AFC East: NFL scenarios 2012

AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it's never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Dolphins in 2012.

Dream scenario (9-7): So much has to go right for the Dolphins to have a winning season in 2012. For example, one of the quarterbacks -- Matt Moore, David Garrard or rookie Ryan Tannehill -- will have to step up and have a stellar season. An unproven group of receivers must play above their talent level. Rookie head coach Joe Philbin has to push all the right buttons in his first year, and the defense must make a smooth transition to the 4-3. The chance of all these things falling perfectly in place for Miami is slim. But if it does, Miami could string together some wins in the AFC East and have a respectable season. Can the Dolphins carry over late momentum they gathered at the end of last season? Miami was 6-3 in its last nine games. But that was with a different coaching staff and different schemes. The Dolphins are not very talented, but they are a tough group. They could make it hard on a lot of opponents, and perhaps steal more wins than people expect.

Nightmare scenario (2-14): Miami is in the process of rebuilding. There's always an element of danger in that teams can fall apart and lose confidence when they’re not in contention. I think the Dolphins are probably a five- or six-win team next season. They could win a few games with their tough defense alone. But if nothing goes right and things fall apart, the worst-case scenario could be an ugly two-win season. The offense is a rough project. The Dolphins are installing a new West Coast offense and don't have the receivers to make it run smoothly. The biggest key is quarterback. If Moore and Garrard both struggle or get hurt, the Dolphins have no shot. It could also lead to Miami playing its first-round pick too soon. Tannehill could find himself leading a bad team before he’s ready. Think of what happened to Blaine Gabbert last season. That’s a nightmare the Dolphins want to avoid.

Bills: Dream/nightmare scenarios

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
11:30
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AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Buffalo Bills in 2012.

Dream scenario (11-5): It would be a dream for Bills fans to see their team back in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The last time we saw Buffalo make the postseason, the Bills were the victim of the “Music City Miracle” in 1999. It has been a long line of disappointments and underachieving since that historic play. (Many Bills fans still contend that was a forward pass, by the way.) This year’s team looks poised to break the streak. This is the best team, on paper, that Buffalo has had in a long time. The offense will be dangerous if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick improves his consistency in the passing game and Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the running game stay consistent. Buffalo also made improvements to the defense, including drafting corner Stephon Gilmore in the first round and adding stud defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Chances are, everything won’t fall into place for Buffalo. But this is a sleeper team that does have a chance to make a jump and contend for the playoffs.

Nightmare scenario (5-11): Despite all the additions, there is no guarantee the Bills and their coaching staff can bring it all together in one year. What if Fitzpatrick continues to play like the second half of 2011 and is not the long-term solution? What if the defense struggles to make the transition to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt? What if big injuries again decimate this team? A lot can go wrong for the Bills, especially in a division where the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots are expected to dominate. The Bills are trying to catch up and cannot afford to make many mistakes in the AFC East. They were 1-5 against division foes last year. Bills head coach Chan Gailey is only 10-22 in his first two years in Buffalo. He has more talent than he has ever had with the Bills. There are no excuses for Gailey this year. It’s still somewhat of a mystery whether Gailey can coach. But we will find out in 2012.

Jets: Dream/nightmare scenarios

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Jets in 2012.

Dream scenario (11-5): Everything comes together and the Jets set themselves up for another playoff run. Much of this comes down to starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, who must have a bounce-back year in order keep his job and fend off backup Tim Tebow. If Sanchez throws well, Tebow can effectively stay in his role as the Wildcat quarterback and things could run smoothly for New York’s offense. The defense will be fine. The Jets finished fifth last year in total defense, and that was despite their offense's inability to sustain time-consuming drives. New York has the talent to be a playoff team. But chemistry and quarterback issues remain. The Jets also would need their division rivals, especially the New England Patriots, to have a down year. The Jets were 3-3 against the AFC East last year and need to improve that mark to get a playoff spot and perhaps a division title in 2012.

Nightmare scenario (5-11): If things fall apart, this has the potential to be the worst year of the Rex Ryan era. The Jets haven't had a losing season under Ryan. But with so many questions, this is very much a boom-or-bust season. New York has locker room issues, a quarterback controversy and a brutal first five games that could set a bad tone for the year. If the Jets start 1-4 or 2-3, can this team stay together enough to pull out of it? That wasn’t the case a year ago and probably won't be the case this year. The Jets have a lot to prove both on the field and in the locker room. There are a lot of combustible personalities on the team, and New York proved last year that things can implode quickly from within. It also doesn't help that the Jets are under the biggest media spotlight in New York. If Tebow is the starting quarterback at some point next season, that means something went wrong. Tebow could take over Sanchez's starting job either because of poor performance or injury. Neither scenario would be good.
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Patriots in 2012.

Dream scenario (15-1): The Patriots take advantage of the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL on their way to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Barring injury, it's hard not to see New England winning at least 11 or 12 games this year. Note the dream scenario is 15-1, not 16-0. The pressure of going into the playoffs undefeated is immense. New England found out the hard way after the 2007 season, when they came up just short in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. It would be easier for New England to get that loss out of the way early so the pressure of a perfect season won't be on their shoulders late in the year. The AFC East looks ripe for the Patriots once again. They went 5-1 against the division in 2011, which is key to winning the AFC East and vying for home-field advantage in the AFC.

Nightmare scenario (9-7): Is 9-7 really a nightmare? Not for most teams. But it's Super Bowl or bust for New England, and a nine-win season with the chance to miss the playoffs is probably the worst this team could do considering its talent and easy schedule. Significant injuries are the only thing I can see derailing the Patriots from another playoff run. Quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008 and New England still finished 11-5. But this is a different team, especially on defense. A significant injury to Brady, especially early in the season, would be a nightmare and make the Patriots an ordinary team again. I'm not convinced this team is good enough, especially defensively, to hold up like it did a few years ago without its future Hall of Fame quarterback. Also, who knows if Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer is good enough to lead the charge? Maybe in time, but the Patriots don't want to find out next season.

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