The Patriots will play 16 exciting games this season, but they’re far from the only team in the AFC East with an action-packed schedule.
There will be a lot of intrigue around the Miami Dolphins early in the season, as people look to see how the team is coming together. The New York Jets are always at the center of attention, and bring story lines with them wherever they go. The Buffalo Bills haven’t been a good team lately, but with a brand new coaching staff and a rookie quarterback, they could be a fun team to watch.
With a lot of moving parts in the division, there will be plenty of unfriendly reunions on the football field. We don’t have to look beyond Week 1 to see one of the biggest such stories, with the Jets welcoming cornerback Darrelle Revis back to New York, now as a member of the Buccaneers.
Let’s not spoil the whole list, though. Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing games the AFC East teams will play this season.
20: Dolphins vs. Browns
Date: Sunday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line This is the Dolphins’ first game of the season, and we’ll get our first look at how all the new pieces have come together. This game won’t make or break their season, but it will be a tone-setter.
The Browns haven’t been a good team in recent years, but they have a young, up-and-coming defense that could give the Dolphins some trouble. Their big defensive backs will present a tough challenge for the Miami receivers, and their front seven can bring the heat against the offensive line.
The Browns also have an offense that could threaten the Dolphins with the deep pass, as Norv Turner is wont to do with a big-armed quarterback like Brandon Weeden. The fireworks could go off early.
Interesting stat: The Dolphins and Browns have both lost their past two Week 1 games.
Bold prediction: Ryan Tannehill will be intercepted twice.
19: Jets vs. Buccaneers
Date: Sunday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Week 1 gives us the return of cornerback Darrelle Revis to an NFL field to take on his old team in his old stomping grounds. Revis might be facing his old teammate, Mark Sanchez, but the story might be even thicker depending on how the Jets’ quarterback competition plays out, as this could be the first NFL start for Geno Smith.
Interesting stat: Darrelle Revis allowed completions on just 39.7 percent of throws in his direction since Rex Ryan became Jets head coach in 2009.
Bold prediction: Whoever the Jets quarterback is, he will not throw at Revis until the third quarter.
18: Bills vs. Saints
Date: Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013 at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Bills head coach Doug Marrone was the offensive coordinator of the Saints from 2006-08, in the first three years with head coach Sean Payton (who returns to the sidelines this year after a one-year suspension following Bountygate) and quarterback Drew Brees.
The Saints and Bills ranked as the worst and the second-worst teams against the run in 2012, but both coaching staffs are known for their offensive philosophies of passing. It comes back to a coaching battle, pitting two coaches with very different quarterback situations — one a proven veteran, the other an ultra-talented rookie.
Interesting stat: In their past two meetings with the Bills, the Saints have rushed 79 times for a combined 389 yards (4.92 YPA) and four touchdowns.
Bold prediction: C.J. Spiller will total over 200 yards against the Saints.
17: Jets vs. Ravens
Date: Sunday, Nov. 24, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Jets coach Rex Ryan faces off against his old team, but this will be the first time he faces the Ravens without linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed on their roster. In fact, only two players remain from the unit Rex coached: defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs.
That being said, if you like a good defensive battle, this will be a great game for you. The last time these teams faced off, the offenses combined to turn the ball over seven times, with the Ravens winning, 34-17. There were eight fumbles and 16 penalties. It was ugly. Read on for more ugly.
Interesting stat: Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco combined to go 21 of 66 for 282 yards (4.2 YPA) and two interceptions in that game.
Bold prediction: Mark Sanchez will not be the starter for the Jets in this meeting.
16: Patriots vs. Steelers
Date: Sunday, Nov. 3, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: The Patriots and Steelers have been considered bitter rivals for a while, even though they are not divisional foes. Both teams have been near the top of the AFC for years. In fact, the Patriots (.760) and Steelers (.659) are two of the three winningest NFL franchises of the past 12 years.
The battle of the quarterbacks is underrated, and although Tom Brady has dominated the Steelers defense in recent years, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was able to get Brady off his game in the last meeting (5.7 yards per pass attempt).
