NFL Season Predictions Part 2: AFC East

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New England Patriots:

Rebuilding? What’s that?

Record Prediction: 11-6 (6-0)

The record is probably a win too high. They are probably the biggest lock in the league to win a division title, but that is more a knock on the rest of their division than it is a compliment to them.

What to like

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady….

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Ok fine, I will expand on this. The Patriots have won four straight and 10 of the last 12 AFC East titles. They added Danny Amendola, a man that I have classified as “The poor man’s Wes Welker.” The fact is Amendola is bigger, faster and stronger than Welker and can be utilized in many different ways. Amendola will be the top target in an offense that is full of rookie receivers like second round pick Aaron Dobson (Marshall), fourth round pick Josh Boyce (TCU), undrafted wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (Cincinnati), and an undrafted six-foot-seven-inch tight end named Zach Sudfeld, who has made the most noise this summer.

If any other team lost more than 60 percent of their prior year’s offensive production I would cringe, but with Tom Brady under center and the hooded genius on the sideline I fully expect it to be the same Patriots we are used to.

Concerns

The Patriots defense was pretty opportunistic in 2012, finishing the year with 20 interceptions, tied with the Falcons for fifth in the NFL. They also led the league with 21 fumble recoveries on 32 forced fumbles. These numbers are great, but are they repeatable? They outscored their opponents 557 to 331 last year, a differential that I think will be much smaller this season.

The Patriots defense is built to play with a lead. They allow Tom Brady and the offense to get up a score or two, forcing the opponent to get pass happy. This allows the defense to capitalize on forced throws, not having to worry too much about the run. In 2012 the Patriots defense ranked 28th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 4.2 yards a carry. The concern is that the young receiving core will lead the Patriots to lean more on their talented running backs (Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount) and will not run up the score like they are accustomed to. This will lead to closer games, putting pressure on that Patriots run defense to hold strong.

Bold Prediction:

Danny Amendola (who appears to already be nicked up) will play all 16 games and will have at least 120 catches and 1,300 yards.

The Buffalo Bills

Ready for the future

Record Prediction: (6-10) (3-3)

I shorted the Bills. I like this team a lot more than the six wins I gave them. If there is a team in the AFC East that is going to put any pressure on the Patriots this year I think it may be the new-look Bills. Their season will likely be filled with a lot of ups and downs, but I like where this team is headed in the future.

What to like:

The Bills are lead by first-year NFL head coach Doug Marone, who comes to the league having coached at Syracuse the past two years. Marone has been successful in the NFL before, serving as the Saint’s offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008. He turned that offensive into a passing giant with the help of Drew Brees. Obviously the Bills do not have Brees, but they do have an intriguing young quarterback in E.J. Manuel (Florida State), who they “reached” for with the 16th pick, leaving West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who fell to the Jets in the second round. The combination of Marone’s pass friendly offense and the running threat that Manuel will bring only adds to an offense that has some explosive talent with C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson.

C.J. Spiller is the most dynamic player in the NFL. He has the versatility of Percy Harvin and often overlooked power. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has already said “We’re going to give him the ball until he throws up.” Defenses are going to focus on Spiller, which should really open the door for Manuel to run the option and use play action to find Stevie Johnson and rookie wide receiver Robert Woods (USC). The upside to this offense is one that may resemble the 2012 Seattle Seahawks.

Concerns:

The Bills gave up the most touchdowns per drive last year. They have brought in several young defensive players who will be led by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Pettine will bring pressure and will implement schemes that limit passing success. I am not sure how much of this may have been Darrelle Revis related, but in his four years with the Jets, Pettine helped keep opposing passers to an NFL low 71.0 quarterback rating, completion percentage (52.6 percent) and passing yards (186.3).

The defense sure gave Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder fits in week two of the preseason, but I am not quite convinced that the defense has the personnel to get quite to that Jet’s level. The defensive flaws may limit Manuel and the offense from having 2012 Seahawk-like numbers, because they may be playing from behind frequently, adding pressure to the rookie QB, resulting in some bad turnovers.

Bold Prediction: E.J. Manuel starts a majority of the Bill’s games and finishes the season with roughly 500 yards rushing and 4-6 touchdowns.

Miami Dolphins

So much for the new toys

Record Prediction: 5-12 (2-4)

I am staying off the Miami Dolphins bandwagon. The bandwagon is pretty full after the team’s aggressive offseason, but this just has the Miami Marlins’ 2012 season written all over it. A 5-12 record seems a bit harsh, but I am not comfortable giving them any more wins than that so I will stick with it.

