2021 AFC East Preview: Division of Game Changers

Welcome to the 2021 season where Bill Belichick has taken his Patriots down to Miami a full week early to thwart the 2-7 record his team has in away games with the Dolphins. This move mirrors the desperation of not naming an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator in what looks to be an unceremonious end to Bill Belichick’s career. This will be his last year.

Where does this team turn when they start 0-4?? At Patriots, at Steelers, home to Baltimore then off to Green Bay. Yikes!

Yet elsewhere in the division it’s full speed ahead as Josh Allen and the Bills have become the talk of the league having made several upgrades heading into 2022.

AFC East Champions

  1. Buffalo Bills 13-4**
  2. New York Jets 9-8
  3. Miami Dolphins 6-11
  4. new England Patriots 5-12

The 1st of which is signing former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller to bolster the reigning #1 defense and help school former 1st round DE Greg Rousseau. This should free up DT Ed Oliver from interior double teams as all 3 -1st rounders should be after QBs all season. Schematically this defense played well but needs playmaking game changers and this pass rush has to be that. Just look back to the last :13 in Kansas City.

Jan 23, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Von Miller (40) forces a fumble by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the second half in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Hall of Fame pass rushers shouldn’t fall from the sky and the Bills got the biggest defensive acquisition in football. Miller has 4.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in Super Bowl competition. In the ’15 AFC Championship he had 2.5 sacks of Tom Brady and another 4 hits on him to rattle TB12. Then last year it was Von’s sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on Brady that gave the Rams strategic control of the game sending them to the NFC Championship Game.

However the most improved team in the division is the New York Jets. Drafting Zach Wilson home run speed in OSU WR Garrett Wilson and grabbing CB Sauce Gardner and DE Jermaine Johnson with their #1 picks. Its Wilson taking the top off defenses that will allow Braxton Berrios to continue to be dynamic in the slot. However if 2nd round pick Breece Hall hits at running back this offense has the potential to be one of the best in football. They will mirror Joe Burrow and the weapons  in Cincinnati but they may be one year away from hitting full stride.

Miami will be the middle of the pack team they have been with Tua at quarterback. They did get Tyreek Hill who should turn heads early in the season with bubble screens and turning short gains into big ones early in the season. Yet look to defensive coordinators to figure out Tua’s arm can’t threaten downfield and his affectiveness to be minimized by midseason.

This season of dynamic playmakers begins and ends with Bills QB Josh Allen who could be league MVP with another great season. Completing 409 of 646 for 4,407 yds 36TDs with 15 interceptions had him in last year’s race. His 763 yards rushing will hopefully be lower and he needs to get slide more and not take so many hits. With Diggs (102 rec. 1,225 yds/ 10TDs) back and the emergence of Gabriel Davis (NFL playoff record 4 TDs in KC) this team has no obvious weaknesses. Barring injury this group of playmakers should be playing in early February in Super Bowl LVII.

It all begins by showcasing it Thursday Night against the defending Super Bowl champion Rams on the road. Time for the rubber to hit the road!

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2020 AFC East Preview: Winds of Change

When Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason the winds of change swept through the AFC East. The stranglehold Bill Belichick and Brady had was finally broken and teams began anew with dreams of storming the Patriots castle. Most notably the Buffalo Bills who were in the playoffs for the 2nd time in 3 years.

The Bills arrive with the NFL’s #3 ranked defense and added former Viking wideout Stefon Diggs to bolster the offense.  Josh Allen has the keys to the offense and RB Devin Singletary is the engine that powers this team forward. Will they emerge as division champions as many pundits believe?

2020 AFC East Predictions

  1. New England Patriots 11-5*
  2. Buffalo Bills 10-6**
  3. Miami Dolphins 6-10
  4. New York Jets 5-11

Not so fast as the Patriots will become a surprise division champion as Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will coax a turnaround season from Cam Newton. The former NFL MVP allows New England a solid weapon in the running game and will be able to work in a more traditional offense and some two tight ends. He has a spectacular young wideout in former ASU star N’Keal Harry and an underrated Jakobi Meyers. These two 2nd year players will benefit from Julian Edelman still in the slot to move the chains.

Singletary should have a 1,200 yard season in 2020.

