2016 AFC East Preview and Predictions
New England Patriots (2015 record: 12-4): Now that Deflategate and all of the drama surrounding it are done, the Pats can shift focus back onto the field. Jimmy Garapolo will man the QB spot for the first four games, and shouldn’t do much worse than 2-2 as three of the games are at home. His weapons return intact from last season, though the loss of third-down specialist Dion Lewis for the first couple of months does sting. The Pats are deep at the position, though, and it shouldn’t have too big an effect on the offense. As for Brady, he shows no signs of slowing down at 39; he had one of his best seasons ever last year, despite all of the hoopla. We expect him to ne in the MVP conversation once he returns; he feels he has a score to settle. The line needs to play better than it did against Denver in the playoffs and two of their better players, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, missed time with injuries. Depth concerns were not addressed in the offseason.
The defense took a big hit when DE Chandler Jones was traded; Chris Long is not a serviceable replacement at this point in his career. Terrance Knighton is also new to the line; he’ll be a nice run stuffer, but has also seen better days. The loss of Jones may also have an effect on the secondary as a weak pass rush often does. It’s a good unit, but may give up a few more plays than they did last season. Luckily, the division has taken about 15 years to try and catch up to the Pats and it looks like this’ll be #16.
Buffalo Bills (2015 record: 8-8): Mediocrity, thy name is The Buffalo Bills. Rex Ryan’s bravado couldn’t rescue the team from another disappointing season, as the vaunted defense imploded in his first season. DE Mario Williams cried about his role for much of the year and is now a Dolphin; we’ll call it addition by subtraction. DT Kyle Williams missed much of the year, but looks ready for 2016; his health is paramount to a defense that is already going to be missing some keys. Rookies Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland will miss half of and the entire season, respectively. DT Marcel Dareus is in rehab and will miss at least the first month. Their replacements seem to have a good grasp of Ryan’s scheme, but talent wins on defense and the preseason is merely a microcosm. The secondary is one of the best in football, especially if S Aaron Williams comes back strong from a neck injury.
The offense took to Greg Roman’s playbook very well, producing a top-flight rushing attack and an exciting passing game. It should be more of the same as the entire unit returns intact and healthy. QB Tyrod Taylor exceeded all expectations, and could have an even better season this year if he improves his accuracy on mid-range throws. The receiving corps behind Sammy Watkins and TE Charles Clay needed an upgrade and didn’t get one. The rush attack of LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Williams, and Mike Gillislee should have another big year behind a very good line. Rumor is that it’s playoffs or unemployment for Ryan this year. They could challenge. Don’t be shocked if they don’t. Once again.
New York Jets (2015 record: 10-6): The Jets were one of the surprise teams in the NFL last year as they rode a pretty easy schedule to a 2nd place finish in the division. HC Todd Bowles was able to get the very best out of a roster filled with adequate talent, especially on offense. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick finally re-signed and will helm the attack again. He’s got a dynamic set of WRs in Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. They’ll need to be great again, as there is zero talent behind them. New RB Matt Forte will help the passing game, but he has a ton of miles and hits on his resume, and is certainly on the downside of his career. He won’t be an upgrade in the running game only because the line stinks. Yes, they brought former All-Pro Ryan Clady over from Denver, but he missed 2015 with a torn ACL and has missed 30 games over the past 3 seasons.
The defense was very good last year, and should be solid again. They did lose DT ‘Snacks’ Harrison and will miss his ability to stuff the run, but the line will remain one of the better ones in the league. The LB corps was upgraded significantly with the drafting of Darron Lee. He’s a three-down player who will spark what was a declining unit. The secondary will remain solid, save for the CB slot across from Darrelle Revis; Buster Skrine was brutal in 2015 and looks to remain the starter, as there is no better option on the roster. A tough schedule could prove to be the bane of the Jets season as they project to take a step back this year.
Miami Dolphins (2015 record: 6-10): Remember when the Phins were relevant? Seems like so long ago. The inconsistencies both on the field and on the sidelines have taken this once-proud franchise to the cellar of the league. Enter yet another HC; it’s now Adam Gase’s turn to try and turn things around. He’s had luck with QBs, so Ryan Tannehill will be given yet another opportunity to lead the offense. Sure, he eclipsed 4,000 yards again but many were junk yards in garbage time as his team was playing from behind. Jarvis Landry emerged as a nice receiver, but they aren’t great behind him. Even worse; the loss of RB Lamar Miller, who finally seemed to be coming into his own. Jay Ajayi appears to be the new starter, despite the fact that the brittle Arian Foster was signed. OT Laremy Tunsil was an absolute steal in the draft. He should immediately upgrade what was an average line last season.
On defense, the Dolphins added three intriguing names. First, DE Mario Williams. Williams completely quit on the Bills last year, and they were glad to get rid of him. He’s still in great shape but is 31 and has, most likely, seen better days. LB Kiko Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell come over from Philly. The former is a constant injury risk, the latter proved he can’t cover #1 receivers. Add in that incumbent DE Cameron Wake is 34 and coming off of a torn Achilles, and the Miami defense could be beaten – especially up front. Five years ago, these additions would’ve been great. Today? A big ‘meh’ from South Beach.
PREDICTED 2016 STANDINGS
New England 12-4
New York 7-9