NFL Postseason: Where AFC East teams need to strengthen

What do the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and the always talked about New York Jets need to strengthen? Richard Moore tells all...

Needs Must!!....part 3

AFC East

New England Patriots

Another playoff defeat suggests we’re very much in the twilight years of the Brady - Belichick marriage, as despite an impressive overall record of 17 - 7 since he assumed the role of starter in 2001, Brady and New England are a less than auspicious 8 - 7 following the dynasty years, and 3 - 4 since the 2009 season.

Offense was the problem in the recent AFC Championship game, although as far as the Ravens are concerned, this hardly comes as a surprise, as Brady has endured a history of struggles against the current Super Bowl champions; especially where elimination games are concerned.

If you include the 33 - 14 hammering at home to John Harbaugh’s men during the wild card stage of the 2009 - 10 campaign, Brady in his three playoff encounters with Baltimore, has only thrown 3 touchdown passes, been picked off an incredible 7 times, and hasn’t posted a passer rating above 65 (the highest being the 62.3 he posted in this year’s title game).

Though it is worth noting that had he been afforded the presence of a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski, arguably the best tight end in the National Football League, he wouldn’t have been restricted to the degree where he ended up distributing 76% of his passes to three targets.

Contractual concerns: Priorities are slot receiver Wes Welker and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, both set to hit the free agency market. But, more importantly, both men are integral to the fluidity of the offense.

None more so than Welker, who’s just registered his 5th season of 100 reception’s or more (118), since he became a Patriot in 2007. Despite key drops in key games, in both Super Bowl 46 and the aforementioned AFC Championship game (Early in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots led 13-7 and had advanced to the Ravens’ 34, facing a third-and-8 when Welker couldn’t haul in a pass close to the first-down marker) respectively, Welker fits so perfectly in New England’s ‘no huddle’, ‘hurry up offense’, that he’s significantly more valuable to the Patriots than he would be to any other team. Even if an agreement cannot be reached, New England would remain the best option.

Although Ian Rapoport and Albert Breer of NFL Network have both reported that a new long - term deal could be reached before Welker officially becomes a free agent on the 12th of March, thus potentially providing a positive resolution to a saga that could result in the Patriots placing the franchise tag on Welker for a second straight year, guaranteeing the wideout $11.4 million in base salary. Something the Pats would like to avoid, if at all possible.

New England’s contractual issues don’t stop with Welker, as the defensive side of the ball also brings its fair share of problems in the form of Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib, and Patrick Chung, who like the wideout, are free agents.

Though Jen Slothower of New England Sports Network suggested in her article today that the Patriots may well re - sign Talib and look to add either Dwight Freeney or Ed Reed, and may also consider a move for fellow Pro Bowl safety Charles Woodson, although a move for Woodson appears less likely as it’s thought he doesn’t fit from a schematic standpoint. Regardless, expect New England to make some serious moves this offseason; especially with the fate of Alfonzo Dennard looking increasingly uncertain.

With Tom Brady accepting around half the future salary of his newly signed contract extension, worth $27 million over 3 years, New England have sufficient funds available to address any concerns regarding free agency.

Draft selection: Free agency will dictate the direction the Patriots go in come draft time, but with a serious lack of depth at receiver (depth that may well diminish further if the Pats choose to sever ties with Brandon Lloyd, a possibility according to sources at NESN) expect Belichick to be aggressive and move up to grab a receiver early in the draft (Tavon Austin of West Virginia would be an ideal candidate, although if Greg Jennings opts to leave ‘Title Town’ behind, he’d represent an equally compelling option outside the draft), as New England has been devoid of a consistent deep threat since they traded Randy Moss to the Vikings in 2010.

New York Jets

The circus rolls into town with plenty of issues to address in 2013, following a disappointing 6 - 10 campaign. New General Manager John Idzik, brought into replace the man who many consider to be the ringmaster behind New York’s often amusing travails, Mike Tennenbaum, says that he ‘feels good’ about the rapidly regressing Mark Sanchez (we’ll see just how good as the season progresses..) future with the team. As part of the re - building process he (Sanchez) gets a new guiding hand in the form of Marty Mornhinweg after playing a major role in New York finishing 30th in passing offense.

Contractual Concerns: Very few teams in the league possess as many individuals who’ve undergone the transformation from starter to unrestricted free agents as the Jets. The offensive linemen with expiring contracts include Brandon Moore (yes, he of the infamous ‘butt fumbling’ episode), an elite veteran and a young right tackle in the form of Austin Howard, yet another casualty of the ‘Club Tennenbaum’.

