NFL season preview – AFC East

 

1. New England Patriots

Who else would I have in this spot?  Belichek and Brady.  Together they have won 8 of the last 9 division titles, and the year they didn’t win it was the year Brady missed the season (except for 1 quarter) with his ACL injury.  Hate them or love them you have to give them their props.  Last year they went to the Super Bowl with a suspect defense. 

Brady is incredible and will once again be among the elite QB’s in the NFL.  And now he has Brandon Lloyd at WR, a massive upgrade over Chad Johnson on the outside.  Welker, Gronk, Hernandez, major major weapons for Brady to play with.  They have a committee at RB with Vereen, Ridley, Woodhead and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden.  I have heard some experts suggest they will run the ball more this season, but I have heard that for the last 3 or 4 seasons about the Pats and it has yet to happen. The only real question mark on the offense is on the line where 2nd year man Nate Solder (2011 1st round pick) steps into the starting role at LT as Patriot great Matt Light retired.  Big responsibility protecting the golden boy’s blind side, but Solder has the talent and for sure the size (6’8, 319) to get the job done. 

In the draft they massively upgraded the defense selecting Syracuse DE Chandler “Jon is my brother” Jones and Alabama LB Dont’a Hightower.  Adding Jones to Vince Wilfork gives them a formidable d-line, I love this LB core now with Hightower, and the secondary is just very solid not spectacular but will be helped out a lot by a vastly improved front 7.  6 of the Pats 7 draft picks were used on the defensive side of the ball. 

It’s a scary team folks, and this might be their best squad since 2007.  15-1, even 16-0 is not out of the question for them.

 

2. Buffalo Bills

Yes, I’m taking the Bills to finish ahead of the Jets (sorry Colin).  But this is more about expecting the Jets to implode than the Bills being that good.  I will hit on the Jets in a bit, back to the Bills. 

Mario Williams is obviously what has a lot of people jacked up about this team.  Williams is an elite DE in a 4-3 defense and the Bills haven’t had that since Bruce Smith.  But I think it is going to be a year before Williams has a major impact on the team.  Maybe I will be wrong about this, but it usually takes free agents a year to get adjusted and he is coming off a major injury.  Other than Williams, they upgraded at corner selecting Stephen Gilmore with the 10th pick in the draft.  In fact a lot of experts believe the Bills had a great draft. 

The offense is still a bit of a mystery to me however.  There is talent, but you don’t know when Stevie Johnson is going to make that key drop, they only seem to use TE Scott Chandler in the red zone, they have a great offensive weapon in C.J. Spiller but they can’t figure out how to use him correctly with Fred Jackson still in the fold.  And then finally Ryan Fitzpatrick may have earned himself a fat new deal last season and may have emerged as an OK QB in the league, but he is all wrong for Buffalo in November and December.  He has a very weak arm and playing in cold weather that is a recipe for disaster.  That total collapse last season wasn’t a mistake. 

But while I’m ragging on them pretty good at the end of the day they have assembled a solid team.  A lot of experts really believe this team will make a huge jump this season and get in the playoffs.  I know Peter King of Sports Illustrated thinks they will go 10-6 and get in.  A lot of it rests on Williams and the pass rush.  If they can get to the QB this season their defense will improve dramatically and help out the offense which can put points on the board despite Fitzpatrick’s short comings.

 

3. NY Jets

The circus never leaves town it seems.  Since Rex Ryan arrived in 2009 this has been the most entertaining franchise in the NFL.  However you want to be entertaining ON the field, not off it.  And this offseason they added another circus.  Timmy no shirt, A.K.A. Tebowmania, A.K.A. Timothy Tebow.  I don’t in ANYWAY see how this is a good fit for anyone.  Not for Tebow, not for Sanchez, not for Shonn Greene, nobody. 

Mark Sanchez doesn’t need to be looking over his shoulder and even though he may not be now, he will be.  The Jets schedule early on is BRUTAL.  On May 7th I tweeted that I believe Tebow will be the starting QB by week 7 because what I expect to happen is nobody will pay attention to who the Jets are playing, just that the Jets are losing with Sanchez at the helm.  But they have many problems elsewhere too.  Shonn Greene has never really evolved into the RB that many thought he could become, so the team will need him to finally step up.  At wide out Santonio Holmes has virtually nothing behind him!  They were trying Antonio Cromartie there in camp but I don’t know how much they will actually use him there if at all.  Chaz Schillens has never been a reliable WR, I love 2nd round pick Stephen Hill out of Georgia Tech but he is extremely raw, and Jeremy Kerley has talent but is very small at just 5’9.  And then you have RT where they’ve benched Wayne Hunter finally and brought in 1st round bust Jason Smith from the St. Louis Rams.  If Smith finally got his act together and lived up to his potential (only his 4th year in the league), then they’ll be fine but that’s a long shot at best. 

The defense is aging.  They did use their top pick to upgrade, but there were a lot of red flags around Quinton Coples.  Big talent, but big bust potential with him as well.  To his credit Coples had a great preseason so there is hope.  Revis is still obviously one of the top defensive players in the league so while age is catching up with them, he is still in his prime and is their anchor. 

They had better at least make the playoffs because if they don’t I believe it will be the last with Rex Ryan as head coach, and quite frankly I don’t see them getting in.

 

4. Miami Dolphins

This franchise is a total mess (sorry Robb).  Nobody wants to sign there…in MIAMI.  Nobody in the NFL wants to take their talents to SouthBeach.  Peyton Manning lives in Miami and wanted nothing to do with playing there.  That’s how bad it is for this franchise.  So it’s rebuild time and new head coach Joe Philbin will look to turn the culture around. 

They will go with 1st round pick Ryan Tannehill at QB to start the season, and he has looked good thus far.  One thing working for Tannehill is that offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was his head coach at Texas A&M so he does have a pretty good grasp on the system already, most rookie QB’s don’t have that kind of luxury entering the league.  But he essentially will have nobody to throw the ball to.  This is easily the worst receiving core in the NFL.  Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Legedu Naanee, Anthony Armstrong, it’s humiliating.  And it’s not like TE is any better.  Anthony Fasano looked like he had big time talent when the Cowboys drafted him in 06 out of Notre Dame but he has been a disappointment to this point in his career, although he has never played in a TE friendly offense which he will be this season.  If there is a bright spot for the fish it should be the run game.  Reggie Bush is coming off his best season ever, and he is backed up by 2 pretty talented guys in Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller.  Thomas was excepted to have a much bigger impact last season than he did but he will be pushed hard for carries now by Miller who would have went a lot higher in the draft if it wasn’t for his injury issues.  Miller has the talent to be a star in the league, but obviously has to remain healthy.  Add to that, they have a solid offensive line so I would watch for them to be a top 5 team running the ball this season. 

On defense they are solid, not spectacular.  Switching to a 4-3 scheme this season might take some time for Karlos Dansby to get used to and with him as the anchor of this D that could hurt.  Cameron Wake is the star of the D at DE, but I’m not a big fan of what else they have on the d-line.  I didn’t really understand the Vontae Davis trade as they’re pretty thin at DB. 

It will be a VERY long season for the fish, and to make matters worse the NHL might not start on time for that hockey crazed market…

 

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