|Maybe four games off for the 39 year-old QB isn't the worst thing in the world (USATSI)|
Round 2 of our preview takes us to the AFC East, which has been dominated by Tom Brady and company for the past 15 years. With Brady out the first four games of the season due to suspension, perhaps this volume of the story ends differently.
Record Last Season: (8-8)
Key Loss(es): Bacarri Rambo, Mario Williams,
Key Acquisition(s): Shaq Lawson (draft), Reggie Ragland (draft), Reggie Bush
The Bills brought in Rex Ryan after a (9-7) season and promptly went (8-8). The team went from allowing the 4th fewest points in the NFL under then-Head Coach Doug Marrone, to a middling 15thin that category under Ryan. Moreover, the team finished a paltry 25th in sacks per game. Ryan was brought in because of his previous success and because of his defensive acumen. So far in his tenure, he seems to have brought neither. With a (relatively) new coach, it should come as no surprise that several changes are on the way. Three starters on the defensive side of the ball are leaving as Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham, and Bacarri Rambo departed. Clemson standout and first round pick Shaq Lawson will try to bolster the pass rushing game, (although he’s been battling an injury). 2nd round pick Reggie Ragland may miss the season with an acl tear. It is a decidedly fluid situation for the side of the ball that must improve.
|Rex Ryan gets another year to implement his system (Kevin Hoffman USA Today Sports)|
Career backup Tyrod Taylor turned out to be the best quarterback under any Ryan-coached team. He suffered an injury and missed a couple of games and still made his first Pro Bowl. Number one WR Sammy Watkins and starting running back LeSean McCoy also missed time with injury. The team still managed to lead the League in rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, and yards per rush. Despite the disappointment on defense, the running game was perfectly indicative of a Ryan team. Taylor will need to stay healthy and increase his aggressiveness to bolster the passing game, which was 31st in attempts and 28th in yards.
Prediction: A season after a coaching change and despite suffering injuries to the starting QB, WR, and RB, the team was relatively successful. Another year under Ryan has to improve the defense, right? They’ll compete for the division, and likely secure a Wild Card slot.
New England Patriots
Record Last Season: (12-4)
Key Losses: Tom Brady (4 game suspension), Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Brandon LaFell
Key acquisition(s): Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, Frank Kearse
|Will Coach Bill Belichick be able to work his magic w/ number 10?|
So…Tom Brady…yea. After hundreds of hours of litigation and thousands of speculation, Brady decided to drop his appeal of his suspension for ball-tampering. That means that Jimmy Garoppolo will start the season behind center. This case and the resulting penalty have been looming for awhile, so there was a chance this scenario was going to play out last season; as such, Garoppolo should be well-prepared for his starting duties. New acquisition Martellus Bennett will form a glorious tight end duo with Rob Gronkowski that should aid in Garoppolo’s transition. Dion Lewis (lost last season to an ACL injury), will be alongside LeGarrette Blount to give the QB a full complement of offensive weapons. Add that to Garoppolo’s scrambling ability and the offense that scored the 3rd most points per game last season, and the Patriots will be just fine until Tommy Terrific gets back at the helm.
The defense was top 10 in terms of points per game allowed. They’ve lost Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones at the starting Linebacker positions. Both guys provided athleticism to the front seven and helped sure up the rush defense that was top 10 in terms of yards allowed and touchdowns. Perhaps because of their relative lack of talent in the secondary, the team picked up Long and Kearse to increase the team’s pass rushing talent. If they can apply more pressure to the QB, the secondary won’t have to play defense for that long.
Prediction: Brady missing a quarter of the regular season will be different, but if the team can go .500 over those four games, they should win the division again.
New York Jets
Record Last Season: (10-6)
Key Loss(es): D’Brickashaw Ferguson (retired), Chris Ivory
Key Acquistion(s): Matt Forte, Ryan Clady
Has any team specialized in offseason QB controversy more than the Jets? Last season, right before the season started saw a Jets LB break QB Geno Smith’s jaw and knock him out of the starting lineup. This season, last season’s starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, played contract chicken up until the last hour. The parties eventually settled on a 1 year deal, and Fitzpatrick will reprise his role of starting QB—a good sign considering the season he put together was the best of his career. Matt Forte will replace Chris Ivory at the running back position, and Clady (acquired through trade) should be an improvement over the retired Ferguson.
|Winter is Coming, let's see if Fitz will be ready (USATSI)|
Head Coach Todd Bowles was brought in for his defensive prowess, and it’s obvious when looking at the draft selections for the Jets. Three of their first four selections were on that side of the ball. Darron Lee from OSU and University of Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins will bolster the LB position. That should aid their already stellar defensive run front—good enough to be top 5 in yards allowed per rush, rushing touchdowns allowed, and rushing yards per game. The team was a bit more susceptible to the pass, but the defense was still top 10 in terms of points allowed per game.
Prediction: I don’t believe in Fitzpatrick. It’s as simple as that. In the last game of the season, and with the playoffs on the line, he tossed three picks and completed less than half of his passes. This team will miss the postseason again.
Record Last Season: (6-10)
Key Loss(es): Greg Jennings, Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller, Brent Grimes
Key Acquisition(s): Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, Arian Foster
It’s not surprising to see multiple starters leave after a disappointing 6-10 season. Last year they made a huge splash with the acquisition of Ndamukong Suh, and yet the defense was still awful against the pass (25th in touchdowns allowed, and 27th in yards allowed per attempt) and mediocre against the run (23rd and 13th respectively). This offseason brought in significant players at every level of the defense; Maxwell was brought in to bolster the secondary, Alonso (another trade acquisition) was brought in for the linebackers, and Williams to pair along with Suh along the line. All three have major questions regarding how much they have left, but if they can return to their peak productivity, Miami would’ve instantly improved.
Eventually Ryan Tannehill has to get out of the on-deck circle for exceptional QBs. He can’t always be a year away from stardom. He either is or isn’t good enough to win games. He was 19th in TDs and 24th in yards per attempt. Any improvement on the offensive side of the ball must start with him. Running Back Arian Foster was a late offseason acquisition. Despite his production, age and injury concerns limited his market as a free agent. Again, if he can return to his peak productivity then Miami wouldn’t have lost anything with Miller departing.
Prediction: Too many older acquisitions for my taste. It feels like Miami isn’t just the destination for retired civilians. It’s suddenly the spot to spend the winter of your playing career. Another year, and another year of disappointment--no playoffs again this season.