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AFC East Outlook
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The NFL draft gets all the attention in the spring, but the recent release of the 2013 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the AFC East in this schedule preview. This certainly looks like New England’s division to lose, but the Dolphins look capable of a step forward season that could make the race more competitive. The Bills and Jets have many question marks, but could have opportunities ahead as the schedule ratings for this division are manageable.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills were a team that many expected to break into the playoff picture last season with a favorable schedule, but it was another losing season and big changes were made in Buffalo. The Bills have taken some heat for its draft class with E.J. Manuel being considered a reach by many in the middle of the first round, but the Bills will snag a fourth-place schedule in 2013 and could exceed expectations that are grounded with the transition to head coach Doug Marrone. Buffalo will only play five games all season against 2012 playoff teams and only the season finale at New England is on the road among those five games. Buffalo does surrender a home game to play a game in Toronto and that will be an early December match-up with Atlanta this season. While the Bills do not face any west coast travel and will play seven of eight road games in the Eastern Time zone, there are a lot of miles ahead for this team.

The Bills will make three separate trips to Florida to face all three franchises in the Sunshine State and also face a long trip to New Orleans. The Bills have to travel to Miami and New Orleans in back-to-back road games and then will have a set of three games in a row away from home in December, going from the Toronto game to back-to-back games in Florida at Tampa Bay and at Jacksonville. The Bills get to play four of the first six games of the season at home, but those will be against very tough opposition, facing New England, Carolina, Baltimore, and Cincinnati in those home contests. None of the first seven road opponents featured a winning record last season, as six of the eight road opponents this season had a losing record in 2012. Looking strictly at win percentage from last season, the Bills have by far the easiest schedule in this division but they are also the only team with a coaching change to deal with. The long travel and challenging home slate will likely make it tough for the Bills to improve on last season’s 6-10 mark in this transition season.

Buffalo Bills 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .473
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 5 (three home, one neutral, one away)
Miles Traveled for 9 road/neutral games: 6,394
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 1 (one Thursday)

Miami Dolphins:
Miami has certainly made some noteworthy moves and the fan base should be optimistic for the 2013 season. Ryan Tannehill certainly showed enough promise last season to expect good things in the future and the Dolphins finished the year as one of the best defensive teams in the AFC, allowing less than 20 points per game. By finishing 7-9 last season, the Dolphins moved ahead of the Jets and the Bills in the division and a second-place schedule is waiting, getting games with San Diego and Indianapolis. Strictly by win percentage from last season, Miami has the eighth-toughest schedule in the NFL and by a substantial margin the toughest schedule in the AFC East. The Dolphins will face three of the first four games of the season on the road and as usual the Dolphins will accumulate a great deal of travel miles this season.

Seven of eight road games will be at least 800 miles away for the Dolphins. Miami will also play four of its six division games in the final five weeks of the season including both meetings with the Jets coming in December. Miami will only play two road games against teams that had winning records last year as most of the toughest games will be at home including visits from Atlanta and Baltimore for the first two home games of the season. Miami might be favored in the opening week at Cleveland, but the Dolphins should be an underdog in the next four games before an early Week 6 bye, so it will be important for the Dolphins to be ready for a difficult first month of the season. Miami could have its best results late in the season as seven of the final eight games will be against teams that did not make the playoffs last season with the lone exception being the home date with the Patriots. The first few weeks could tell the story for the Dolphins as a slow start could spell trouble but a few early upsets could propel this team to playoff contention.

Miami Dolphins 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .520
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 6 (four home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,977
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 3 (one Thursday, two Monday)

New England Patriots: Until the rest of the division improves, New England will continue to get relatively favorable schedule paths each season, despite typically finishing as a first-place team. Being the only team in the AFC East that has to play both Denver and Houston is a big disadvantage, but the Patriots do not have to play themselves twice like the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets have to, basically canceling out the first-place schedule disadvantage. New England only has to play five games against teams that made the playoffs last season, but four of those games will be on the road this year for the Patriots for a tougher wrinkle in the slate. Two of those games will come in the second of back-to-back road games with substantial travel involved as well.

While the home slate for New England is favorable, there are several marquee games, hosting New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Denver for a tougher home schedule than the win percentage numbers might indicate. The Patriots certainly deserve to remain the overwhelming favorites in this division through this schedule, but the path ahead for New England to be a top seed in the AFC might be tougher than it first appears. There is substantial travel ahead and several difficult road games that come in less than ideal spots on the schedule, having to play road games against Atlanta and Cincinnati in back-to-back weeks as well as having tough road games at Carolina and at Houston sandwiched around the huge home game with Denver. New England’s AFC championship game rematch with Baltimore will come in Week 16 and it will the second of back-to-back road games after a long trip to Miami. The key for New England will be maintaining its dominance in the division as going 6-0 in the AFC East games again would likely keep the Patriots in the hunt for a bye in the playoffs.

New England Patriots 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .508
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 5 (one home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 7,128
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 5 (one Thursday, three Sunday night, one Monday)

New York Jets: Coming off distraction-filled and very disappointing season, the Jets will face tremendous pressure again in 2013, with employment with the team likely on the line for Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez, assuming Sanchez remains the starter over rookie Geno Smith or other candidates. The Jets will face a difficult first half schedule with three road games against 2012 playoff teams and big marquee home games with the Steelers, Patriots, and Saints. The five-game stretch from early October to a Week 10 bye week will be especially tough and this team will certainly be a candidate to have imploded already by that time. If the Jets can get through the first nine weeks with a respectable record, there could be a chance to make a run in the second half however. The Jets only play one 2012 playoff team in the final seven weeks of the season and there will be several winnable home games on the schedule late in the season including hosting two warm weather teams in December which could be a big advantage.

While the Jets travel the fewest miles in this division, the road slate is very difficult with four games against 2012 playoff teams, and not just playoff teams, three of those teams were in the conference championship games last season. The Jets will need a hot start to have a chance and that could be difficult given the fragile quarterback situation and a lot of new personnel likely in key roles. New York opens at home against Tampa Bay in what could be a critical game for both teams to define what direction the season will go. In Week 2, the Jets face a short week with a Thursday game in Foxboro and then will have winnable games with Buffalo and Tennessee in Weeks 3 and 4. The Jets might need a 3-1 start to have a chance to be close to .500 after the October gauntlet and that first few weeks could dictate the season in New York.

New York Jets 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .496
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 5 (one home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 5,121
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 2 (one Thursday, one Monday)

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