Football season is officially around the corner. At this point, while teams still have to obviously go through training camp, make cuts, and deal with potential injuries, they all have a general idea of what their team will look like. For the next few days, I want to go team-by-team, division-by-division, and conference-by-conference and predict where each team will fall and why. Let’s start with the AFC East.
The Bills have talent on both sides of the ball – there’s no questioning that. First-time starter Tyrod Taylor had a solid season under center. They still have LeSean McCoy, who can still abuse defenses the way he abused that police officer a few months back. Defensively speaking, they beefed up via drafting Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland, both tough, physical guys who will make an immediate impact in their front seven. I think their secondary, specifically at safety, remains to be suspect, but that can be elevated by the play of the front seven.
The Bills’ two biggest non-personnel problems in my eyes are these; first, they don’t use Sammy Watkins nearly as much as they should. He’s injury prone, I get that. But this is the man they traded up to go get a few years back. He’s still one of the most talented young wideouts in all of football, and when used appropriately, he’s a game changer. There’s no reason that Percy Harvin should’ve been more targeted than Sammy through the first few weeks of last season. I think that Taylor finally trusts Watkins enough for him to finally be that impact that they envisioned when drafting him.
The second is that their in-game coaching is clueless. It loses them games. Rex Ryan is a great motivator, and the players do love playing for him. Often times however, he makes questionable coaching calls, he gets his guys hyped to the point that they’re not composed, and they end up taking too many penalties. While I think Ed Reed is a good mentor for a lot of those guys on defense, bringing in Rex’s brother, Rob, serves no point in my opinion.
For Buffalo, I think they end up being exactly what they have been the past few seasons – an underachieving, tough team that loses based off of fixable mistakes.
Miami is another one of those teams that has undeniable talent, and yet they can’t figure it out. Ryan Tannehill underperformed, and at this moment, his contract looks really, really bad. But if new head coach Adam Gase can figure out how to make Jay Cutler not throw an obnoxious amount of interceptions without his two best receivers, I think he can help Tannehill figure it out, especially when he has Jarvis Landry at his disposal. I’m not saying Landry is better than the Bears’ Alshon Jeffrey, I’m just saying he’s more athletic and his ceiling is higher. It’ll be interesting to see if he builds on his breakout season, where he had over 1,100 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns.
The defense is tough, led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Through the newly-signed Mario Williams in there, and an already potent pass-rushing attack becomes very scary. The Dolphins’ D also added cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso, both of whom didn’t have the seasons they wanted to in Philly last year, while for different reasons. When healthy, Alonso is a good leader and a strong tackler in the middle of the field. Maxwell looks to be declining fast, but he’s better than what they had. He’s also been on winning teams before, which is something that a lot of these guys can’t say. Maybe he can bring some attitude or perspective.
I don’t know about Miami. They’re everyone’s ‘sleeper playoff team’ every single season. Then they decide to go 7-9 or whatever. Just because they added flashy pieces doesn’t mean they will make any more noise than they usually do.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are still winning the division, albeit it may be with a bit of an uphill battle. Since Roger Goodell committed blasphemy and solidified his eternal damnation in hell, TB12 will be out the first four games of the season, and that’s not changing. In steps Jimmy Garapolo, who has a decent test. They open up in Arizona against the Cardinals, who many see as a top-five team in the league. To be fair to #10, they might’ve lost that game anyways, with or without Brady. That’s also their only road game in that span, as they come home to play the Dolphins, Texans and Bills in that order. If Garapolo goes 2-2 (I think Houston is a tough matchup, more on them in the coming days), then the Pats will unquestionably win the division. If he goes 1-3 or 0-4, I still think they win, but just not as easily.
There are some new faces in Foxborough – gone is former first-round pick, funny snapchatter and synthetic pot smoker Chandler Jones, and in steps Chris Long, who’s kind of a redneck and definitely a badass. Also on the defensive side of the ball, they got Crimson Tide corner Cyrus Jones in the draft, who should help out the secondary. The Pats also signed Chris Hogan (who you might confuse with Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola if he ends up being good) from Buffalo and drafted receiver Malcolm Mitchell out of Georgia. But the biggest offseason move is bringing back offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, whose name isn’t as hard to spell on one try as you’d think. Scarnecchia will be tasked with taking a porous offensive line and making it not that way. Jonathan Cooper was the return on the Jones trade, and while he’s underperformed or been hurt, the talent is there. He’s better than what they had. If Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and basically every other lineman can come back healthy, they can piece a solid line together.
Just don’t play Marcus Cannon ever again. Please.
New York Jets
If the Jets could figure out their quarterback situation, I’d confidently call them a 10-12 win team. Todd Bowles proved last season to be an excellent coach, and he took a team that not many gave a chance to and got them to within a game of making the playoffs. That’s seriously an accomplishment. Offensively, they’ve got a solid line, they upgraded at the running back position by bringing in free agent jackpot Matt Forte (and they didn’t even overpay him, which blows my mind). Forte, as good of a runner as he is, is also a good pass catcher, and could compliment Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker well. As long as Marshall decides he wants to play football well, he opens things up for Decker and the rest of the receivers.
Defensively speaking, it’ll be Darrelle Revis that’ll get all the attention because of his reputation and his contract. He ain’t alone, though – Muhammed Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Calvin Pryor help to anchor a scary, scary defense. Throw in first-round pick Darron Lee out of Ohio State? Wow.
But, you do in fact need a quarterback. And, fun fact, the Jets don’t have one. I’m not going to say that Ryan Fitzpatrick is great. He obviously isn’t. But the fact that they tried to underpay him after one of the best seasons in his career? The fact that they think they had leverage? Newsflash there, Woody Johnson – Fitz went to Harvard. He’s pretty smart. He knows that if he doesn’t come back, your most proven option is Geno Smith, who is such a good leader that he got sucker punched ‘cause he doesn’t pay his bets or whatever the case may have been. After Smith, who is a bust? You have Bryce Petty, who might not have even gotten real game action yet (huge RIP to his career, I really liked him at Baylor), and second-round pick and presumptive quarterback-of-the-future, Christian Hackenberg (who is downright a bad football player).
Silly Jets. Silly silly silly. Denver proved last season that you don’t need an elite QB to win. But you do need a passable one…. And no, no pun was intended.
My AFC East Standings Prediction
Patriots (11-5), 2
***Italicized numbers denote predicting playoff seeding.
Cover Photo from USA Today
GIF from awesomegifs.com