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AFC East Players That Will Need to Step Up in 2015

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo

The AFC East only produced one playoff team last year, but with new head coaches in Buffalo and New York and a Tom Brady suspension to open the season, 2015 brings with it quite some intrigue. The Patriots will look to defend their division, conference and Super Bowl titles, but this may be the year the other teams start to close the gap a little.

Related: NFC East Players That Will Need to Step Up in 2015

Here are players from each AFC East team who will be important to their team's success in 2015:

Jimmy Garoppolo, Quarterback, New England Patriots (1

st place

, 12-4)

With Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the season, Garoppolo will be tasked with managing the Patriots’ offense in the meantime. With only limited playing time last year, he will need to be able to perform well enough so that Brady doesn't have too big of a hole to dig out of when he returns. Four games can make a huge difference in the season’s outcome, especially with a matchup against the Bills early on.

Another player to watch: cornerback Malcolm Butler

Richie Incognito, Right Guard, Buffalo Bills (2

nd place

, 9-7)     

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In one of the more interesting moves of the offseason, new Bills head coach Rex Ryan brought in the controversial Incognito to help bolster an offensive line that struggled last year. Thus, Incognito is surely an upgrade with his veteran presence, but the baggage that comes with him can't be overlooked. If he can stay out of trouble, the move will look brilliant, but any sort of slip up will be extremely costly. The Bills need his talent, and that’s really all they need out of him for now.  

Another player to watch: quarterback EJ Manuel

Jamar Taylor, Cornerback, Miami Dolphins (3

rd place

, 8-8)

As Cortland Finnegan retired and no big names were brought in at cornerback, Taylor will need to step in opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes. Injuries have placed a damper on Taylor's first two seasons, and after a disappointing rookie season, he progressed in limited action last year. Now he will be needed to perform consistently, mostly by staying healthy. He’ll be tasked with covering teams’ No. 2 wide receiver for the most part, and the Dolphins are hoping their investment in the 2013 second-rounder finally pays off. 

Another player to watch: linebacker Chris McCain

Geno Smith, Quarterback, New York Jets (4

th place

, 4-12)

New head coach Todd Bowles made his mark on defense, but one of the biggest messes he has inherited with the Jets is his quarterback situation. Jets fans had hoped Smith would save their team, but he has come up well short of their, not to mention his, expectations. The team traded for Brandon Marshall to give Smith a better weapon, and there's no question this is an important season for Smith. His future with the team, and possibly the NFL in general, will depend on how he fares this year. First order of business for Smith is to beat out veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in training camp for the starting job.

Another player to watch: running back Chris Ivory