Interesting stat: The Steelers defense has dealt with some moving parts over the years, but they still held opponents to a 79 passer rating in 2012 (eighth-lowest in the NFL).
Bold prediction: The Steelers will not log a sack of Tom Brady in this contest.
15: Dolphins vs. Ravens
Date: Sunday, Oct. 6, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: It usually takes teams about four weeks to form their identity and get a feel for where they are headed. With the Dolphins facing off against the Super Bowl champion Ravens in Week 5, the opportunity is present for the team to assert itself in the playoff hunt.
The Dolphins need to prove themselves against proven teams; over the past two years, they’ve compiled just a 2-6 record (.250) against teams that went to the playoffs the year before.
Interesting stat: Ravens running back Ray Rice has earned at least 130 yards from scrimmage in each of his past three games against an AFC East opponent.
Bold prediction: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be sacked more than Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
14: Dolphins vs. Steelers
Date: Sunday, Dec. 8, at 1:00 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace makes his return to Heinz Field after signing with the Dolphins this offseason. Wallace was a great weapon for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and finished with more than 1,100 receiving yards in 2010 and 2011. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will likely do whatever it takes to make sure Wallace doesn’t run wild through his secondary. That strategy will probably involve throwing the kitchen sink at Ryan Tannehill.
Interesting stat: LeBeau may want to think twice about bringing the heat on Ryan Tannehill, who was the second-most accurate quarterback under pressure in 2012 (completed the pass or had it dropped on 72.9 percent of his throws when under pressure).
Bold prediction: Wallace will not catch a touchdown pass against the Steelers.
13: Bills vs. Dolphins
Dates: Sunday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m. ET and Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: The Dolphins were in contention for a playoff spot at times in 2012, but their midseason loss to the Bills was one of several nails in their coffin. The Bills fell to the Dolphins later in the season, but the damage had already been done.
Things have changed since the last meeting, though, with new coaches and a new quarterback for the Bills. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will surely have something in store for Ryan Tannehill, and with questions about the Dolphins’ fortitude on the offensive line, they will be under close watch as the Bills cook up a pressure-based game plan.
Interesting stat: C.J. Spiller picked up 303 yards from scrimmage in two games against the Dolphins in 2012.
Bold prediction: Ryan Tannehill will be sacked five times in one of his two meetings with the Bills defense.
12: Patriots vs. Bengals
Date: Sunday, Oct. 6, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: The Patriots have not yet seen quarterback Andy Dalton. In fact, the Patriots and Bengals haven’t faced off since the 2010 season opener. Randy Moss was still on the team, and Carson Palmer was the starting quarterback for the Bengals with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens as the starting receivers. I could go on and on, but these are two very different teams since the last time they met.
That said, these are two of the more talented teams in the AFC, and there will be great matchups on both sides of the ball: Aqib Talib vs. A.J. Green, Geno Atkins vs. Logan Mankins, Michael Johnson vs. Nate Solder and more.
Interesting stat: The Bengals defense ranked third in sack percentage, bringing down the quarterback on 8.3 percent of pass plays; the Patriots offensive line allowed the quarterback to be sacked on just 4.1 percent of his pass plays, fifth-lowest in the NFL.
Bold prediction: Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will earn over 100 rushing yards against the Patriots, his former team.
11: Bills vs. Jets
Dates: Sunday, Sept. 22, at 4:25 p.m. ET and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: The Bills picked up a few former Jets coaches. Bills head coach Doug Marrone was offensive line coach for the Jets from 2002-05. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine left the Jets to join the new Bills regime this offseason, and while not much was said about the departure outside team walls, there’s reason to believe the two sides did not end on the best of terms. Now, there will be an interesting chess match between the former student Pettine and his former master Rex Ryan, who designed much of Pettine’s defensive scheme.
If nothing else, the Bills and Jets could be fighting it out over who is left at the bottom of the division. The two teams tied for last place last year with 6-10 records.
Interesting stat: In two games against the Jets in 2012, C.J. Spiller earned 325 yards from scrimmage (228 rushing, 97 receiving), with three plays of over 40 yards, and scored two touchdowns.
