Dec 30, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) after the game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Division Predictions: AFC East

Each week, Rishi Pochiraju will predict the placement of teams in an NFL division. Up today: the AFC East. See his page for other division predictions.

The AFC East is one of the weaker divisions in football, being dominated for the last decade by New England. That could change this year with Miami seeming to be on the rise and in the hunt for the playoffs. Miami and New England seem to be the only contenders in the division, especially because both teams have viable starting quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, the Bills and Jets both have an open competition at the position, with rookie first-round E.J. Manuel battling Kevin Kolb in Buffalo and rookie Geno Smith battling Mark Sanchez in New York. Both teams are in a type of rebuilding mode (although Rex Ryan may disagree).

It’ll be interesting to see if Miami can compete with New England and at least beat the Patriots at home (Miami was swept last year). With all the pieces the team has brought in, along with the development of second-year pro Ryan Tannehill, I don’t see a reason as to why it can’t happen. I’m very optimistic about Miami this season.

1st Place:  Miami Dolphins

Yeah, yeah, New England should be here, right? I’ve heard plenty of that, and after looking over everything on paper, the team in Massachusetts does look like the better team. But that’s on paper. On the field, we could see a whole different story.

Miami has brought in key weapons for both the offense and defense through free agency and the draft – on offense, the team signed speedster Mike Wallace, and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill should continue his development into a familiar system.

On defense, Dannell Ellerbe should fill a big void at linebacker. Dion Jordan, the team’s first-round draft pick, should shine opposite of Cameron Wake. The secondary is in good shape as well – free-agent acquisition Brent Grimes should start, and second-round draft pick Jamal Taylor can evolve into a solid starter opposite of Grimes.

I believe the Dolphins are the new team to beat in the division. They don’t have the toughest schedule possible (ranked 8th in terms of NFL strength of schedule), but part of that comes with playing the Patriots twice a year (they were 12-4). It won’t be particularly easy to win the division — the team needs to beat New England at least once. Still, Miami is in good shape heading into training camp and the regular season.

2nd Place:  New England Patriots

Although I don’t believe New England will win the division, they are still a solid team. In a weak AFC, the team should be able to push for a playoff spot. I didn’t put them in first place in the division, because, as much as some hate to admit it, the so-called dynasty in Massachusetts is declining. Tom Brady is almost 36 and Bill Belichick is getting older as well.

I’ve also heard a particularly surprising stat that’s came about often: the team could be without its top five – yes, five – leading receivers going into 2013, and will go into the year without 4 of those players (Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead are no longer on the team). Rob Gronkowski, the fifth player, may not return from back and forearm surgery to start the year. Who’s going to start at tight end, Tim Tebow?

There is only so much Tom Brady can do. He will still be aided by his iron offensive line, but the defense has issues as well, especially in the secondary. New England can still be competitive, but not at the level of the past decade.

3rd Place:  Buffalo Bills

For the last two years, many analysts have been predicting that the Bills would be able to contend in the AFC. Last year, that was mainly due to the acquisition of Mario Williams, who greatly underachieved. This year hasn’t been more of the same, with a quarterback competition underway.

Kevin Kolb should get the starting gig at least for several games, and then I expect E.J. Manuel to take over. Manuel’s success as a starter could be key to the Bill’s overall success in the upcoming seasons. The team does have a strong duo of running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller – expect head coach Doug Marrone to center his offensive game plan around them.

Buffalo has the seventh-easiest schedule in the league, but I don’t expect them to be competitive within the division with New England and Miami.

4th Place:  New York Jets

The Jets have been a mess for the last two seasons. Last season was the worst of the Rex Ryan era (New York finished 6-10). There is a quarterback controversy between the incumbent starter Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith, there are running back questions, number one receiver Santonio Holmes is on no timetable to return after a Lisfranc injury, the defense is aging, and perhaps the team’s best player over the past few seasons (Darrelle Revis) was traded away.

The Jets may not be going anywhere from their 6-10 record from last year, and will have trouble keeping up with the rest of the division. Rex Ryan will be on the hot seat this season if he doesn’t turn the franchise around somehow.

Tags: AFC East Bill Belichick Bills Brandon Lloyd Brent Grimes Buffalo Bills C.J. Spiller Cameron Wake Dannell Ellerbe Danny Woodhead Darrelle Revis Dion Jordan Dolphins Doug Marrone E.J. Manuel FanSided Fansidednetwork Fansidednfl Fred Jackson Geno Smith Jamal Taylor Jets Joe Philbin Kevin Kolb Mario Williams Mark Sanchez Miami Miami Dolphins Mike Wallace New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Predictions Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Ryan Tannehill Santonio Holmes Tim Tebow Tom Brady Wes Welker

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