Running back Jay Ajayi is on the move and he could have a big impact for the Philadelphia Eagles.
X-New England Patriots 13-3
It’s another year and once again the New England Patriots are the team to beat in the National Football League. The Patriots are coming off of their second Super Bowl Title in the last three years and their fifth since 2001. The Patriots were truly a team of destiny last season as they won the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion by becoming the first team in the history of the contest to overcome a 25-point deficit. Late in the third quarter, New England found themselves down 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, but they would finish the game on a 31-0 run which included seeing them score a pair of touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions in order to force overtime. However as good as things were for the Patriots in 2016, don’t expect Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to allow his team to dwell on what they did last season heading in to a new campaign.
As Belichick is arguably the best head coach in National Football League history, he has the luxury of possibly having the best quarterback in the history of the game working with him. Tom Brady has been New England’s starting quarterback since 2001 and it has been a heck of ride for him as well as the Patriots. Brady’s record as a starters is an impressive 183-52, while he is the only quarterback in NFL history to win five Super Bowl Championships along with four Super Bowl MVP Awards. Brady turned 40-years of age last month and he is not showing any signs of slowing down.
Brady is one of the most accurate quarterbacks that the game of professional football has ever seen as he combines that with intensity and precision. When Brady has the football in his hands, he is the equivalent to a maestro conducting an orchestra. Brady has an array of players to get the football to as he indeed knows how to spread the wealth.
Brady will not have the luxury of having wide receiver Julian Edelman this season as he suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. Edelman has been one of Brady’s most reliable receivers as he has a knack for the big play. But with the Patriots it is all about the next man up.
Unlike last year, New England will have a healthy Rob Gronkowski at tight end as injuries limited him to just eight games. At 6’6″, 265 lbs., Gronkowski is a freak of nature who should be very motivated to come back and show why he is the best tight end in the National Football League after the Pats were able to win the Super Bowl without him last February. And aside from getting Gronkowski back, the rich have gotten richer as Belichick has made sure that the Patriots passing attack won’t skip a beat this year.
The Patriots traded their first-round pick in this past spring’s National Football League Draft to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks was a first-round selection of the Saints in 2014 and he was quickly becoming one of the better receivers in football. Each of the last two seasons saw Cooks collect at least 1,100 yards receiving, but he was becoming disgruntled with his role in the Saints passing game. And when the Saints decided that Cooks was no longer in their plans, the Patriots jumped at the opportunity to acquire him.
Cooks won’t replace Edelman’s contributions on the field or in the locker room. But what Cooks gives the Patriots is a receiver who’ll stretch the field, while he also has sure hands. And with a quarterback such as Brady getting the football to Cooks, he should be on top of his game, while his presence will make it tough for Patriots opponents to attempt to double team Gronkowski.
The Patriots lost tight end Martellus Bennett in free agency as he signed with the Green Bay Packers. But the Patriots who have become wizards in regards to having depth at the tight end position acquired tight end Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts.
Allen was a third-round selection of the Colts in 2012, but his time in Indy saw him consistently under utilized. Allen won’t be the focal point of the Patriots offense, but he’ll be a player who should thrive playing alongside of Gronkowski, while also becoming another dependable pass catcher for Brady in the red zone.
From 1982-2013, Dante Scarnecchia was on the Patriots coaching with his most notable duty being the team’s offensive line coach from 2000-2013. But in 2013, Scarnecchia decided to retire and without the Patriots offensive line did not have the same cohesion. Scarnecchia returned to the Patriots last season and the offensive line played with more precision. The offensive line for New England continues to be unassuming, but one player to keep an eye on is left tackle Nate Solder whose main job is to protect the blindside of Brady.
New England will miss the bruising running ability of LeGarrette Blount who after leading the team in rushing last year signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent, leaves a void for the Pats. And without Blount, speed will be the name of the game for the Patriots with running backs James White, Mike Gillislee, and Dion Lewis. And due to the fact that New England’s running backs are undersized, I foresee Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels using more screen and swing passes which will go down on the stat sheet as passes, but they could be just as effective as runs due to the fact that he’ll get his play makers the football in space.
Defensively the Patriots were eighth in the National Football League last year in total defense and they must replace some key players from the unit. Defensive end Chris Long only recorded 4 sacks last year for the Pats, but he was a veteran leader. And New England must replace another leader on defense in defensive end Rob Ninkovich who decided to hang it up after 11 years in the NFL.
