In this series of articles, I will compare the four AFC East teams at each position/group. At the end of the series, I will publish each team's grades and predict the finishing records for each team. We begin today with quarterback.
1.) New England (Brady/Garopollo)
Although the Patriots will be without Brady for the first four games of the season as he serves, in my view, a long overdue suspension, this quarterback group is still the best in division. There can be little to say here. A superstar with four chips, even nearing the end of his career, is still the class of the division- however smug and irritating he might be. Garoppolo, however, will likely struggle in his four starts. The Patriots will try to get by on the short passing game (though they will take a few deep shots early in games as a way of masking their insecurity in Garopollo's abilities.) Next year they will be forced to try to draft Brady's successor after previewing the limitations of their current clipboard holder and the horrors of life without Brady. Still, 12 games with Brady makes this the top passing unit in division- for now.
2.) Miami (Tannehill/Moore) Tannehill has posted impressive statistics in every category except one. His career completion percentage of 62% splits the difference between that of Andrew Luck (58) and Matt Ryan (64). In the last three seasons, his average touchdowns (25) and interceptions (14), are also all positives in comparison to the above quarterbacks, with Ryan at 25/13 per year and Luck at 26/17 if you project his injury-shortened numbers over a full season last year. The one category in which Tannehill lags: wins. This is, of course, the most important single category any quarterback can be judged by, but it isn't a personal statistic in the way that W/L might be for a starting pitcher in baseball. Consider the number of RT's passing attempts erased by sacks and rushes in the past three years, to say nothing of the number of dropped passes. My point is that Tannehill is doing his part in what should be an 11 man unit and a 54 man team. Better protection and surer hands might really make him shine, and they will certainly raise the win ratio, as would a more competitive defense. In short, Tannehill has the passing game in solid shape. Add in that Matt Moore is a serviceable backup, and The Dolphins have the second ranked passers in the division.
3.) Jets (Fitzpatrick/Smith) When Geno Smith's jaw fractured, anyone listening closely could hear the sound of a blind squirrel finding a nut. The Jets were idiotically going to trot a perilously foolish, low performance player out as their leader. Instead, in a lucky (sorry) "break", they got a leader of men with a beard and an Ivy League pedigree. I will make no secret of my admiration for Fitzpatrick. It is the affection inspired by one limited tool, big heart athlete looking at a better version of his own skill set. Fitz efforts, every game, every down, and his teammates love him. Think Jay Fiedler with a better education and the same average arm. If Fitzpatrick's backup were anyone other than Interception Smurf, I would rate the Jets even with Miami at passer. But the Jets are one hit away from starting a man who stays in bounds in two minute drills, makes Rex Ryan look genteel, and preens and struts as though he were Cam Newton. Geno is closer to a fig newton's consistency than Cam's. And I'm being gentle here.
4.) Bills (Taylor/Manuel) The Dolphins were so close to two inept opponents making the wrong choices and fielding quarterbacks who simply can't win through mental ineptitude. Unfortunately, Buffalo and New Jersey both got off of losing players and into considerable upgrades. Taylor is good. He's smart, crafty, and a genuine leader. Too bad he plays for a man who is only one of the above (Rex Ryan is a leader; he just lacks intellect and awareness.) Taylor will be limited by his coach's leadership. Mark Sanchez couldn't develop under Ryan. There is little chance for Taylor, who is a far less gifted passer than Sanchez. In still more bad news for the Bills, it is hard to hide limitations in a passing scheme against press defenses like the one the Dolphins now employ. A final nail in the coffin: the Bills start a running quarterback with Manuel one hit away. This is, without question, the weakest passing group in our division.
I'll be back soon with receivers!