- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Not an AFC East chat goes by in which I'm not asked for 2013 predictions. I have refrained from season picks because I’ve seen football only in shorts, which can be overrated. I'd rather wait until after training camp and preseason games.
However, I'm a man of the people and want to meet halfway with our AFC East community. Therefore, I'm ready to make season predictions in early July with the caveat that I reserve the right to change my mind between now and Week 1 depending on injuries, preseason performance, etc.
With that said, here are my pre-training camp Power Rankings for the AFC East:
First place: New England Patriots
Walker's projected wins: 10-12
Analysis: These are not your usual powerhouse Patriots. Their top-rated offense from a year ago took a hit after hit this offseason with the losses of Wes Welker (free agency), Brandon Lloyd (released), Aaron Hernandez (legal issues) and Danny Woodhead (free agency). Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski also had multiple surgeries this offseason and is questionable for the start of the regular season. Look for this offense to take a step back, which doesn't bode well for New England. The defense is improved but certainly not to the point where it can carry the Patriots all year. As usual, it will be up to future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady to carry this team. Brady will turn 36 in August. But as long as Brady is healthy and Bill Belichick is the coach, the Patriots should be good for at least 10 wins and another AFC East title. But this team is not championship-caliber.
Second place: Miami Dolphins
Walker’s projected wins: 8-10
Analysis: Miami was 7-9 last year and it has high expectations after a solid draft and spending about $200 million in free agency. The Dolphins have the talent to make the playoffs, but it will come down to good coaching, quarterback Ryan Tannehill's development and staying healthy. Miami certainly closed the gap with the Patriots. But I don't think the Dolphins have completely made up the five games they were behind last season. Look for the Dolphins to push the Patriots in the AFC East but fall a game or two short. Miami's best chance for the playoffs is to grab a wild-card spot -- and I predict the Dolphins will do that in January.
Third place: Buffalo Bills
Walker’s projected wins: 6-8
Analysis: Buffalo will be one of those Jekyll-and-Hyde teams this season. Some weeks the Bills will put it all together and surprise opponents. Other weeks, youth and inconsistency will show and the Bills will frustrate their fans. Lack of consistency will start at quarterback. I do not have high expectations for journeyman Kevin Kolb, and EJ Manuel has a lot to learn this year about the NFL game. After back-to-back 6-10 campaigns, a .500 season for rookie head coach Doug Marrone in 2013 would be viewed as a success.
Fourth place: New York Jets
Walker's projected wins: 4-6
Analysis: Sorry, Jets fans. But it's going to be a long year in New York. This is a team that is starting over, and the quarterback position is in shambles. The defense should be competitive despite some young pieces. I can’t think of a Rex Ryan defense that was ever terrible, but unless Mark Sanchez completely turns a new leaf or Geno Smith plays like Andrew Luck his rookie year, I don't see any way the Jets can make the playoffs this year. At best, this is a six-win team. That means it's probably the final year for Ryan in New York.
So there you have it. Again, I reserve the right to adjust my predictions before Sept. 8. But this is how I currently view the AFC East playing out this season.
Agree or disagree? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
5hEric D. Williams