In upstate New York the Bills have to get more out of Josh Allen as a downfield passer. He has to show the ability to get through his progressions and revert to running as a 3rd option in a make or break season. His fight or flight mechanics were highlighted in last year’s wild card loss. He has to get the ball into the endzone and not rely on field goals and get his defense a cushion.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, right, hands off the ball to Bills running back Zack Moss during an NFL football training camp in Orchard Park, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (James P. McCoy/The Buffalo News via AP, Pool)

One of the issues is the Bills didn’t step up and take one of the games against New England last year.  Each were in reach and they just couldn’t seize it. That came back to haunt them in why the Bills gave up a 16-0 lead in the wildcard game and couldn’t maintain it. They can’t assume they will win the division just because Brady is gone. The Bills have to learn to seize the opportunity and not expect to default into a division championship.

This team also lost a lot of leadership with the retirement of LB Lorenzo Alexander, RB Frank Gore, and DE Shaq Lawson. New leaders have to emerge for Buffalo to take that next step and why they will be in a wildcard slot again.

Aug 26, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) attempts a pass during training camp at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins are building on the momentum of their 3-2 finish which included a win in New England in the finale. The future looks bright with the drafting of QB Tua Tagovailoa.  The team has brought in RB Matt Breida, and RB Jordan Howard to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright as well. He just doesn’t have the tools to move the ball downfield. The team drafted mostly defense to be better prepared to have a defense minded team when Tagovailoa takes over later in the year. Its only a matter of time.

Never underestimate Belichick and the NFL’s #1 defense as he is the best teacher of situational football in league history. He will coax another division championship in New England and Cam will be NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

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SUPER BOWL XIX RUNNER UP 1984 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Man, the Dolphins of 1984 were ridiculous in winning the AFC Championship 45-28, with a record 4 TD passes over the Pittsburgh Steelers and now it’s on to Super Bowl XIX…Dan Marino, The Marks Bros. would make it to many more Super Bowls…wouldn’t they?

19.3Talk about a whirlwind ride, easily the greatest offensive ride a team has ever gone on.  When Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards (record) and a record 48 TDs in 1984 he broke the old record of 36, last done in 1963.  That’s the equivalent of someone breaking LaDanian Tomlinson’s 31TD record and going for 42!!  Shatter isn’t the word.

After replacing the late David Woodley in mid 1983, Marino made the Pro Bowl w / 20 TDs and the future looked bright.  However in his 1st full season as a starter he blew past expectations and beneficiary of all this passing were receivers Mark Duper, Jimmy Cefalo, and Mark Clayton who set the receiving TD record at 18.  They scored 70TDs (record) as an offense and what is ironic is how anemic this offense was just 2 years before in Super Bowl XVII when they could only complete ONE pass in the second half in losing to the Redskins.

They masked a defense that was in decline…the Killer B’s were quickly losing their sting and points were pouring in on the Dolphins.  They were not a heavy defense and were wearing down from pounding and age.  A.J. Duhe, Kim Bokamper, Doug Betters, and Bob Baumhower weren’t as stout as they had been a few years before. They did lose a good linebacker when Larry Gordon passed away while jogging in the offseason.  Jay Brophy had been drafted to help shore things up but was just learning the pro game at this point.. The defense had been comprised of the same personnel primarily from 1979-1984. The Dolphins were due to rebuild however the emergence of Dan Marino allowed this team another shot at a title.

Going into the 1984 season, the Dolphins hadn’t recovered from the death of David Overstreet at running back yet. Tony Nathan was a good pass catcher out of the backfield. Marino, Mark Duper, and Mark Clayton kept the rhythm they gained from playing on the Dolphins scout team early in 1983 and unleashed it on an unsuspecting league.

sbxix45The season began in Washington where the Dolphins in a rematch of Super Bowl XVII some year and a half earlier. Where they could only complete 1 pass in the second half of that game, Dan Marino scorched the Redskins for 5 TDs and 370 yards. One of the best defenses in football was embarrassed at home. There was no way for him to keep with that pace.

Another notable game was a game in November v. the defending champion Raiders with cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mark Haynes.  You remember them right? Totally shut down the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, surely they would slow him down…uh…they didn’t. Marino threw for 470 yds and another 4 TDs which included his record breaking 37th of the season to Jimmy Cefalo.  He bookended his record setting season on a Monday night, where he threw for 3TDs in eliminating Dallas from the playoffs for the first time since 1976. The last second 70 yd touchdown to Mark Clayton gave him his 18th TD reception on the season breaking the record of Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch from 1951.