Bold prediction: The Jets will frustrate E.J. Manuel, but he will earn at least 400 total yards passing and rushing in at least one game.
10: Patriots vs. Saints
Date: Sunday, Oct. 13, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Tom Brady is going for Drew Brees’s record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54). With 48 consecutive games to his name, Brady could potentially tie Brees’s record in this game.
The last time these teams met, in 2009, the Saints blew the doors off the Patriots in the Superdome as part of a 13-game win streak to start the season on their way to the Super Bowl. These teams are familiar with each other on a more recent basis than that, as they practiced together in the 2010 and 2012 training camps for a week, leading up to preseason games.
Interesting stat: Drew Brees is 3-0 against the Patriots, and has completed 72.3 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 148.3 passer rating.
Bold prediction: The Patriots and Saints will combine for over 70 points.
9: Patriots vs. Jets
Dates: Thursday, Sept. 12, at 8:25 p.m. ET and Sunday, Oct. 20, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: This rivalry was once one of the most intense in the AFC, but it seems like ages ago that the Jets were 3-2 in a five-game stretch against Brady and Belichick. The Patriots have swept the Jets, 4-0, the past two years, but the playing field will be a bit more level in the first meeting. Both teams will be coming off short rest in Week 2 with a game on NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football.’’ They will still be trying to figure out each other and themselves.
Tom Brady has struggled with the Jets defense in the past, most notably in the AFC Divisional playoff game the Patriots lost, 28-21, but over the past two years, he has completed 66.7 percent of his passes and has compiled a 112.4 passer rating with nine touchdowns and just one interception.
Interesting stat: Three of the past five meetings have been decided by 9 or fewer points. The other two were decided by 21 and 30 points.
Bold prediction: Geno Smith will start at least one of the two games for the Jets.
8: Dolphins vs. Jets
Dates: Sunday, Dec. 1, at 1 p.m. ET and Sunday, Dec. 29, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: The Jets were the No. 2 team in the AFC East for three years. They progressively took steps back over the past two seasons, though, which allowed the Dolphins to slide into the No. 2 spot. The Joe Philbin-Ryan Tannehill Era is in Year 2, in a similar spot to where the Jets were in Year 2 of the Rex Ryan-Mark Sanchez regime, with high expectations.
The Jets defense has entered a transitional phase without cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker Bart Scott, nose tackle Sione Pouha, defensive end Mike DeVito, and safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, but they have been a solid pass defense with moving pieces in the past, and finished with a 78.2 defensive passer rating in 2012 (seventh in the NFL). It’s a credit to Rex Ryan’s defensive genius, and Tannehill will have his hands full.
Interesting stat: The Jets and Dolphins combined for six turnovers in their two games in 2012.
Bold prediction: The teams will combine for at least 10 turnovers in their two games.
7: Patriots vs. Bills
Dates: Sunday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m. ET and Sunday, Dec. 29. at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: These two games bookend the season for the teams. Week 1 is always unpredictable as teams are just beginning to figure out themselves, much less their opponents. The Patriots will get their first crack at the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft. We’ll also get to see how the Patriots respond to the read-option.
Brady has been red-hot against the Bills defense, throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions in two games against them in 2012, but this will not be the same old Bills defense. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine held the same post for the Jets in years they gave Brady some trouble, so he might be able to take some of what he learned there and apply it to slowing down the Patriots.
Interesting stat: The Patriots have rushed for 152.5 yards per game in the past four meetings with the Bills.
Bold prediction: Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore will intercept two or more Tom Brady passes.
6: Patriots vs. Buccaneers
Date: Sunday, Sept. 22, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Call this the Rutgers NFL Graduating Classes of 2010-13 reunion. Former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, now head coach of the Buccaneers, will face off with his mentor Bill Belichick for the first time in the NFL. Belichick invited Schiano’s staff to New England for a few tips. The teams have practiced together and faced off in a preseason contest, so Schiano should be familiar with the Patriots roster if he’s not already; at present, the Patriots have nine former Rutgers players on their roster.
Interesting stat: Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis has allowed 20 completions on 39 throws in his direction in his previous seven games against the Patriots as a member of the Jets.
