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The Miami Dolphins hope that their offseason spending spree and aggressive draft strategy brings them to the next level in the AFC. The Patriots, Jets and Bills also made offseason moves with the same motivation in mind, but not all of their changes were for the better.
Every offseason brings change, for every NFL team. Some find ways to improve, while others put stock in the wrong players or simply must cut back for financial reasons. That, of course, pertains to the three teams that the Dolphins will be jockeying with for the AFC East crown and also for conference playoff position -- New England, New York and Buffalo.
Here are some of the changes those teams made. More specifically, the changes that most effect the Dolphins in preparation for their six divisional games:
Three AFC East changes that the Dolphins should be happy about:
After getting traded by Miami to New England in 2007, Welker has been a recurring nightmare for the Dolphins, who have never had an answer for his ability to get open and quickness in confined spaces. If you add up all the stats just from Welker's 11 career games against Miami, it adds up to a Pro Bowl-caliber season (95 receptions, 1,178 yards and 6 touchdowns).
After an awkward free agency period, the two-time All-Pro moved on to another Super Bowl contender in Denver. This leaves Tom Brady without a player who caught nearly 20% of his passing attempts over the past six seasons. That slot receiver role will likely be filled by the routinely-injured Danny Amendola, who lacks the rapport with his quarterback and durability that the position requires.The Dolphins boosted their secondary in the draft to counter such players, but it certainly helps that the nearly-uncoverable Welker is no longer on the schedule.
2. Mark Sanchez is still around, and remains the favorite to win an open quarterback competition.
Not much need to elaborate on this one, as one of the most disastrous extensions ever given out continues to pay off for Jets' opponents. Despite his faults, he remains the most capable option at quarterback unless David Garrard stays healthy and impresses the Jets' staff. There's a good chance that rookie quarterback Geno Smith takes over at some point during the season, potentially before New York's two December games against the Dolphins.
3. First year coach and quarterback combination in Buffalo.
The Bills have hit the reset button yet again. The team hired head coach Doug Marrone from the college ranks and drafted raw-but-talented quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round to lead their rebuild. It's a situation not unlike Miami's a year ago, and as everyone saw, it'll take everyone a little while to find their legs. Time will tell if this regime change will be the one to return Buffalo to respectability, but the first year will be a developmental one for the Bills' passing game. The most difficult problem for the Dolphins, or any team that faces the Bills in 2013, will be another player who will be mentioned in the second half of this list.
3 AFC East changes that the Dolphins should be concerned about:
1. Buffalo has a real defensive coordinator.
Last season, Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt ran his unit like it was still the mid-90s. The result was Buffalo giving up 27.1 points per game and Wannstedt getting shown the door after the season, along with the rest of the coaching staff.
The Bills replaced Wannstedt with Mike Pettine, who engineered a 8th-ranked defense in yards allowed with the Jets last season despite having terrible linebackers and losing his best talent, cornerback Darrelle Revis, to injury. His scheme is aggressive and multiple, and with the talent he has to work with he should catapult Buffalo into the top half of the league in defensive rankings.
A few seasons back, the Jets had one of the league's most dominating running games. Last year, they ranked 22nd in yards gained per attempt despite having essentially the same offensive line and basic run-first offensive philosophy. The reason? The woefully bad Shonn Greene, who took over the primary ball-carrying responsibilities in 2011 and inexplicably remained the starter despite barely averaging four yards per carry in that span.
The Jets finally moved on and traded for Saints tailback Chris Ivory during the draft, who was buried in the New Orleans backfield rotation. Ivory is a fast, violent runner and the antithesis of Greene, with very little mileage on his tires. He's had some durability issues, but has managed 5.1 career yards per carry and reeled off multiple big runs. The Jets still have a very good run-blocking offensive line and Ivory has the talent to be New York's best offensive weapon for a few years.
Of all the coaching crimes perpetrated by former Bills coach Chan Gailey and his staff, their refusal to give Spiller a full workload had to be the most egregious. Despite minimal injuries, Spiller has only recorded more than 20 carries on three occasions (two of which came against Miami last season), yet he's recorded six career 100-yard rushing performances. When the ball gets in his hands, Spiller has proven to be one of the most electric playmakers in the league. In 2012 he tied for first in the NFL with Adrian Peterson for the highest yards per carry average among running backs.
With a young quarterback to acclimate and a dire lack of other perimeter talent, it's hard to imagine that the new coaching staff will keep the star tailback under wraps as much as their predecessors did. It will be a monstrous test for the new set of Dolphins' linebackers to counter Spiller's athleticism and keep him contained.
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