New England still has stout players on their defensive line in defensive tackles Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch, while they have some versatile linebackers in Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and Dont’a Hightower, while linebacker Elandon Roberts is an emerging player for Belichick.
Big plays will be at a premium against the Patriots secondary. Cornerback Malcolm Butler is still one of the top players at his position in the National Football League, while New England was able to add to their depth at the position when they signed former Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year deal that is worth $65 million. And once you add in free safety Devin McCourty who is coming off of his second Pro Bowl as well as veteran strong safety Patrick Chung who knows Belichick’s system, New England should once again be a force to be reckoned with defensively.
Kicker Stephen Gostowski still possesses one of the strongest and accurate legs in the National Football League, while wide receiver Matthew Slater is not only a captain for Patriots, but he is also continues to be a guru on special teams with his coverage skills.
As the defending Super Bowl Champs, the Patriots will be getting their opponents best effort on a weekly basis, but this is something that they are accustomed to. And even though that New England will endure a stretch during the second half of the season where they’ll play five of six games on the road which includes contest versus the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, Belichick’s team will once again be battle tested when the playoffs roll around.
Y-Miami Dolphins 10-6
After a 1-4 start in 2016, the Miami Dolphins were well on their way to a ninth consecutive losing season until something remarkable happened. The Dolphins would reel off six consecutive victories, and after Miami finished the regular season with a record of 10-6, they were postseason bound for the first time since 2008. Dolphins head coach Adam Gase made believers out of some of his critics by leading Miami to the postseason in his first year with the club. But whereas the Dolphins were able to use the element of surprise in 2016, how will they do with teams better prepared for Gase’s team this time around?
If the Dolphins are going to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2001, they are going to have to accomplish it without the services of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was the Dolphins first-round pick in 2012, and after he struggled under several offensive coordinators, he was finally beginning to put it together under Gase. Late in the 2016 campaign, Tannehill suffered a leg injury which forced him to miss out on the Fins playoff game. Tannehill had rehabbed and was ready to once again be under center until he suffered a torn ACL earlier this month which ended his season before it even started.
And with the Dolphins in need of a quarterback for the upcoming season, Gase would reach out to an old friend in Jay Cutler.
In 2015, Gase was the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. And under Gase, Cutler had one of his best seasons in the National Football League. Throughout Cutler’s NFL career he has been known to throw interceptions in bunches due to his “gunslinger mentality”, however Gase convinced himself to not force the football field down the field as much, while utilizing his check downs to running backs.
After an injury filled 2016, Cutler decided to retire from the National Football League until he was convinced to the Dolphins to give it one try in 2017. But after Cutler appeared to be content in retirement, while he is also 34-years of age, how much left does he have to give?
Without Tannehill, the Dolphins offense still has the opportunity to be potent due to their ability to run the football. Last year Miami was ninth in the National Football League in rushing and there should once again be some paint swapping from this year’s team. Gase is committed to running the football which means that you can expect another heavy dose of running back Jay Ajayi. Last year Ajayi became the first Dolphins running back Ricky Williams in 2003 to carry the football at least 250 times. At 6’0″, 229 lbs., Ajayi is a big, physical running back who only gets better as the game goes along. Ajayi had two games last season where he was able to gain at least 200 yards on the ground, and while this ability will see him go pretty early in fantasy football leagues, he’ll also get the chance to close out games for the Dolphins.
But the biggest thing that Gase has brought to the Dolphins offense is balance as it isn’t all about their running game. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is rapidly becoming one of the better wide receivers in Dolphins franchise history. Landry was a second-round pick by the Dolphins in 2014 and he has brought something to the franchise that they had lacked for quite some time which is explosiveness. Landry is extremely versatile and Gase will continue to find numerous ways to get him the football which includes reverses and wide receiver screen, while also using him on special teams on punt returns.
And if opposing defenses want to concentrate on slowing down Landry in the Dolphins passing game, Miami has several other viable options to get the football to in with receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker as viable options, while tight end Julius Thomas who was recently acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars could be a sleeper this season in fantasy football.
The Dolphins defensive line is home to some guys that have high motors. Defensive end Cameron Wake has recorded 81.5 sacks in eight years with the Dolphins which is the second most in franchise behind the 131 of Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. Wake weighs 263 lbs., but he knows how to use leverage which gives him the advantage versus many of the right tackles that he lines up against in the National Football League. And because of that you can expect another double-digit sack campaign in 2017 from Wake.