They were able to easily outscore their competition in marching to an 11-0 start, finishing 14-2.  When you include the playoffs, Dan Marino threw for 57TDs! Yikes! Started with a blowout of the Seahawks in a playoff rematch where he threw for 4 more TDs then the 4TDs against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. That broke George Blanda’s AFL Championship Game record of 3 from 1963. Yet here they were, AFC Champions for the 5th time, heading to Palo Alto for the Super Bowl what could go wrong??  The 49ers were prepared to pressure the receivers and had the secondary to play with them and triumphed 38-16.

super-bowl-logo-1984Let’s look at the all time touchdown record a second…Brady had 50 touchdown passes, Peyton Manning 49, and Marino 48.  Brady set the record in his 8th season with the 3 time champion Patriots marching to a 4th Super Bowl appearance.  Peyton Manning had set it in his 7th.  Both were veterans that had been in systems for years where Marino was in his first full season as a starter. Brady and Manning had players drafted that fit what they did where Dan came up with the 3rd string receivers and they all became stars.

In Manning’s case he had Marvin Harrison who set the record for receptions in a season at 143 the year before, a Hall of Fame talent.  Brady had future Hall of Famer Randy Moss to throw to. To break Marino’s record as strongly as he blew by the old one, Brady would have had to have thrown 64TDs.  I still hold Marino’s season WAY higher than those others it was more spectacular and impactful.

However here is the ring for Don Shula and the Dolphin’s 5th AFC Championship…what a magnificent run.

Another look back…

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SUPER BOWL XVII RUNNER UP 1982 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Riggo and Riggonomics powered the Redskins to the Super Bowl XVII title with a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.  For winning the AFC Championship of 1982, this is the ring the Dolphins received.

xvii4In an era where the Dolphins were known as “Wood-Strock”, for the penchant of playing veteran backup Don Strock for starter David Woodley, I found it ironic that Coach Shula didn’t pull the trigger and put Strock in during the second half of Super Bowl XVII.  The Dolphins offense could only complete one pass along with an interception over the final 30 minutes of that ball game.

Starting with the Colts famous loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III, Coach Shula didn’t replace a struggling Earl Morrall with Johnny Unitas.  It was voiced by some (including Unitas) had he started the second half they could have won the ball game.  Apparently that stuck with Shula because if you remember the ’72 Dolphins, in the AFC Championship, undefeated and playing with backup Earl Morrall (yup that same guy) were having problems on offense. Then at halftime, he made the switch back to Bob Griese at quarterback.  ‘

82afcringHe had the same penchant as he was developing David Woodley in the early 80s. Remember the “Epic In Miami” the year before? Shula pulled Woodley in the second quarter when the Chargers built a 24-0 lead. Why did he not pull the trigger in Super Bowl XVII?

In fact the Dolphins defense was in its prime and wanted to make amends for that 41-38 playoff loss to the Chargers. They came through the 1982 strike shortened season as a top flight defense earning the nickname “the Killer B’s” ranking #1 in the league.

As fate would have it the Dolphins hosted San Diego again in the playoffs. The Chargers had just ended Terry Bradshaw’s career with a playoff win in Pittsburgh.  Miami won easily 34-13. This game was the catalyst in turning the tide in moving Miami into the conference’s elite while the “Air Coryell” run ended that day. The Chargers wouldn’t return to the playoffs the rest of the decade where Miami was on the rise. Appearing in 3 AFC title games over the next 4 years, the first being the ’82 AFC Championship.

That game was played in a torrential downpour in the Orange Bowl.  In the mud “the Killer B’s” shut out Richard Todd, Freeman McNeil and the high powered Jets offense 14-0.  A.J. Duhe had a career game with an AFC Championship record 3 interceptions, returning the last for the decisive touchdown.

Although the Dolphins offense started off well in the Super Bowl, they were wasting a good performance by the “Killer B’s”.  It took the famous Riggins 43 yd touchdown run with 10 minutes left in the game to relinquish the lead 20-17.  They also came within inches of a deflected Kim Bokamper interception for a touchdown that would have strategically put the Dolphins in position to win the game minutes before.

superbowlxviiThe Redskins possessed the football for nearly 20 minutes in the second half.  Woodley only completed 1 pass in the second half.  Maybe Shula felt they didn’t have enough time with the football to turn it over to Don Strock.  Hindsight is 20/20 but wasn’t the reason Coach Shula replaced Woodley back in the San Diego game based on his ability to throw the ball and get hot in a hurry? I’m still puzzled by Shula not making the switch.

