Second of an eight-part series
Overview: A switch from Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback improved the Bills, though that wasn't evident in their record. Buffalo went 4-12 in its first year under Chan Gailey, with four of the losses coming by three points and three of them in overtime.
Team MVP: Despite the struggles of the defense, NT Kyle Williams emerged as an elite player in 2010, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl for his play. Williams led the team with 5.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss, even though he was double- and triple-teamed for much of the season.
Biggest surprise: At the start of the year, wide receiver looked to be a big question mark. By season's end, all those questions had been answered by Stevie Johnson. The former seventh-round pick caught 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs, emerging as a go-to target for Fitzpatrick during the season.
Biggest disappointment: Instead of picking a single player or position, the entire run defense was the Bills' greatest disappointment. All season long the team was awful at stopping opposing running backs, allowing 200 or more yards in half of their games and finishing last in the NFL in yards per rush and yards per game.
Offseason outlook: If the Bills are to gain ground in the AFC East, the team needs to improve its talent level on both sides of the ball. There will be impact players available when Buffalo picks third overall in the draft, and it will be up to Gailey and GM Buddy Nix to find the piece that fits best.
Overview: The offseason acquisitions of WR Brandon Marshall and ILB Karlos Dansby helped increase expectations for the 2010 Dolphins, and a quick 2-0 start made people think they were a potential playoff team. But their 1-7 home record and the offense's inability to score points (30th in the league) wasted a phenomenal season by the defense under new coordinator Mike Nolan.
Team MVP: OLB Cameron Wake had a career year. We knew the former CFL star had some pass-rushing abilities, but he led the team and finished third in the league with 14 sacks. A dynamic player off the edge, Wake sparked a big defensive turnaround and forced teams to game-plan against him.
Biggest surprise: NT Paul Soliai was thrust into the starting role after rookie DE Jared Odrick suffered a season-ending injury in Week One. The career reserve had a breakout season, recording eight tackles for loss in a career-high 14 starts. The 'Fins now will need to consider re-signing the coveted free agent.
Biggest disappointment: Neither veteran RBs Ronnie Brown nor Ricky Williams had a good season, but that was due in part to a poor offensive line. That leaves QB Chad Henne as the biggest disappointment. He had high expectations and the backing of the club, but he failed in opportunities to lead the team to victories in pressure-packed situations and was even benched after Week Nine. He'll likely have some competition for the starting job in 2011.
Offseason outlook: With new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and a contract extension for Tony Sparano, the Dolphins are putting all their efforts into improving the offense. Expect new faces in the backfield and another signalcaller to battle with Henne. There is a lot of pressure on the Dolphins to add to that side of the ball to score points in 2011.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Overview: As great as the 14-2 regular season was, the only thing most people will remember about the 2010 Patriots is their home playoff loss to the Jets. It was an important season for the future of the franchise, though. Trading Laurence Maroney and Randy Moss allowed BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and a pair of rookie tight ends to emerge. Starting four rookies on defense gave them plenty of experience — and also areas to improve.
Team MVP: The league MVP, Tom Brady, was clearly the team MVP. With one of the league's worst defenses, Brady needed to score more points, and he answered the call, doing so with rookies and little-known backs. Brady threw for 3,900 yards, 36 TDs and just four interceptions.
Biggest surprise: When starting CB Leigh Bodden landed on injured reserve, first-round rookie Devin McCourty went from the team's third corner to a starter. As the season wore on, he went from just a starter to a lockdown corner, leading all rookies with seven interceptions and helping the Patriots lead the AFC in takeaways.
Biggest disappointment: Most of the Patriots' players overachieved, if anything, and no single player was a disappointment, but as a team, the third-down defense was very underwhelming. The young "D" was on the field too long and finished last in the league in third-down defense. As the season went along, they improved on defense but couldn't improve in stopping teams on third down.
Offseason outlook: Following the success of their 2010 draft class, hopes are high for the Patriots to bring in another good crop of rookies. Trading veterans has given them six picks in the first three rounds of April's draft. They will also have to make some decisions on some older free agents, like Matt Light and Kevin Faulk. The Pats will want to shore up a few positions that were lacking in 2010, mainly the pass rush, whether it is a defensive end or an outside linebacker. Their top priority before the draft will likely be re-signing OLG Logan Mankins and deciding what kind of contract to give Green-Ellis, a restricted free agent.
NEW YORK JETS
Overview: The Jets made as many headlines off the field as they did on it, which is noteworthy for a team that reached the AFC championship game for a second year in a row. New York started the season as a Super Bowl favorite but ended it as an underdog, knocking off the favored Colts and Patriots on the road in the postseason before falling just short to the Steelers.
Team MVP: He didn't receive the attention that some of his teammates did, but no Jet was better — or more important — than ILB David Harris. The team's leading tackler, Harris was a constant presence in run support, anchoring the league's third-ranked defense in 2010.
Biggest surprise: When the team signed RB LaDainian Tomlinson last March, they expected him to be a situational back, not the every-down runner with speed and agility he proved to be. L.T. showed he hadn't lost much from his days as an elite runner with the Chargers, rushing for 4.2 yards per carry, his best average since 2007.
Biggest disappointment: When SS Jim Leonhard went down with a broken leg on Dec. 3, it began a monthlong slump for the Jets, knocking them down from favorites to be the AFC's top seed to sneaking in the playoffs through the back door. The team went 1-3 in December, highlighted by a 45-3 blowout loss to the Patriots on "Monday Night Football" and an embarrassing home defeat to the Dolphins. It also didn't help that controversy surrounding strength coach Sal Alosi for tripping a Miami player and head coach Rex Ryan for a series of online videos turned up the pressure even more on the team.
Offseason outlook: While it will likely lack the drama of Darrelle Revis' negotiations from last summer, the Jets have a long line of top players looking for new contracts. That includes Harris, CB Antonio Cromartie and a trio of top wide receivers: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum will have a busy offseason trying to keep the team among the league's elite.