Bold prediction: Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will score a touchdown against his former team.
5: Dolphins vs. Colts
Date: Sunday, Sept. 15, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: This is Ryan Tannehill vs. Andrew Luck Part 2, with Luck’s Colts coming out on top, 23-20, in the first meeting. With the first overall pick in the 2012 draft against the eighth overall pick, this quarterback duel could come to define the AFC in years to come. Either way, this game could go a long way in deciding which of these two teams makes it to the playoffs as a wild card.
Interesting stat: According to ProFootballFocus.com, Andrew Luck went downfield (20 yards or more) on 16.1 percent of his throws — third-most in the league — in 2012. The Dolphins gave up 60 passing plays of 20 yards or more, fourth-most in the league.
Bold prediction: Former Dolphin cornerback Vontae Davis will log an interception of Ryan Tannehill.
4: Patriots vs. Dolphins
Dates: Sunday, Oct. 27, at 1 p.m. ET and Sunday, Dec. 15, at 1 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: The Dolphins were the No. 2 team in the AFC East in 2012, with the Patriots residing in their typical spot atop the division. General manager Jeff Ireland spent a lot of money this offseason on key pieces to help get the Dolphins to the playoffs. Beating the Patriots would be a big step in that direction.
The Patriots are 4-0 in their past four games against the Dolphins, but the games have been close at times. The four have been decided by a total of 52 points, but one game was decided by 3 points and another by 7.
Interesting stat: Tom Brady has achieved a passer rating below 86 in two of his past four games against the Dolphins, and above 104 in the other two.
Bold prediction: The Dolphins will split their season series with the Patriots.
3: Patriots vs. Texans
Date: Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: After going 0-2 and being outscored, 83-42, in two games at Gillette Stadium in 2012, the Texans get to play host to the Patriots.
The Texans defense was one of the best in the league in 2012, ranking ninth in scoring and 10th in defensive passer rating, but yielded two of their three highest point totals on the season to the Patriots. The Texans and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips like to blitz more than most teams, but Tom Brady threw 18 touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz in 2012, better than any other quarterback in the NFL. He threw six touchdowns against the blitz in the two games against the Texans.
Interesting stat: Defensive end J.J. Watt had 22 sacks in 18 games, but was held to just 0.5 in two games against the Patriots.
Bold prediction: Aaron Dobson will haul in two touchdowns against the Texans cornerbacks.
2: Patriots vs. Ravens
Date: Sunday, Dec. 22, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Compelling story line: These teams have faced off in two consecutive AFC Championship games, the first one ending in stunning fashion with a missed field goal by Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff, and the second ending with the Ravens advancing to the Super Bowl with a win on the Patriots’ home field. The Ravens have won the past two meetings, but the rivalry has been an even split since 2009 at three wins apiece.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has had some of his best performances against the Patriots lately, and he put up at least two touchdown passes and a 95 passer rating in each of the past four games.
Interesting stat: Tom Brady has thrown three touchdowns, six interceptions, and compiled just a 72.2 passer rating in his past four games against the Ravens.
Bold prediction: Ray Rice will average less than 4 yards per carry. The Patriots held opponents to a paltry 3.9 YPA in 2012.
1: Patriots vs. Broncos
Date: Sunday, Nov. 24, at 8:30p.m. ET
Compelling story line: Take your pick. The War of 1812 rages on as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady engage in their 14th head-to-head meeting. Brady currently has the edge in those meetings with a 9-4 record. The game takes place fairly late in the season, and the battle for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs could be hitting its peak. Brady and Manning have been the quarterback representing the AFC in four of the past seven Super Bowls.
Wes Welker’s defection from the Patriots to the Broncos only adds more fuel to the fire. Forget waiting all day for Sunday night; we’ll be talking about this one for weeks leading up to the contest.
Interesting stat: Tom Brady has dominated Jack Del Rio defenses lately, going 72 of 85 (84.7 completion percentage) for 752 yards (8.8 yards per attempt), eight touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 134.9 passer rating in the past three meetings.
Bold prediction: Wes Welker will catch two touchdown passes in a Patriots win.