At the start of the preseason, I took a look at one key strength for each AFC East team. As much as every team has strengths, they also have weaknesses; even the best team in the league. The preseason is a time for trying to reduce and remove such problems but now that the 53 man rosters have been set, what is one key issue which still exists for each team?
Miami Dolphins – Cornerbacks
The Dolphins are in reset mode under new head coach Adam Gase, but enter the season with a number of question marks. The biggest is the secondary, especially at the cornerback position, an area which was problematic in 2015. In order to try an address this shortfall, Miami traded for Byron Maxwell from the Eagles to pick up the number one spot. However, Maxwell was terrible last year and nothing seen so far suggests a huge improvement. He heads up a unit whose number two is a rookie; second round pick Xavien Howard. It is widely thought that Howard would ideally benefit from sitting out a year before taking up such a role. Behind him there is very little depth. This could prove a huge issue for a team who will face some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the league this season.
New York Jets – Quarterback
Despite re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is coming off the best year of any Jets QB for some time, you can’t ignore the fact that in reality Fitzpatrick is an average signal caller. Having bounced from one team to the next for most of his career, he certainly works best with Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey but questions remain about whether he can really replicate or improve on last years’ performance. His terrible showing when it really mattered against Buffalo in week 17 last season, which cost the Jets a playoff place, looms large in the mind of fans, as do many periods where he just could not get the chains moving. He has the benefit of an excellent receiving group and a decent backfield but if Fitzpatrick returns to his pre-2015 form in 2016, it’ll be hard to get points on the board. Behind Fitz, Geno Smith is still clinging onto the second spot ahead of projects Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenburg. If Fitzpatrick were to perform badly or get injured, anyone of these backups would be a huge concern.
Buffalo Bills – Pass Rush
When the Bills parted ways with Mario Williams at the end of last season, they hoped that first round draft pick Shaq Lawson would seemlessly slip into the vacant spot on the edge. However, during rookie mini camp, Lawson aggravated a shoulder injury, resulting in a surgery that will see him out for up to six months. Jerry Hughes can work off the right side but behind him the depth chart falls off a cliff, especially as IK Enempkpali is also out for the season following a major knee injury in the preseason. The Bills collectively managed only 21 sacks last year, not something which Rex Ryan is used to from his defense and it’s hard to see how this will be improved upon given the lack of depth. This could be a huge problem considering that the Bills face the likes of Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer and Ben Rothlisberger in 2016.
New England Patriots – Running Game
The Patriots go into 2016 without their elite quarterback Tom Brady for four games. This provides a certain degree of uncertainty but as long as Jimmy Garropolo isn’t terrible, this shouldn’t be a season deal breaker. A bigger area of concern would be the running game, one of the few areas of the Patriots which were underwhelming in 2015; they ranked 30th overall in rushing yards. New England were hoping that Dion Lewis, who made an impressive start to last season before being sidelined in week 9 with a knee injury, would be back in the starting role, but hopes of this were dashed after Lewis required further surgery this offseason. The starter remains LaGarrette Blount, who rushed for 700 yards last year. He is backed up by Brandon Bolden and James White. Of course, the Patriots have a strong passing game when Brady is under centre which should temper the problems caused by the lack of backfield talent and depth but this may prove more of an issue when Jimmy G is taking snaps in weeks 1-4.