In two seasons with Miami, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has only managed to record 11 sacks, but his presence on the defensive line has given some of his teammates more opportunities to make plays.
Miami’s linebacking unit received a boost this off-season when the organization signed a pair of veterans in outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and inside linebacker Rey Maualuga. Timmons spent the first decade of his National Football League career with the Pittsburgh Steelers which included winning a Super Bowl Championship, while Maualuga brings eight years of experience with him following his stint with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Miami has been blessed with an easy schedule to begin the season as only one of their first eight opponents made the playoffs last season. And if the Dolphins want to contend with the New England Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East, they are going to need to win the games that they are supposed to which means that Cutler canno tplay hero ball.
Buffalo Bills 5-11
The Buffalo Bills have the current longest active playoff drought in the National Football League. You have to go back to the 1999 NFL season to find the last time that the Bills made the playoffs and once you analyze the dysfunction within the organization, you get a better understanding why the Buffalo has struggled so much. Since 2000, the Bills have had seven different general managers, ten head coaches, and 13 starting quarterbacks. And this constant turnover at these key positions let you understand why the Bills have only been able to record two winning seasons over that stretch.
The past 10 months have been no easier for Buffalo as with one game remaining in the regular season, Rex Ryan was fired as the head coach of the Bills. Ryan was on the cusp of just completing his second year with Buffalo, and thus the team was once again starting over. A few weeks later Sean McDermott was hired to be the Bills new head coach. However the man who hired McDermott in general manager Doug Whaley was fired following the conclusion of the 2017 National Football League Draft and he’d be replaced by former Carolina Panthers assistant general manager Brandon Beane.
The craziness doesn’t stop there for the Bills as the cloud of uncertainty still looms over the quarterback position for them. Tyrod Taylor spent the last two years as the Bills starting quarterback, however he isn’t “Mr. Popularity” within the organization. Taylor spent the last two years as the Bills starting quarterback, and although that he was able to put up decent numbers, he has been unable to help the Bills take the next step. Aside from Taylor, no quarterback on the Bills roster has attempted more than 134 passes in the National Football League. And if the Bills don’t feel that Taylor is the long-term solution for them at quarterback, they’ll once again be starting over at the most important position on the football field.
Ad the Bills flirted with parting with Taylor, they did trade his favorite target in wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams. The Bills moved up in the first round of the 2014 National Football League Draft in order to obtain the services of Watkins, however his time in Buffalo was marred by injuries and thus Buffalo decided to move on. After trading Watkins, the Bills would proceed to acquire wide receiver Jordan Matthews from the Philadelphia Eagles and it is paramount that he and Taylor are able to get on the same page.
After an injury filled 2015, running back LeSean McCoy bounced back last season to have one of the better years of his career. At the age of 29, McCoy still has plenty of explosion and any success that Buffalo intends on having in 2017 hinges on the strong legs and quick feet of McCoy.
But whereas McCoy can be a difference maker for Buffalo’s offense, the Bills don’t have too many impact players on the defensive side of the football. Last year saw linebacker Lorenzo Alexander enjoy the best year of his National Football League career as he was able to record 12.5 sacks. But at the age of 34, will the Bills and McDermott be able to back on Alexander being able to put together another quality season like that?
With the start of a new season right around the corner, the Bills are still searching for their identity as an organization. And because of that, 2017 will see the Bills add to there already mounting frustration of being unable to reach the postseason since 1999.
New York Jets 1-15
Following the New York Jets can be hazardous to your health at times due to the numerous head scratching moves that have been made by this club over the years. In 2015, the Jets went 10-6 and were in an eye shadow of making the playoffs. But since then the Jets have regressed and all signs point to them rebuilding as after they went 5-11, things appear ready to get worse.
This off-season has seen a roster overhaul as they’ve parted with veteran players such as defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. And although that the Jets weren’t a playoff team last year with these guys on the roster, more than ever they appear to be a rudderless ship.
Unfortunately for the Jets, they are still searching for the next Joe Namath at quarterback which is not going to happen. Last year the Jets used three different quarterbacks and none of them were able to complete 60% of their passes. The quarterbacking situation is not that much better for the Jets this season as they have a pair of inexperiences quarterbacks on the roster in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenburg, while this off-season saw New York sign veteran quarterback Josh McCown whose record as a starter in the National Football League is a paltry 18-42.
