul Soliai and Randy Starks of the Dolphins. The final spot came down to Soliai and Starks, and I think Starks had a slightly better year. Jets safety LaRon Landry over Miami's Reshad Jones was another toss-up. The offensive line play in the division was inconsistent this year and made for some tough decisions.