Our NFL Team Previews for the upcoming campaign continues. This week, I’ll be focusing on the AFC East, and next week I’ll conclude the series with a look at four squads from the NFC East. Teams are listed in alphabetical order within their division.
We'll start with the Buffalo Bills who are lined at 8 wins for the upcoming season. Buffalo owns the longest playoff drought in the NFL; now at 16 seasons and counting. The Bills have at least returned to relevance over the past two seasons, winning nine games in 2014, followed by an 8-8 campaign last year.
Rex Ryan is set to begin his second year on the job. Rex’s brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, coached one of the worst defenses in NFL history in New Orleans last year. Now Ryan takes over a defense that plummeted from a no. 4 yardage ranking in 2014 to 19th in 2015 as sacks dropped from 54 to 21. Top two draft choices Shaq Lawson (Clemson), Reggie Ragland (Alabama) are expected to contribute in the sacks department immediately.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman crafted a Super Bowl caliber offense in San Francisco. In his first year in Buffalo, Roman must be credited for coaxing up a monster season from QB Tyrod Taylor, who finished 7th in both QBR and QB Rating last year while making the Pro Bowl as an alternate in his first year as the starter. All 11 starters are back on that side of the football, but skill position depth is a legitimate concern if the injury bug strikes. And I have my doubts as to whether Taylor can repeat his breakthrough campaign.
Coming off a massively disappointing 6-10 SU, 5-11 ATS season, the 2016 Miami Dolphins are lined at 7 Wins for the upcoming campaign. Last year’s mainstream stats were awful for a squad that hasn’t reached the playoffs in any of the last six seasons. Coming off an offseason filled with "win now" moves, the Dolphins finished with the 26th ranked offense and the 25th ranked defense, and sent former head coach Joe Philbin packing by midseason.
New head coach Adam Gase is the NFL’s youngest head honcho at age 37. Gase coaxed a career year out of Jay Cutler last season and he’ll call the plays in Miami in his first head coaching gig. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph are both in their first year as coordinators as well – this coaching staff lacks experience, to put it mildly.
Ryan Tannehill took a big step back last year; still looking for his first winning season after four full years on the job. The Dolphins backup QB situation is as weak as any in the NFL – if Tannehill gets hurt or plays poorly, it could get ugly again. The offensive line is a clear unit of strength, with two pro bowl returnees in Mike Pouncey and Brandon Albert, while Juwan James isn’t far behind. The Dolphins took Ole Miss standout tackle Laremy Tunsil with their first round pick after his precipitous draft day fall. But when it comes to skill position talent and depth, the Dolphins clearly have issues; bad news for a team with a very suspect defense.
The Dolphins didn’t get any breaks from the schedule maker either. Last year’s slate was very easy, bottom five in terms of strength of schedule. This year, their slate is tougher than the league average. And with road games at Seattle, New England and Cinci in the first four weeks, we can expect another slow start from a team that needs a fast start in the worst way!
The New England Patriots were sitting with a win total of 10.5 before the Tom Brady suspension was announced – he’ll miss the first four games of the season. Since the announcement, the Pats win total hasn’t really moved all that much – it’s still sitting at 10.5, albeit with slightly lower juice to make an over wager. Perhaps that’s because the Pats have been the most consistent "over" cash in the NFL, winning 12 or more games in each of the last six seasons; cashing over tickets every year.
Brady turns 39 in August; around the age where signal callers really start to drop off (just ask Peyton Manning). It’s hard to picture Brady with a 36-7 TD-INT ratio again like he had last year, but the four game suspension to open the season could actually help him be a good notch or two fresher in December and January. In his absence, the press reports out of New England have been nearly uniformly positive in their descriptions of backup Jimmy Garappolo in mini-camps and practices. And the offensive line should improve after Brady took 38 sacks last year, with longtime OL coach Dante Scarnecchia coaxed out of retirement.
How have the Pats been this good for this long besides the obvious – Brady, Belichick and a front office that has made far more right moves than wrong ones over the past decade and a half of dominance? Simple – veterans are willing to accept below market offers to play for a championship contender. Chris Long, Martellus Bennett, Terrance Knighton and Nate Washington all joined the Pats this offseason for a combined pricetag of just about $10 million – legitimate bargains!
Questions persist about where the Patriots pass rush is going to come from following the offseason departure of sackmeister Chandler Jones. And it’s surely worth noting that the Patriots were moneylosers last year, despite their 12-4 SU record, going 0-4-1 ATS in their five wins by a TD or less.
The New York Jets won 10 games last year, but they’re lined as a team primed for regression; 8 wins here in 2016. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2010, when Mark Sanchez led them to road wins at Indy and New England, before losing the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh.
Of course last year’s ten win season was more about feasting on the weak than any other factor. The Jets played one of the very easiest schedules in the NFL in 2015. Eight of their ten wins came against the Browns, Colts, Dolphins (twice), Jaguars, Giants, Titans and Cowboys – all massive disappointments or bottom feeders. Their two ‘signature’ wins came in OT at New England (a divisional rival who they’ve consistently played tough) and against Washington (when the Redskins were a struggling 2-4 team and the Jets were coming off a bye).
This year’s schedule isn’t likely to be quite as friendly – based on 2016 win totals, the Jets have the single biggest strength of schedule toughness upgrade in the entire NFL. Just check out their first six games for a clear example – four coming on the road; five coming against playoff teams from last year.
Last year’s QB who guided New York to ten wins, Ryan Fitzpatrick, still hasn’t signed on the dotted line, in the midst of a contract dispute that has lingered all summer. He finished as the 24th ranked QB statistically last year even with a career high 31 TD passes, with the best OL/running game /receiving corps triumvirate he’s had in his career. For the Jets to end their playoff drought in 2016, they’ll need Fitzpatrick to match or exceed last year’s success.