Well maybe Don Shula saved his best quarterback replacement job for last.  After this anemic offensive performance in the Super Bowl he drafted Dan Marino a few months later.  Maybe Don Shula knew what he was doing.

The two indelible images for the 1982 Dolphins will forever be AJ Duhe’s pick six to seal the AFC Championship, and Kim Bokamper’s near miss of a pick six just two weeks later.

Man what might have been.

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SUPER BOWL VIII CHAMPION 1973 MIAMI DOLPHINS

The NFL’s first dynasty after Vince Lombardi’s Packers was Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. The only dynasty we never got to see reach its conclusion on the field. After compiling a 32-2 record including two Super Bowls, RBs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and WR Paul Warfield signed contracts with the rogue WFL. It brought the end to an era where Shula’s ground game and “No Name Defense” ruled the NFL.

super bowl viiiThe most dominant team of 1972 & 1973 would be broken up losing two Hall of Famers in Csonka and Warfield. However their WFL contracts wouldn’t take effect until 1975 meaning the team would be intact for one final season.

The heartbeat of the Dolphin dynasty was its ground game. In the perfect season of ’72, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first backfield tandem to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. They nearly repeated that feat in ’73 when Morris rushed for 954 to Csonka’s 1,003.

With the team being breaking up an inevitability, Miami had a threepeat in their sight in ’74. After an 11-3 record there was a feeling the Dolphins were vulnerable. Several defensive starters were out due to injury. Six of their wins were by 7 points or less. Where in ’73, all 12 wins were by more than a touchdown. The wear and tear of upholding that championship mantle had brought them back to the pack.

super-bowl-logo-1973The divisional playoff game would be in Oakland against the revenge minded Raiders. Although Miami defeated them in the AFC Championship Game at home in ’73, the Raiders beat them in the regular season in Berkeley. That win halted the Dolphins 18 game winning streak which was an NFL record at the time. So into the Oakland Coliseum they went…

The game became known as “The Sea of Hands” one of the most famous games in NFL history. The Dolphin dynasty came to an end with Kiick, Warfield, and Csonka jumping to the new league the following season. No one knew Don Shula would go on to be the winningest coach in NFL history. Even more surprising, he would coach through the 1995 season and would not win another Super Bowl.

For the coach on the losing end of Super Bowl III, to the coach who drove his team to the NFL’s only undefeated season, to the man that led his team to 3 of the next 5 title games, culminating with this ring. The second NFL championship ring that crowned a dynasty. Don Shula had taken his place among the greatest coaches in NFL history.

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2014 AFC Pedictions

Under normal circumstances Taylor Blitz Times would have these published before the season starts. However this has been a different off-season where more focus was on historical articles. Although we’re 1 week into the new season, we still haven’t seen a sample size large enough to alter The Chancellor of Football’s picks.

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

2014 AFC Champions will be the Denver Broncos

AFC North Champs: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots

AFC South Champs: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West Champs: Denver Broncos

Wildcards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

The representative to make it to Glendale, AZ and Super Bowl XLIX will be the Denver Broncos. They will narrowly defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game they should win at home.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Ware will make Von Miller a better player as well.

Lets face facts, not many trust Bengals QB Andy Dalton but he will take a big step up this year and win his first playoff game. He won’t have the moxie to take on not only Peyton Manning but what should be one of the AFC’s best defenses. The signing of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aquib Talib give the Broncos a defensive swagger they haven’t had before.

More importantly none of these players have won a championship which only adds to the overall hunger of the team. The Broncos won’t score anywhere near last year’s 606 point performance. They won’t have to as they will become more balanced.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

The player that is growing on The Chancellor the most is Andrew Luck.

Right behind these two teams will be the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Was there anyone more impressive than Andrew Luck in week 1 of the NFL season?? The fight he brought the Colts back with was infectious. He made his entire team believe they could come back and they were playing without DE/LB Robert Mathis. The Colts gained more from that 31-24 loss in Denver than teams that won in the first week.

The Patriots will bounce back from week 1 but will they feel the effects of trading away G Logan Mankins the rest of the season?? Brady and the offense was under attack in their 2nd half loss to the Dolphins. They gained less than 100 yards as Miami pulled away. Bill Belichick will right the ship and they should win the AFC East with at least 11 wins.

The Bengals and Colts look like the two that will play in the 2015 AFC Championship Game however we have to get through 2014 first. The Broncos will look to take a more battle hardened team to Glendale than the one they took to New York last year. Will Denver win Super Bowl XLIX??