What to like:

The positive aspects of this team are also the negative, but I will try to fight through this.

The Dolphins made a big splash by signing former Pittsburgh Steeler’s wide receiver Mike Wallace to a 5-year $60 million contract. Wallace, known best for his breakaway speed is coming off of a down year with the Steelers, where he fell short of 1,000 receiving (836) and his catches of more than 20 yards fell from 18 to 9. These negative stats should probably be in the concern section, so let me get to the positive. Wallace is fast. He probably is one of the 5 fastest offensive players in the NFL. He has above average hands and can make defenders miss. In Miami he will line up across from Brian Hartline, who has his own big-play ability. These two wide-outs along with Brandon Gibson combine to make a very quick receiving core that could up the level of their young franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

With the sparkling new offensive weapons, the biggest addition to the Miami Dolphins this season may have been overlooked. Defensively, the Dolphins were amongst the league’s worst in 2012 when it came to interceptions. They finished the season with 10 interceptions, tied with the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers for 28th in the league. They also finished 27th in the league in passing yards against, giving up nearly 4,000 on the year. Brent Grimes comes in to the Dolphins defense to take over that shutdown corner role. Grimes, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons missed all of last season with an achilles injury, but has the ability to double the Dolphin’s interceptions all by himself. The defense can already get to the quarterback (42 sacks in 2012). I expect pro-bowl defensive end Cameron Wake to get somewhere near his 2012 total of 15 sacks and for the secondary to improve greatly.

Concerns:

As mentioned above, the Dolphins receiving core is far to reliant on undersized speed guys and they lack a dependable possession guy who can go up and catch a corner route over a big defensive back. I am also not convinced that Ryan Tannehill is the long term solution for the Dolphins. I think I am in the minority on this one, but I just do not see it. Tannehill and the Dolphins are going to miss their stud running back Reggie Bush, who is a dependable pass catcher and stat-padder for the young gun-slinger. They will lean on Llmar miller, who fumbled his first snap in the Hall of Fame Game and Daniel Thomas who is about as mediocre of a running back as you can find. Jake Long is the biggest loss for this team, who will now lean on second year tackle Jonathan Martin.

All in all, I just see a team that went out and spent a bunch of money and has expectations that are way too high. I see this year as a big disappointment.

Bold Prediction:

Tannehill and the offensive become more aggressive only to result in a 2 to 1 interception to touchdown ratio.

New York Jets

Continuing to write the book on how not to run an NFL franchise

Record Prediction: 3-13 (1-5)

The Jets are one of two or three teams in the league that could easily go winless in 2013. There is nothing exciting about this team at all, expect for the fact that by the end of the year Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan will both be gone. (Though as a Vikings fan, I am in one of those fan bases that will be praying on a nightly basis that Sanchez doesn’t find his new home in my town).

What to like:

It is hard for me to give any positive analysis when a team’s most memorable play of the season is this:

We have all seen this replayed about a million times, but just like when we turn up the radio every time Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” comes on, we laugh our asses off as we watch Sanchez run into the ass of his offensive lineman.

There are only three positive things that I can muster from the New York Jets this season:

1.) Geno Smith. He can’t possibly be as bad as Sanchez right? He brings a different skill set to the Jets (or maybe just a skill set period). At West Virginia he was effective, completing 71 percent of his passes for 4,205 yards and 42 touchdowns. Those are gaudy numbers.

2.) Chris Ivory is their most effective offensive player. Ivory has had glimpses of brilliance in his young career, just has not been able to stay healthy. The best wide receiver in this offense is Santonio Holmes, who continues to battle a lisfranc injury.

3.) Rex Ryan knows how to coach a defense. You can knock the guy for his antics and his overconfidence in Sanchez, but he is still a brilliant defensive mind and when he does get fired he should find a job as a coordinator pretty quickly.

Concerns

I could write 2,000 words here on all the reasons why the Jets are going to be terrible this season, but no one wants to read that. It comes down to the fact that the organization has given up on Ryan as the head coach and Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback. Ryan knows that unless this team makes the playoffs, he will not be returning as the coach next season. Let’s face it, there is no chance that this team goes to the playoffs.

Bold Prediction: Rex Ryan names Sanzhez the starting quarterback, turns to Smith after 0-4 start, but then goes back to Sanchez at the 0-7 mark, before being fired before the team’s week 10 bye.

That’s it for the AFC east. The always exciting NFC East is on deck.

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