Safety LaRon Landry is an unrestricted free agent and, after a strong season, will be challenge to re - sign (though given the Jets finished 2012 with a defense ranked 26th against the run, they need all the help they can get). Running back Shonn Greene has been a steady and dependable figure, but not the dynamic play maker the Jet’s thought they were getting when they took him as a third round pick four years ago.

Draft selection: With a front seven battling the hands of time, the Jets gave up 133.6 rush yards per game in 2012, and newly installed defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will want to introduce young talent along the defensive line, and with the ninth pick, the Jets are in a good position to snare defensive reinforcements.

*Note - With rumours circulating of a refusal on the part of coach Rex Ryan and John Idzik to meet with representatives of star cornerback Derrelle Revis at the NFL combine, there is every possibility that New York has been thrown a substantial hand grenade prior to the draft…

Miami Dolphins

New head coach Joe Philbin finished just below .500 (7 - 9) in his debut season in Miami, which is pretty impressive given that 2012 represented his first season in a coaching position at any level, but his future with the team will largely depend on the progression of first year signal caller Ryan Tannehill, who despite showing talent, failed to light up the league in the same manner in which contemporaries Robert Griffin 111, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson did.

Tannehill, despite not tearing up trees like RG3, should not be considered a bust, and if surrounded with the depth of talent General Manager Jeff Ireland intends on bringing in, there is very chance progression will hit an upward trajectory.

Contractual concerns: If not clear whether or not key protagonists will remain. Running back Reggie Bush’s two-year deal is pretty close to expiring, and 2008. No.1 overall pick Jake Long finished 2012 on injured reserve with a torn triceps and has fallen way short of the lofty expectations before his season was curtailed by injury.

Wide receiver Brian Hartline will be a free agent, and the Dolphins need to ensure that Tannehill has his favoutite target to supplement any acquisitions made via the draft.

One things for sure, it seems Philbin and the Dolphins organisation will not be making a move for receiver Gregg Jennings, despite the wideout supposedly issuing a come and get me plea via his twitter account, as according to a recent article published NFL networks Chris Wesseling, Philbin ‘isn’t a huge fan’ of Jennings as a player.

Although, fellow free agent and Kansas City wideout Dwayne Bowe hails from Miami and previously has expressed an interest in coming home, but it’s thought he might not fit the bill as a true playmaker, but he would certainly give Tannehill options, as would Mike Wallace of the Steelers…

Draft selection: If Long is out, Jonathan Martin likely will move to the left side, leaving a hole at right tackle that could be addressed via the draft. Without a receiver of note, the Dolphins would be well advised to take a good look at California’s Keenan Allen, or possibly Baylor’s Terrence Williams when considering their options with the No.12 pick.

Buffalo Bills

For the fourth season on the trot, the Bills finished with at least 10 losses, and it’s become glaringly obvious that that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been one of main culprits, all the more criminal when you take into consideration his rather substantial $62 million dollar contract, and therefore is well and truly on the chopping block, as is General Manager Buddy Nix and new Head Coach Doug Marrone recently recruited from the Big East, if things don’t work out.

Contractual concerns: Jairus Byrd - The Bills' defensive backbone. Losing the second team All-Pro, who is still in his prime at 26, would be a substantial blow for Buffalo's turnover-starved defense, as he accounted for five interceptions and four forced fumbles. A franchise tag definitely could be in play here.

Left guard Andy Levitre, one of the rare rays of sunshine to emerge from the Bills offensive line, is another notable figure that will enter free agency. His durability (64 consecutive starts) and pass-blocking ability at guard make him one of the top offensive linemen on the market. Yet for some reason, he’s one of the most underrated players in his position.

The remaining starters are locked up, so the Bills may look to make some moves in free agency, and acquiring a foil to veteran receiver Steve Johnson would go some way to addressing the issue of offensive depth and potency.

Draft selection: In terms of draft and free agent acquisitions, the Bills desperately need help in their linebacker and receiving corps, as well as on their offensive line. Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te'o is a name that regularly features in discussions concerning the No. 8 pick, although it remains to be seen if his less than stellar performance at the combine affects his stock.

Another popular first-round candidate is quarterback Ryan Nassib, whom Marrone and Hackett mentored at Syracuse. Acquiring a franchise quarterback is a well-known priority for Nix, but the show Nassib put on at Senior Bowl was far from encouraging, although the Bills do have alternatives in the form of North Carolina States Mike Glennon, USC’s Matt Barkley, and Arkansas Tyler Wilson.

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