IS it all about New England in the AFC East? We asked NFL nut Louis Ross (@LouisRoss67) to give us his verdict.
AFC East | 11th September 2016
It’s almost impossible to make a call on any AFC team not called Patriots. Bill Bellichick and his teams have dominated this division for so long and whilst Tom Brady remains healthy, they will continue to do so.
However, there are some good things happening in upstate New York. Despite having Rex Ryan as head coach, this is the best Bills team in many years.
A franchise quarterback has finally been found. Please don’t underestimate Tyrod Taylor. The guy is one of only three QBs in NFL history to rush for 500 yards and throw for 3000 in just a 14 game stretch.
The relationship Taylor has built with lead receiver Sammy Taylor improved rapidly toward the end of last season. Over the last six games, Taylor found Watkins 35 times for 679 yards and six touchdowns. I see that relationship continuing to blossom especially if Robert Woods can get himself open a little more often.
LeSean McCoy did not quite have the first season he want but Shady has impressed in camp and preseason and the number one ranked rushing attack of 2015 could easily repeat that feat which will in turn make life easier for Watkins downfield.
What made last year an 8-8 rather than an 11-5 season was the defence. And that is where doubts about the Bills still lie. Terry Pegula and the front office have tried to address the problem.
However 1st round pick Shaq Lawson will miss half the season after shoulder surgery and 2nd rounder Reggie Ragland is done for 2016 after a torn ACL. Zach Brown is a decent pick up on free agency but this unit is very much still a work in progress.
Prediction: 9-7 possible wildcard but 7-9 if they don’t sort their secondary out
So once again we enter an NFL season with the sofa based experts touting the Dolphins as dark horses in the AFC courtesy of their apparently fear inducing defence.
Once again Miami have gone out and recruited some huge names on equally huge money. We have seen this a few times in recent years. Most recently the arrival 12 months ago of the beast that is Ndamukong Suh from Detroit on a $114m contract.
They were then a complete unit set to take Miami deep. One problem. They couldn’t stop anyone and by the time they were 1-3 everyone knew it.
Miami ended up as one of just three teams to concede 2000 yards on the ground. They were THAT good. Lesson learned then? Nope. They have gone at it even harder this time. Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonson from Philly along with Mario Williams from the Bills.
Suh has suffered some injuries in preseason and we will all have to reserve judgement on this lot until the heart of the season or until they start 1-3 again.
The main reason Adam Gase was the man chose to replace Joe Philbin was his work with Jay Cutler and the sudden improvement he brought about. I must have missed that.
It is thought he can do something similar for Ryan Tannehill. Good luck mate. For some reason, the ‘Fins handed Tannehill a $96m contract so have little choice but to persist. Arian Foster comes in from Houston to sit on the sidelines for about half the season.
Miami goes on the road to Seattle, New England and Cincinnati in the first four weeks. They better pray RG3 is limping in Cleveland at some point or they will start 0-4
Prediction: They’re in a really tough division this year. Not good. 6-10 at best
New England Patriots
For the second season in succession, Deflategate hangs heavily over Foxboro.For the first time since 2008, Tom Brady will not be starting 16 games. The G.O.A.T will be suspended for the first four games of the season and that can surely be the only question mark on the Patriots season.
With three of those games at home, the Patriots will be confident that Jimmy Garopollo will be able to cover the enormous gap left under centre. Garopollo has done enough in preseason and camp to think that at worst, Brady will take over a 2-2 team.
After a 10-0 start to 2015, New England fell apart a little down the stretch losing four of the last six. Clearly this was down to the number of injuries they sustained during that run.
Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis amongst others were lost at various points. They are unlikely to get that unlucky again. Martellus Bennet was a quality pick up from Chicago.
Gronk has made the Tight End position the biggest threat on the field in recent years and Bellichick loves depth in the position. Especially if one of them can avoid involve the in gangland murders.
Bennett has the potential to have a career season. James White and LeGarret Blount will win plenty of games with ball in hand and Dion Lewis can make a huge impact when he returns late in the season.
As good as New England are on offence, the defence is in danger of reaching elite level. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are brilliant young linebackers, possibly the best in the game at their age. Jabal Sheard will expect to improve on his eight sacks last time and Malcolm Butler is one of the best Cornerbacks in the NFL.
Prediction: New England will expect another Super Bowl. 13-3. Brady will want it more than ever this year.
New York Jets
A win over divisional rivals Buffalo in Week 17 and the Jets would have secured a much deserved playoff spot. Instead they tanked and Todd Bowles first season in charge was a C rather than the A that post season football would have merited.
You would have to give any rookie head coach an A for taking a team led by Ryan Fitzpatrick into January. Statistically Bowles nailed it. The Jets were one of just five teams to have a Top 10 offence and defence.
Without the Rex Ryan circus, the off season has been fairly smooth for the Jets. Matt Forte is a huge upgrade to the backfield. To be fair, last year’s rushing attack led by Chris Ivory did decent things. Bill Powell remains to back up Forte and maybe even challenge the veteran for number of carries.
Fitzpatrick did do an adequate job as signal caller and has some very decent targets to aim at. Brandon Marshall shows few signs of slowing down, Eric Decker will always be a quality number two. Bowles will be hoping that Quincy Enunwa continues the progress he made toward the back end of last season.
The defensive line is stacked with talent. Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams are beasts. Calvin Pryor had an outstanding season after moving to strong safety. The biggest bonus is possibly the departure of the once good Antonio Cromartie who was dreadful.
The biggest concern for New York must be a very difficult schedule. Five of the first six fixtures are against opponents who made the playoffs last year. Oh and a trip to Buffalo who swept them in 2015. I like this team but that’s a tough start for anyone.
Prediction: One of those 9-7 teams hoping for a wildcard
AFC Best Bets
New England Patriots to win AFC (15/4 Bet365)
Khalil Mack to be Regular Season Sack Leader (4/1 Bet365)
New England Patriots to finish with Best Record (15/2 Bet365)
Cleveland Browns to finish with Worst Record (4/1 Bet365)