At 31-years of age, running back Matt Forte’s best years carrying the football are in the rearview mirror, but he is just 585 rushing yards away from being the 30th player in National Football League history to gain 10,000 career yards. However aside from Forte potentially reaching the milestone, there is not anything to get excited about in regards to the Jets offense as this unit has the potential to be historically bad.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles built his rep around the National Football League by coaching defensive football. And although that the stars are not alining for Gang Green to be good this year, two players to keep an eye on are defensive ends Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson who each could be in the mix to make the Pro Bowl.
It’s been some time since the Jets came into a season with expectations for them as low as they currently are. And because of that it would not surprise me to see the brown paper bags broken out by Jets fans at MetLife Stadium by Week 8.
Y-Wild Card Source:
Bill Belichick-New England Patriots
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a three-time National Football League Coach of the Year and he is in the running to once again win the award here in 2016. The deck was stacked against the Patriots to begin this NFL season as the result of quarterback Tom Brady being suspended by the league for the first four games.
But in typical Patriots fashion, they responded to adversity as only they could by going 3-1 without Brady. New England hasn’t had the services of tight end Rob Gronkowski that much as he has only appeared eight games this season, while he was placed on injured reserved last month. The Patriots also traded outside linebacker Jamie Collins last month and they haven’t skipped a beat.
With just one game remaining in the regular season, the Patriots are 13-2, and a victory this Sunday over the Miami Dolphins, or a loss by the Oakland Raiders will give New England home-field advantage in the AFC Playoffs.
Each of the last five National Football League seasons have seen the Patriots at least reach the AFC Championship Game, and as they’ve already secured a first-round bye, there is a good possibility to see them advance into late January.
In all but two of Belichick’s 17 seasons as the head coach of the Patriots, his team has won at least 10 games in the regular season. And as the Patriots could finish tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the National Football League, it is a tribute to the culture that Belichick has established in Foxborough.
Adam Gase-Miami Dolphins
For Adam Gase he has walked into a very difficult situation and made the impossible, possible. Prior to this year the Dolphins have only made the playoffs once since 2002, while they hadn’t had a winning season since 2008. But in one year under Gase, the Dolphins are heading to the postseason and in a very improbable fashion.
The Dolphins began the 2016 National Football League season with a record of 1-4 and it appeared to be another lost year in South Florida. But since then the Dolphins are 9-1 as Gase has changed the culture there along with the team’s overall philosophy.
When Gase became the head coach of the Dolphins, he decided to stick with Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback. Tannehill was the Dolphins first-round pick in 2012, but he has been up and down during his time with the team. Gase decided to reduce Tannehill’s work load as the Dolphins have rediscovered the running game.
Second year running back Jay Ajayi has become a force for the Dolphins as his 1,213 rushing yards in 2016 are the fourth most in a single-season by a Miami running back. Ajayi’s emergence coincided with the Dolphins resurgence as his 204 rushing yards in Miami’s 30-15 victory in Week 6 over the Pittsburgh Steelers got the ball rolling.
Ajayi has been able to produce behind a Dolphins offensive line that is without the services of a center Mike Pouncey who is a three-time Pro Bowler, but it has been the overall attitude of this unit as well as the commitment to the running game that has turned things around in South Florida.
Overall the Dolphins are ninth in the National Football League in rushing and that will be important in the postseason as they will be without the services of Tannehill who is out with a knee injury. But the Dolphins haven’t skipped a beat with backup quarterback Matt Moore who is 2-0 as a starter.
The Dolphins also possess a ferocious defensive line that features Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake who tend to have a weekly meeting a the quarterback.
And once you factor in Miami’s ability to run the football along with a stout defensive line, they should be a force next month in the playoffs.
Jack Del Rio-Oakland Raiders
A franchise turnaround begins with a culture change and this is very evident with the Oakland Raiders. Once upon a time that Raiders were the gold standard of success in the National Football League as they were revered. But since 2003, the Raiders became the laughing stock of the NFL as they have had the worst winning percentage in the league over that stretch without a playoff appearance, or a winning campaign. But things have changed on the watch of head coach Jack Del Rio.
Del Rio in his second season as the head coach of the Raiders, and under him the team has returned to glory. The Raiders record of 12-3 this season is the second best in the AFC, while it is their best mark since they went 12-4 in 2000.
