The choice of games for the 2015 International Series no doubt had its critics amongst the NFL UK community, with many hoping for trips to Wembley from the Colts, Packers, Broncos or Seahawks. Instead we got six teams that lacked any real star power. Changes in the AFC East, however could mean we see our best run of games in this country to date.
It's probably worth having a quick refresher of the matchups we will be seeing in the UK this year:
- New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins
- Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The overwhelming feeling was that these were average matchups between non-descript teams and that despite prising the Chiefs away from Arrowhead Stadium, widely considered one of the toughest places to play and even though we were getting a divisional game from the Dolphins and Jets, two teams with a long history, a lack of star power meant that fans were somewhat lukewarm to the quality of teams we were seeing this year, especially after having the glitz and the glamour of the Cowboys in 2014 and the history and success of the Steelers the year before that. NFL historians could argue that the Dolphins bring that this year, but after years of head-scratching moves people's patience had worn thin, along with this being the third time they'd made the trip to London, which perhaps left the UK audience a little bored of seeing teal. All of these teams were considered middle of the pack with no real standout games to get excited over.
But a lot can change over an NFL offseason.
Three out of four teams from the AFC East are heading our way in 2015, with just the Patriots (who have been here twice already) not needing a passport to play any games this year. When the games were announced the Patriots were the dominant force in the division with the other teams miles behind them. But even before the Patriots lifted the Lombardi this year, we started seeing the beginning of a power shift in the East, with Doug Marrone voluntarily leaving Buffalo and Rex Ryan being forced out of New York. Both teams acted quickly. The Jets picked up Todd Bowles, former Arizona defensive coordinator, who in 2014 took a defence with a laundry list of injuries and turned them into one of the top defences in the league. The Bills went with ex-Jets head coach Rex Ryan. It was the Bills picking up Rex that had me most excited. For all his faults as a coach Rex Ryan is exceptionally entertaining, particularly in press conferences, so when the Jets fired him I was upset that we wouldn't see him in the UK. Luckily for us Rex was picked up by the Bills and judging by his new Bills tattoo, he's pretty fired up. Rex has the potential to make the whole UK sporting media turn round and take notice. If you want proof just type 'Rex Ryan' into YouTube.
Aside from head coaching changes in the AFC East, there were some huge moves that happened on the field too. The Bills themselves shipped third year line-backer Kiko Alonso to the Eagles in exchange for out of favour running back LeSean McCoy, who in 2013 led the league in rushing yards, but in 2014 saw a massive drop in production, leaving the Eagles unwilling to pay him $12million. As well as the former number one rusher, the Bills picked up out of favour wide receiver Percy Harvin, exceptionally talented tight end Charles Clay and one of the top full-backs in the league, Jerome Felton, showing that the Bills mean business on offence with a lean towards the run game.
The Dolphins made a huge splash (pun most definitely intended), picking up Ndamukong Suh, making him the highest paid defensive tackle in the league, an addition that makes the Dolphins defensive line frankly terrifying. On top of the vast amount of money spent on Suh, they added tight end Jordan Cameron, wide receivers Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills, as well as draft picks, DeVante Parker, and UK born running back Jay Ajayi, who will no doubt be the focus of attention from the UK media when the Dolphins make their trip to London.
Not wanting to feel left out of the power shift in the AFC East, the Jets turned one of the worst secondaries in the league into one of the best, picking up Darrelle Revis from division rivals the Patriots, Antonio Cromartie to give Revis his old cornerback partner and vastly underrated slot corner, Buster Skrine. The big moves didn't stop at defensive backs for gang green though, with Brandon Marshall being traded to the Jets for a fifth round pick and Leonard Williams coming in through the draft, a player that was widely considered the most talented in this year's crop. With all of these moves the AFC East finally looks like a competitive division, with teams that all have a decent shot at making the playoffs, so really these three teams alone should provide us with the star power we've been craving in this country.
But there is one problem.
When you look at the six teams hitting these shores, none of them have that star quarterback that gains so much of the attention. From the three AFC East teams heading our way, the top QB amongst them is Ryan Tannehill, who is a good player and narrowly missed out on my top 10, but he's not the Brady, Rodgers, Manning or Luck that fans in this country had been craving. Of the other two teams in that division there is a total of five different players we could see take the field as a starter at quarterback and I don't think one of them has the potential to be a franchise player.
Regardless these three teams of the AFC East have improved and become far more exciting to watch. In particular the division game between the Dolphins and the Jets will be vitally important to a potential playoff spot. Despite the lack of quarterback charisma, these teams all provide some of the best players at their position as well as some enigmatic coaches (Joe Philbin aside) and potential for exciting play.