Jimmy Mc Ginty looks at the AFC East as part of his NFL season previews and he expects a very big season from the Miami Dolphins, who could pip the Patriots to the division title.
With Tom Brady’s suspension overturned, I’m glad I left this preview until last. The reigning Super Bowl winners the New England Patriots went 12-4 last season to comfortably take the AFC East.
Brady has most of his Super Bowl winning offensive back. Rob Gronkowski will be, as per usual, borderline impossible to defend at tight-end, but there are significant worries at wide receiver. Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are both currently injured. Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola will need to step up. Those two have so far only shown glimpses of ability. Shane Vereen and (less so) Steven Ridley will be missed in the backfield, especially in week 1 when Blount is suspended. It’s worth noting that despite being at the top of his game last year, Brady is now 38 and due to start dropping off soon. He’s had a troubled off-season and looked very poor in pre-season run outs.
Darrelle Revis (Jets), Brandon Browner (Saints) and Kyle Arrington (Ravens) have signed elsewhere which leaves the Pats defence very short at cornerback. Free safety Devin McCourty has occasionally lined out at cornerback in pre-season due to the team’s weaknesses there. Vince Wilfork, now a Texan, will be missed when it comes to stopping the run. This season the Patriots are going to concede a lot more points than usual.
Overall I have the Patriots a little weaker on offense and much depleted on defence. Their schedule suggests they’ll have the biggest struggles on the road to Cowboys, Colts and Broncos, but those games aside, the Pats should still have enough to reach the playoffs. Unless they beat Miami they may not retain their Division though.
The Buffalo Bills finished 2nd in the AFC East with a 9-7 record last year.
They’ve brought in the Ravens backup QB, Tyrod Taylor, who looks set to start ahead of EJ Manuel and Matt Cassell. The best of a bad lot. Unless Taylor develops into a better prospect than his sixth round pick suggests he is, it will put the Bills on the back foot in a passing driven league.
They will try and cope by running the ball a lot and they’ve signed LeSean McCoy to do that, but I’m not convinced he’ll have the same success he’s had in Philadelphia over the past few years. The Eagles ranked 1st in run blocking last season whilst the Bills were well down in 21st on that list. McCoy has also missed plenty of pre-season through injury.
The other key figures in the Bills offense will be Percy Harvin, Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay. Harvin is at his 4th club since the 2012 season. There’s a reason for that. He’s not a good man to have around the locker room and is also an overrated talent. Clay is a decent addition. If Watkins keeps improving he’ll be one of the top receivers in the league within a few years.
The Bills are very strong on defence and with Rex Ryan after taking over they’ll only get stronger. They’ll most likely start 0-3 with Colts, Patriots and Miami (road) up first, but after that they’ll win their fair share of games. Jags, Titans, Jets x2, Redskins, Chiefs and Texans won’t scare Bills fans. The under 8.5 appeals slightly, but if Taylor improves for starts and they get the blocking right for McCoy they could get to something like 9-7. The long wait for a playoff spot will go on.
Miami Dolphins fans will be the most upset with the recent Brady news. They are genuine threats to the Pats AFC East dominance and Brady being available should prevent the Patriots getting off to a slow start. Miami are genuine threats as they have improved considerably on both offense and defence this off season.
QB Ryan Tannehill has improved measurably in each of his 3 seasons to date and is now on the verge of being a top10 NFL QB. He’ll have plenty of quality targets to help him. The best addition is probably tight-end Jordan Cameron. Although somewhat injury prone Cameron was well able to produce with much lesser QBs (in Cleveland) than Ryan Tannehill. With Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker on the field Tannehill won’t always have to look for Cameron either. Landry, as a rookie, did very little last season until week 6 but finished with strong numbers (760yds). If he keeps those numbers up for 16 games this season he’ll be one of the league’s top receivers. Stills was decent if a little inconsistent in New Orleans whilst DeVante Parker looks a top prospect from this year’s draft.
Lamar Miller had a strong 2014 season (1,100yds) and has looked red-hot in preseason run outs lately. His backup 2nd season running back Damien Williams is getting a bit of hype in some places also. He could be another valuable asset to the already strong Dolphins offense.
The key on defence was the addition of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh from Detroit. He may have cost a mind blowing $114m over 6yrs, but he will make this defence into a force. They weren’t so bad to begin with, averaging only 19pts against over the first 12wks last season. However they finished the season conceding an average of 35pts over their last 4 games!
The Dolphins schedule is nice this year. Despite starting with back to back road games, Washington and Jacksonville are not very good. Followed by home games against the QB-less pair of Bills and Jets. 4-0 is a highly likely start which will build momentum towards the AFC East push. The Patriots games will be key, but I believe this new-look Miami offense will be very strong and the Patriots defence could be in for a tough year. Interestingly the Dolphins play the Colts, at home, in week 16. By then the Colts will already be playoff bound and may be resting up a little whereas the Patriots must visit Indiana early in the season.
The New York Jets have spent a lot of money on building a strong defence,but without a decent QB and after losing a good coach in Rex Ryan I think they’re in for a tough year.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will start as quarterback, but likely to be replaced by Geno Smith once he recovers from a broken jaw. Received from a (now ex) team-mate in the locker room! Neither QB is good enough to win more than a handful of games. Brandon Marshall was signed to help out the receiving core. Marshall now 31 has had steadily declining numbers since 2012. With a downgrade at QB (coming from the Jay Cutler lead Bears that’s amazing) he’s unlikely to bounce back to a top talent. Tight-end Jace Amaro has been lost for the season through injury.
I’m sceptical about cornerbacks Derelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as they joined from better teams, but for a bigger payday. That attitude doesn’t always bring results but there’s no getting away from this pair being supremely talented. The Jets have a strong defence but they’ll be on the field often.
Early season road games with Colts, Patriots and Dolphins will be very difficult but the Jets have a defence that will win games against poorer teams. Browns, Jags, Redskins, Bills and Titans all visit NYC whilst the trip to Oakland won’t be daunting. They’ll win around 6 low scoring games so focus on the Bears and Redskins to finish with worse records.
2.5 points win Dolphins / Patriots straight forecast at 6/1 Skybet
This is far better value than backing Miami to win the Division as the Bills and Jets look very unlikely to trouble either of the top 2.
The Steelers are worth a small play week 1 against The Patriots. Bell missing for the Steelers isn’t a major loss as the Patriots secondary is so weak Big Ben will be airing it out all night. Brady has looked very poor when seen during preseason and will be missing some of his running (Blount) and receiving (LaFell) options. If the Patriots are to have a poor season perhaps it’ll start early.
Additional Bet - Week 1
1 point win Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the New England Patriots at 5/2 with Paddy Power