Del Rio has changed the culture in Oakland which wasn’t an easy task and in the process he has woken a sleeping giant in the National Football League. But Del Rio’s biggest task is still ahead of him as the Raiders will enter the postseason without the services of Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr suffered a fractured fibula this past Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts which really put a damper on the Raiders postseason chances. Carr was in the running to be the National Football League’s MVP and now the Raiders will go into the postseason relying on backup quarterback Matt McGloin to get the job done. And if Del Rio and the Raiders find a way to advance in the postseason with McGloin under center, it will arguably be one of the best coaching jobs ever done in the history of the league.
Jason Garrett-Dallas Cowboys
After the Dallas Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015, they were expected to be an improved team here in 2016, but nobody expected what they have become. Through 15 games in 2016, the Cowboys are 13-2 which is tied with the New England Patriots for the best mark in the National Football League and they’ve already sewn up home-field advantage in the NFC.
But things looked bleak for the Cowboys in August when starting quarterback Tony Romo was sidelined with a back injury. And that meant that the Cowboys would go with an unproven rookie at quarterback in Dak Prescott.
Prescott has more than overachieved this season as he is completing 68.1% of his passes, while he has thrown 23 touchdown passes to just 4 interceptions. And typically a season like this would see Prescott as a shoo-in to be the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he has some very stiff competition from his teammate in running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Whereas much wasn’t expected from Prescott who was selected in the fourth round of the National Football League Draft by the Cowboys, the same cannot be said for Elliot. Elliot was the fourth overall selection of the draft as he was expected to ignite the running game for the Cowboys which is what he has done. Elliot is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards, and he has brought excitement back to that position in Dallas which has not been seen in Dallas since the days of Emmitt Smith.
Prescott and Elliot have benefited from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League, while Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has kept the game plan simple, but effective for his rookie quarterback.
And if Dallas continues on the pace that they are currently on, they could be in line for their first Super Bowl Championship since 1995.
Ben McAdoo-New York Giants
Ben McAdoo spent the last two years as the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants and he found himself being promoted to being the team’s head coach last January. McAdoo’s task was to get things turned around for a Giants franchise that had not reached the postseason since winning the Super Bowl in 2011.
Under McAdoo, the Giants began the season 2-0 for the first time since 2009 and their 10-5 mark has seen them qualify for the postseason. McAdoo’s Giants are the only team to defeat the Dallas Cowboys this season as they’ve done it twice. But it has been the Giants defense that has kept them going this season as they are 11th in the NFL in total defense, but third in points allowed at 18.3 per contest. McAdoo’s specialty is supposed to be offensive football, but New York has been stuck in the mud as they are 24th in the National Football League. However being that the Giants have improved after going just 6-10 in each of the last two seasons has to put McAdoo in the mix as far as being the NFL’s Coach of the Year.
X-New England Patriots 12-4
There are two opinions on the New England Patriots as they are an organization that you either love or hate. Since 2001, the Patriots have not had a losing season and they’ve only had two seasons over that stretch which have ended without them making the postseason. The Pats have won four Super Bowl Championships as they’ve become the epitome of success in the National Football League. But life isn’t a bed of roses for New England as they’ve dealt with their fair share of controversy which included “Spygate” in 2007, and now “Deflategate”. The most recent controversy has seen NFL commissioner Roger Goodell drop the hammer on the Patriots which included a $1 million fine, a loss of draft picks, and a four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady. Now as the Patriots are preparing four life without Brady for the first four games here in 2016, head coach Bill Belichick will once again put on his thinking cap.
Patriots fans need to get used to hearing the name Jimmy Garoppolo as he will be the Patriots starting quarterback while Brady serves his suspension. In Garoppolo’s two years with the Patriots, he has seen some brief mop up duty behind Brady. But now Garoppolo will be charged with keeping Brady’s seat warm until he comes back.
There are still plenty of explosive play makers on the Patriots offense that features the likes of tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman. At 6’6″, Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as his height and pass catching ability keeps opposing secondaries honest. And it will be much tougher for Patriots opponents to double Gronkowski this season due to the fact that the team acquired tight end Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears.
Bennett has spent eight years in the National Football League with stints with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and the Bears. The majority of Bennett’s career has seen him underutilized in the passing game which could change this year. I expect the Patriots to employ more two tight end packages in the mode of the early 2010’s when New England would create matchup problems for opponents with Gronkowski and former tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Edelman is looking to bounce back after injuries slowed him down in 2015. And once the maestro at quarterback in Brady returns from his suspension the Patriots passing game should really take flight.
