Before the season started we all looked at the AFC East and admired; boy, did they have some talented rosters.
But it didn’t quite work out for the AFC East. The Patriots teased us with a return to dynasty mode before their hated rivals the Jets came in to Foxboro and neutralized them. The Jets themselves came up short in Pittsburgh. And in Miami, the wheels came off despite a bunch of good performers, and they ended the season looking a team heading in the wrong direction as a rapidly improving Bills closed the gap.
But why? As is always the case, some players just don’t play as well as we’ve come to expect, while other stepped up in a way we didn’t see coming. It’s the beauty of the NFL that one year’s trash is the next years treasure.
We start our look at the NFL’s 32 teams and some of their trending players with the AFC East — the player on each squad who came the furthest in 2010, dropped the fastest, and made a case for a bigger role in 2011.
BUFFALO BILLS (4-12)
Moving On Up: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (+10.4 to +18.5)
Fitzpatrick took some time to get going, but had the kind of stretch of play from Week 11 to Week 15 that made you think he could do a job for the Bills going forward. He’ll always have the odd bad game because he walks a fine line between making a good throw or a bad decision, but he gave Buffalo more of an opportunity to win than you figured he would. He’s probably not the future, but he might be the near-future.
Had a Bad Year: LB Paul Posluszny (+16.6 to -2.7)
Our top-rated Bills defender in 2009 didn’t find life easy as the Bills defense struggled to find a schematic identity. He actually made more tackles and missed fewer in 2010, but he was too easily handled in the run game and looked a little out of place in coverage.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DE Alex Carrington (+1.6 in 214 snaps)
The rookie defensive end only got on the field for nine games, but in that time he did enough to suggest he could contribute (and upgrade) the Bills defensive line rotation. In Week 12 against Pittsburgh, where he saw his most extensive action, he picked up a sack and quarterback pressure while constantly getting inside Jonathan Scott to disrupt the Steeler running game. For the rest of the season his time was limited, but he graded positively when being used as a more conventional 4-3 end.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-9)
Moving On Up: NT Paul Soliai (-3.1 to +17.7)
Heading into the season the Dolphins were low on options at nose tackle, so it looked like Randy Starks would give it a go. This didn’t last, and after realizing he was best playing end, Starks returned home and Paul Soliai got his chance to start. Soliai responded well, finishing 5th among all tackles in our run defense rankings. This came just one year after playing 370 snaps and contributing little but workmanlike play against the run. His improvement should see him rewarded him a new contract and anchoring that Miami line for years to come.
Had a Bad Year: FB Lousaka Polite (+11.0 to -9.5)
What happened, Lousaka? He finished second in our 2009 rankings and then 4th from bottom in 2010? Polite had a number of plays where linebackers had no problem shedding his blocks and getting inside him to the ball carrier. Even the guy he tormented in 2009 (David Harris) did so.
Give This Guy More Snaps: S Rashad Jones (+2.9 in 153 snaps)
Jones got some action via injury and made such an impact that he worked his way into a rotation by season’s end. Given the struggles of Chris Clemons in coverage, Jones looks like a potential playmaking fit at the spot.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-3)
Moving On Up: ILB Jerod Mayo (-2.2 to +8.1)
Mayo improved his game in year three, looking like a better player than in his rookie year and his injury-affected 2009. We’d still like him to make more plays to go along with his tackle numbers, but you get the feeling Mayo’s presence allows others around him to have a bigger impact.
Had a Bad Year: S Brandon Meriweather (+6.7 to -10.0)
You know a guy is a bad Pro Bowl selection when even the home fans don’t support the choice. Meriweather just didn’t have a very good year, which is a surprise considering his success prior to this. Even cutting back on some of the missed tackles (from 11 to six) didn’t help his grade, and he finished the lowest rated player on the Patriots defense. A classic case in the Pro Bowl process where team success + big name = trip to Hawaii.
Give This Guy More Snaps: ILB Brandon Spikes (+18.6 in 364 snaps)
A real fun player to watch, Spikes is that kind of two-down linebacker that times the snap well and really knows how to shoot gaps and disrupt plays. For a time during the middle stretch of the season he was the most noticeable thing about the Patriots D, and did his bit to prove there’s more to playing linebacker than just racking up tackles.
NEW YORK JETS (13-6)
Moving On Up: QB Mark Sanchez (+1.1 to +24.3)
Make no mistake about it, Sanchez wasn’t great this year and came very close to earning a benching. But he improved a great deal after a rookie year where he was beyond terrible for large portions. He still struggles when pressured, but is far better under the blitz than his debut year. He went from completing 53.8% of passes with a 8:8 TD to INT ratio, to completing less passes (51.9%) but picking up 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He’s getting there.
Had a Bad Year: WR Jerricho Cotchery (+18.9 to -3.3)
One of the most consistent receivers over the past few years, it didn’t really work out for Cotchery this year, and it can’t all be blamed on the arrival of Santonio Holmes as he struggled before Holmes saw the field. He dropped eight more passes, saw his yards/catch drop by 4.2 yards and caught 8.1% fewer of the balls thrown his way. Numbers don’t lie in this case. He did have a great performance vs. New England in the playoffs, but that doesn’t excuse a bad regular season.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DL Trevor Pryce (+10.6 from 260 snaps)
When Rex Ryan got Pryce, you expected him to do something more — with Kris Jenkins down it wasn’t like they couldn’t find ways to get him snaps. But whether it be the excellent play from Shaun Ellis or just not thinking he could upgrade the team, Pryce only managed 260 snaps (including the playoffs). His performance didn’t drop, however, and he showed he still has plenty left — most notably in the AFC Championship game where his explosive burst off the snap caused no end of problems. At 35 and a free agent, Pryce might not be back in the league or with New York, but he proved that he still has it.