published 02/12/13 8:20am
The Dolphins must re-sign left tackle Jake Long for next season.
Photo: MSA / Icon SMI
Are the Pats still elite? Will the Bills improve in 2013? What's the situation with the Jets? And what about the Dolphins? Can they bounce back? In the first of eight installements, here are the AFC East division team needs.

(12-4 record in 2012)
The Pats came only a win away from reaching the Super Bowl for a sixth time in 12 years in the Tom Brady era (they won three of them) but fell short to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. And despite their excellent record, the Pats showed some weaknesses in 2012…

Primary need: in fact, they have two biggies…they need some serious help in the secondary (the New England 'D' allowed almost 21 points per game last season) and depth at wideout (especially considering the fact Wes Welker will be a free agent this off-season). So expect them to be looking for a cornerback in next April's draft or via free agency (even if they're able to retain free agent Aqib Talib, plus some depth at the wide receiver position.

Other needs: Tom Brady will be 36 when the 2013 season will begin and though he remains among the elite quarterbacks in the league, the Pats will sooner or later need to think about a replacement. And current backup Ryan Mallett remains unproven at the pro level. They will also be looking for a pass-rushing specialist, since LB/DE Rob Ninkovich was their leader with only eight sacks this past season.

(7-9 record in 2012)
Despite their losing record, the Dolphins made great progress last season thanks in part to rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, who showed glimpses of greatness at times when he officially became the team’s starter. That being said, they still have some work to do before being considered contenders.

Primary need: to re-sign Jake Long, period. If not, they will have a big hole to fill at left tackle and they’ll need to address that position either at the draft or through free agency. The same applies for free agent WR Brian Hartline. If he leaves, they'll need to find a new target downfield for Tannehill to keep improving.

Other needs: the cornerback situation is also a big issue in Miami. The 'Phins traded Vontae Davis to the Colts just before the beginning of the season and expected Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll and Sean Smith (now a free agent) to step up. None of the three did.

(6-10 record in 2012)
The underachieving Jets are a puzzling team, to say the least, from top (the front office) to bottom (the occasional special teamer). Is there hope? Most likely but they need to make some drastic changes to put the franchise back on the NFL map.

Primary need: organizational order, but that can't be settled through the draft or free agency. Other than that, they need to solve their problem at the quarterback position. After four full seasons as a starter, Mark Sanchez isn't the solution at all, while Tim Tebow was inexplicably forgotten (despite the fact they traded for him) and Greg McElroy still has to prove he’s NFL starter material.

Other needs: the offensive line wasn't at its best last season (besides LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold) so they need to upgrade here, especially at right Austin Howard isn't the solution there. They're also in need of a decent pass-rusher and must address the safety position since both LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell are free agents.

(6-10 record in 2012)
The Bills keep struggling. They haven't made the playoffs since 1999 and despite the emergence of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, they still can't find ways to win games. The franchise is stagnating and something needs to be done.

Primary need: the entire offense needs some revamping and if Fitzpatrick is to become successful in this league, he needs some targets downfield other than Steve Johnson. They're really thin at the wide receiver position since David Nelson isn't really an option and sophomore T.J. Graham remains unproven.

Other needs: the linebacker position should also be a priority, especially on the weak side. Nick Barnett was released following the season, while Chris White and Brian Smith are more depth players than reliable starters. The Bills also need to retain safety Jairus Byrd.