Last year the Pats were 30th in the National Football League in rushing and they are one of the few teams that can get away with that due to the ability of Brady. Under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots tend to use screen passes, along with short passes to their running backs such as Dion Lewis and James White which turn out to be de facto runs.
The Patriots have a solid offensive line and if left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer are able to remain healthy, both Garoppolo and Brady should enjoy plenty of time in the pocket. It never worked out for guard Jonathan Cooper in three years with the Arizona Cardinals, but after the Patriots acquired him during the off-season, maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs after being a first-round pick in 2013.
It was shocking when Belichick decided to trade defensive end/outside linebacker Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this off-season, but he did pick up a veteran to replace him in defensive end Chris Long. Long was the second overall pick of the 2008 National Football League Draft by the St. Louis Rams, but injuries have taken away from his effectiveness over the last two years as he has missed 14 games. However Long finally gets the chance to play for a winner and suiting up for the Patriots typically tends to allow veteran players to find the fountain of youth.
Aside from Long on the Patriots defensive line, there are a ton of veterans that includes defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton and defensive end Rob Ninkovich, while second year defensive tackle Malcolm Brown could be ready to take on bigger role in New England’s defense.
The Pats still have a strong group of linebackers which includes middle linebacker Donta Hightower and outside linebacker Jamie Collins, while the secondary is home to some quality veterans in cornerback Malcolm Butler, strong safety Patrick Chung, and free safety Devin McCourty.
If the Patriots are able to weather the storm without Brady, this team should once again be poised to make another run at winning the Super Bowl.
New York Jets 10-6
2015 saw much improvement for the New York Jets, but they fell just short of making the playoffs. After the Jets defeated their arch rival in the New England Patriots in Week 16, they only needed a victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2010. However things fell apart for the Jets as they lost to the Bills which was a bittersweet ending to what had the makings of a storybook season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fell 95 yards short of becoming the first Jets quarterback since Joe Namath in 1967 when the team still played in the American Football League to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker become the first duo of Jets pass catchers since Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet in 1998 to each gain 1,000 yards receiving and New York also had one of the fiercest defensive lines in the National Football League that featured defensive ends Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Leonard Williams. And as all of this should be building blocks for the Jets heading into the 2016 NFL season, this team has a laundry list of question marks that are surrounding them.
After Fitzpatrick’s strong season he became a free agent as he and the Jets had a long dance around the floor before they came to an agreement on a new one-year deal for $12 million. Fitzpatrick has been a journeyman as he has suited up for six different clubs in his 11-year National Football League career. Many folks see Fitzpatrick as a backup quarterback which is one of the reasons why the Jets are not willing to commit on a long-term deal to a 33-year old player that has only made all 16 starts in a season three times in his career. Heading into the 2016 NFL season, the main thing for Fitzpatrick is to do exactly what he did last year which is to simply get the football to the play makers around him such as Marshall and Decker.
After running back Chris Ivory gained 1,070 yards on the ground for the Jets last year, he was allowed to leave in free agency as he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But as one door closed for the Jets, another opened as the team signed veteran running back Matt Forte. In eight years with the Chicago Bears, Forte was a very durable running back as only Walter Payton gained more yards on the ground than him while wearing a Bears uniform.
Forte has also been solid in providing pass protection for quarterbacks, while also being a strong receiver coming out of the backfield which should pay dividends in the Jets offense.
After 11 years of protecting the blindside for Jet quarterbacks, offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson decided to retire. But Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan didn’t waste any time in replacing Ferguson as he acquired offensive tackle Ryan Clady from the Denver Broncos. Ferguson was extremely durable during his career, but the same cannot be said about Clady who after helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl last year must show his worth on the big stage in the shadow of New York City.
As previously mentioned the Jets do have a strong defensive line which sets the tone for the rest of the defense. And if Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams are able to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it could make life much easier for players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis.
For Jets head coach Todd Bowles, he knows that his team won’t be able to sneak up anybody here in 2016. And with road games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers,and Arizona Cardinals, along with divisional tilts against the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, the Jets are going to have their hands full in they intend on making it to the postseason.
