1. New Englad Patriots (10-6)
To say the Patriots had a tumultuous offseason would be an insult to understatements. Last year, they touted the best tight end duo of perhaps all time in the NFL. Now one of those tight ends suffers chronic injuries and the other turned out to be a potential serial killer. Now their tight ends are Michael Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui. Additionally, their previous go-to wide receiver Wes Welker has been replaced with the oft-injured Danny Amendola.
There are two constants on these Patriots though, Bill Belichick (the Hoodie) and Tom Brady (the Ugg). The last time they had a tumultuous offseason was 2007 with "Spygate." Rumors flew about how the team would be distracted, but instead they focused enough to be 17-0 in the regular season en route to the Super Bowl. There are dozens of other factors that determine the success of this team, but in a division with Tannehill, Sanchez and Manuel as opposing quarterbacks, focusing on this one factor will work wonders.
2. Miami Dolphins (9-7)
The Dolphins are a trendy pick for a turnaround this year. Most of this is due to the way Ryan Tannehill (or maybe Mrs. Tannehill?) impressed everybody last season. In 2012, Tannehill threw for over 3,000 yards and 12 touchdowns on a team whose best receiver head butted his TV-housewife fiancé during training camp. This year, they upped it with Mike Wallace on the outside and Dustin Keller to work the middle. Reggie Bush is gone from the passing game, but all indications are that Lamar Miller, (the stronger runner of the two) will provide a better balance to the offense than the nimble Bush.
The defense is led by the former Canadian stud, Cameron Wake. One of the best pass rushers today, Wake is sure to free up a lot of room for the man they just drafted, Dion Jordan. Although Jordan only got 14.5 sacks in three years at school, his combine performance convinced most that he would be the next stud defensive linemen. Now creeping into his 30s, Wake needed another player to take the pressure off and free him to perform his patented one-on-one moves. If Jordan doesn't work out, Olivier Vernon should be taking big leaps forward as a pass rusher. One of the two better step up this year, since it is General Manager, Jeff Ireland's contract year.
It's possible that Jordan busts, Cam Wake is too old, Wallace drops everything, Tannehill disappoints and Mrs. Tannehill divorces him. But I'm betting on all the pieces to fall into place and saves the streets of Miami from Coach Philbin and Jeff Ireland's blood.
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Last year, the Buffalo Bills had a clear plan. After drafting Marcell Dareus three years ago, the team signed former #1 overall pick Mario Williams from Houston and Kyle Williams from Minnesota to anchor their defensive line. With that star-studded line at the center, the Bills defense subsequently ranked 31st in rushing yard per game, 32nd in rushing TDs, and 30th in yard per carry. It doesn't help that the Bills have almost nothing in their linebacker unit, with Kiko Alonso and Nigel Bradham "headlining" (air quotes) the no-name unit. The secondary was a point of strength with Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd leading a unit that ranked in the top 10 for passing yards per game. The problem is that Stephon Gilmore is now out for 6-8 weeks after wrist surgery, and Gilmore gets hurt, Leodis McKelvin goes from a most-likely-overmatched second corner to a definitely-overmatched first cornerback. The playmaking Jairus Byrd will have to be the stabilizing force. This seems like the safest bet on the defense as Byrd caught the second most interceptions by a safety despite being the least targeted, all while not being beaten for a TD in man coverage all year. Byrd is in a contract year, and the thought of making it rain (presumably in a city that's not Buffalo, it only rains real rain in Buffalo) will be a big motivating factor.
Offense never seemed to be the problem for Buffalo, even with a Harvard guy at quarterback. Now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is back trying to make a social networking site or apply to the Phoenix, the keys are turned over the a huge gamble at quarterback. E.J. Manuel could wreck the car or turn out to be Jeff Gordon. With Kevin Kolb now out indefinitely with a possible career ending concussion, the Bills are set to be the first ever team with only rookie quarterbacks on the roster. Who's the other one you ask? Jeff Tuell, an undrafted QB out of Washington State. Nobody is expecting anything from Jeff Tuell, who will be the QB for the first few weeks as Manuel overcomes knee surgery. Maybe Manuel can get them back on the right track, but even if I'm not Dr. James Andrews, I pretty sure no good rookie season starts with knee surgery. Stevie Johnson will continue to get open, make outlandish comments, and possibly drop game changing balls. C.J. Spiller looked like a borderline MVP candidate when he got time last year. If all goes right, the Bills could be a poor mans 2012 Redskins. But things don't often go right in Buffalo.
4. New York Jets (3-13)
With Hard Knocks finishing up, it made me think about the Jets a few short years ago and how they instantly went from limitless potential to the perceived fungus of the league. Mark Sanchez's injury gives them an opening for the possibly exciting introduction of Geno Smith. O wait, we were already introduced. Geno Smith could be the most talented quarterback in last year's draft, but coming to a team with no offensive coach (looking at you Rex Ryan), zero wide receivers (looking at you Santonio Holmes), and a degrading offensive line (looking at you "Butt Fumble").
The only thing I hope for the Jets is that they somehow have the wherewithal to not fire Rex Ryan. Everybody is way to quick to fire somebody just because they talk a lot. Rex Ryan guaranteed a Super Bowl when he began and failed, but he DID make 2 AFC Championships With Mark Sanchez! That's incredible. And since he did that well with Sanchez, beating Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in playoff games, his only option at QB was to sign a free agent, and the teams with Matt Flynn and Kevin Kolb aren't exactly doing so hot either now. Wow, I'm talking myself out of the Jets finishing last in the league. I better just quit while I'm ahead.