With the 2012 NFL Season now less than one month away, ErnBlog will be projecting the standings for each division, starting today with the league’s best division – the AFC East.
1. New England Patriots (13-3) Division Champs
2. New York Jets (11-5) Wild Card
3. Buffalo Bills (9-7)
4. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
The Patriots have an easier schedule than last year, with the privilege of playing every team in the league’s weakest division – the AFC South. New England also has the luxury of hosting 3 of its final 4 games (one of these against arguably their toughest 2012 opponent – San Francisco in Week 15 on NBC Sunday Night Football). The Pats also will play Miami twice in the final five games, including a chiller in Foxboro to conclude the season on December 30. New England has dominated the Dolphins in the Belichick Era, losing only once at home to these divisional foes dating back to 2001.
The Jets will be back in 2012 from a subpar effort last season. Tim Tebow will present confusion for opponents – particularly those from the NFC West who have never played against him. Big Ern expects Mark Sanchez’ passing accuracy levels from 2009-10 to return this year. The Jets biggest test will undoubtedly be Thanksgiving Night at home against the Patriots on NBC. New York will probably need to win this game in order to finish 11-5 and earn a Wild Card.
Ern expects the Bills to be one of the most improved teams in the NFL in 2012. I see them nailing down 3 additional wins this season, which would bring Buffalo from 6-10 in 2011 to 9-7 and the doorstep of the playoffs this year. The BIG addition in Buffalo might be the second most significant acquisition (second to Peyton Manning’s arrival in Denver) in the NFL with the introduction of Pro Bowl linebacker Mario Williams – the 2006 First Overall Draft Pick. His new contract with the Bills makes Williams the highest paid defensive player in NFL history and this appears to be money well spent. Chan Gailey’s defense was the strength of the team in 2011 and the addition of Williams should help Buffalo to earn 3 divisional wins in 2012.
Last, but respectably in 2012, will be the Miami Dolphins. 6-10 last year, Miami cleaned house during the offseason – hiring Coach Joe Philbin and drafting Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins defense is still strong and always tends to be disruptive in the division. When you add a reenergized Reggie Bush onto the offesive end of an equation that includes a very weak schedule against 8 teams from either the AFC South or NFC West, Big Ern’s solution is an 8-8 record in Joe Philbin’s first year.