Buffalo Bills 8-8
The Buffalo Bills and head coach Rex Ryan are a match made in heaven. The Bills have not won more than 9 games in a season during this millennium, and Ryan is a head coach that tends to hover around .500 each year. Staying true to form for Ryan and the Bills in 2015, Buffalo went 8-8 as they were a team that competed, but they were an undisciplined team that simply found ways to lose. Ryan has always been known as a player’s coach with teams that shoot themselves in the foot, and we could be looking at the same blueprint for the Bills here in 2016.
Last year Ryan gave Tyrod Taylor the opportunity to be the Bills starting quarterback and he made the most of it by throwing 20 touchdown passes to just 6 interceptions. Taylor began to shed the label of him simply being a scrambler and now it will be interesting to see if he can take the next step and become an elite quarterback in 2016. But if Taylor is going to be able to take the next step as a quarterback, he has the players around him to make it happen.
It hasn’t taken wide receiver Sammy Watkins that long to show that he indeed is a play maker. In just two years, Watkins has displayed the rare combination of blazing speed and pass catching ability which makes him a logical candidate to make the Pro Bowl this season. And if the Bills passing game is going to improve, wide receiver Robert Woods must become consistent as well.
The Bills were the top rushing team last year in the National Football League, and this was without the benefit of having a healthy LeSean McCoy at running back for the entire season. But if McCoy is able to remain healthy and show the explosiveness that made him the Philadelphia Eagles all-time leading rusher, then the Bills offense should be a force to be reckoned with.
Ryan is known as an aggressive defensive coach, but the Bills only managed to muster up 21 sacks last year after having 54 in 2014. The defense could once again be a point of frustration for the Bills due to suspensions of players such as defensive tackle Marcel Dareus which could rob them off a chance to improve and that’ll more than likely hamper their chances of ending the longest current playoff drought in the National Football League.
Suspensions to players such as Dareus’ show that the Bills are still a very undisciplined team. Last year the Bills had 143 accepted penalties against them which was tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tops in the National Football League, and if Ryan doesn’t get this pattern tempered, Buffalo will once again be stuck in the mud.
More than likely the Bills will be an up and down team again in 2016, and you have to wonder if anything short than a trip to the postseason will mean the end for Ryan in Western New York.
Miami Dolphins 5-11
From 1970-1995, the Miami Dolphins only employed one head coach in Don Shula. But since Shula’s retirement, the Dolphins have had a revolving door at head coach. Adam Gase is set to begin his first season as Dolphins head coach, and he represents the tenth different head coach that the Dolphins have employed since Shula stepped down. The Dolphins coaching carousel is reflective in the team’s record as they have not had a winning record since 2008, while failing to win a playoff game since 2000.
Aside from head coaching issues, the quarterback position has also been a problem for the Dolphins. As Ryan Tannehill is set to begin his fifth year as the Dolphins starting quarterback, it marks the first time since the early 2000’s that Miami will have the same starting quarterback five years in a row.
In four years as the Dolphins starting quarterback, Tannehill has put up impressive numbers which would make a fantasy football owner happy, but he has come up short in the most important category that defines a National Football League quarterback which is victories. Tannehill has a career record of 29-35 and the Dolphins have never finished a season with a winning record with him under center. In May 2015, Tannehill and the Dolphins agreed on a six-year, $96 million extension, and if he’s unable to begin to deliver, the folks in South Florida that follow this team will begin to want another franchise quarterback.
In 2015, the Fins struggled to run the football as they were 23rd in the National Football League in rushing. The Dolphins leading returning rusher is Jay Ajayi who gained just 187 yards on the ground last season. The Dolphins did sign former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. But Foster has a ton of miles on his legs along with injuries, and it is difficult to expect him to be the play maker that he was a few seasons ago.
The Dolphins lack of a running game will put more pressure on Tannehill and wide receiver Jarvis Landry to carry the offense, and although that the duo will pad their stats, it more than likely won’t lead to that many wins in Miami.
Defensively the Dolphins lost defensive end Olivier Vernon in free agency as he signed with the New York Giants. But Miami is hopeful that veteran defensive end Mario Williams will be able to fill the void. Williams will join a veteran defensive line that includes defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cameron Wake, but there are plenty of issues in the back seven of the Dolphins defense that will stress the mental of first-year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
It’s going to be another long year in Miami, but I expect Gase to use this time to assess the talent there as he is hopeful to build a solid foundation.