After letting a Super Bowl Championship slipped away from Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, the long journey back begins.
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:
New England Patriots
First-Round Pick: (N/A)
Best Pick: (N/A)
It was very difficult to give the New England Patriots a quality grade for the 2017 National Football League Draft due to the fact that they were not that active. The Patriots only had four selections in the draft as the result of trades or punishment by the NFL. The Patriots upgrades to their team came via trades and free agency as they acquired wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints and tight end Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts, while also signing former Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
But of the Patriots four draft picks in 2017 which includes Youngstown State Penguins outside linebacker Derek Rivers and Troy Trojans offensive tackle Antonio Garcia who were each selected in the third round, they will be developmental players. And before you know it they could become key cogs in the wheel of the Patriots machinery.
First-Round Pick: Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri
Best Pick: Charles Harris
After the Miami Dolphins were able to break through last season for their first playoff appearance since 2008, the last thing that they want to do is to take a step backwards. And the best way for the Dolphins to keep building was for them to have a solid draft.
The Dolphins already have a solid pass rush, but if they are going to be able to give the Patriots a real run for their money in the AFC East, then they will need to stock pile as many quality pass rushers as possible. And with several quality pass rusher available in the first round of the 2017 National Football League Draft, the Fins zeroed in on Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris.
Five of Miami’s first six selections in the draft came on the defensive side of the football which included taking Ohio State Buckeyes inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the second round and Clemson Tigers cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in the third round.
The only way to get past the Patriots is to slow them down, and the Dolphins are hopeful that they’ve plugged up all of their holes on defense in order to do so.
First-Round Pick: Tre’Davious White-Cornerback-LSU
Best Pick: Round Five-Nathan Peterman-Quarterback-Pittsburgh
The 2017 National Football League Draft turned out to be a train wreck for the Buffalo Bills in more ways than one. The Bills traded down from the tenth overall selection to the 27th as they made a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills would then select LSU Tigers cornerback Tre’Davious White to offset the loss of cornerback Stephon Gilmore who signed as a free agent with the Patriots. And aside from trading down, the Bills failed to find themselves an impact player in the draft which is bad news for a franchise that needs one since they have failed to make the postseason since 1999.
But things got wacky this past Sunday when general manager Doug Whaley and his entire scouting team were fired. Now this draft class doesn’t have a leg to stand on which gives you an idea as to why the Bills have the longest current playoff drought in the National Football League.
New York Jets
First-Round Pick: Jamal Adams-Safety-LSU
Best Pick: Jamal Adams
The New York Jets entered the 2017 National Football League Draft with several needs to fill on both sides of the football, but credit to general manager Mike Maccagnan for sticking to his guns and not overreaching at any point during the draft.
After coming off of a 5-11 season, along with possessing the sixth overall pick in the draft, it would have been really easy for the Jets to get caught up in the moment and select a quarterback. However Maccagnan stuck to his draft board and selected LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams.
Adams fell slightly in the draft once the Chicago Bears decided to draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky, but he fills a need in the Jets secondary as they could be ready to move on from safety Calvin Pryor.
The Jets continued to find athletes from the Southeastern Conference as they took Florida Gators safety Marcus Maye in the second round and Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver ArDarius Stewart in the third which helps this organization being that they need more depth.
This draft class may not produce superstars for the Jets, but they might be able to get some quality role players out of it.
After the Buffalo Bills went 8-8 during the 2015 National Football League season, the level of expectations for them increased here in 2016. But the Bills have been unable to get over the hump as after a 37-31 loss this past Thursday night to the New York Jets, Buffalo is now 0-2 and the odds are against them of ending the longest current playoff drought in the NFL which dates back to 1999. When Rex Ryan was hired to be the Bills head coach last year, he brought optimism with him to Western New York. Prior to joining the Bills, Ryan was the head coach of the Jets for six seasons as he compiled a record of 46-50 with a pair of appearances in the AFC Championship Game. But Ryan’s last four years with the Jets saw him fail to post a winning record which led to him being fired. And once you factor in the Bills record last season, it’s been five years since Ryan has posted a winning record as it looks like it is going to be very hard for him to reverse the tide here in 2016.
After the Bills offense was limited to just 160 total yards in their Week 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, they were able to show signs of life against the Jets. In the game the Bills were able to amass 393 total yards of offense which was highlighted by quarterback Tyrod Taylor connecting with wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on an 84-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and then finding wide receiver Greg Salas on a 71-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
But it was the Bills defense that let down the team as they allowed 493 yards of offense which included Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passing for 374 yards, along with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker each gaining at least 100 yards receiving.
But when it came time for Ryan to re-assess the Bills after their loss to the Jets, he decided to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman in what screams of a desperate move. Ryan is attempting to shake things up for Buffalo, but he overlooked the obvious problem which is the Bills defense. Buffalo’s defensive coordinator is Ryan’s twin brother Rob who is attached at the hip with in more ways that one with Rex as the duo will ride it out together in Western New York, but for how long?
Heading into the 2016 National Football League season, Ryan didn’t appear to have that much wiggle room with the Bills and his time with the team could be coming to an end soon.
The Bills are 0-2 and they are fighting a huge uphill battle. This was supposed to be the year where teams such as the Bills could make a run at the AFC East Title since New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been suspended by the National Football League for the first four games. But after two games the Bills are 0-2, while the Patriots are 2-0, and any thought of Buffalo winning the division this year is remote as New England will be even more tougher to deal with when Brady returns to the lineup in a few weeks. Elsewhere in the AFC, teams such as the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ravens have the look of playoff contenders which puts the Bills in a bind as there are only six available postseason spots in the conference and Buffalo will have to find a way to contend for a wild card.
But Ryan’s hiring in Buffalo is simply another case of “buyer beware” that the Bills front office overlooked. In Ryan, the Bills hired a head coach who was just fired from his last gig which is typically a recipe for disaster; not to mention that his last four years with the Jets saw him fail to make the postseason. Ryan’s pedigree is defensive football, but he has been unable to put his stamp on Buffalo’s defense. In 2014, the Bills defense registered 54 sacks. However last year under Ryan, the Bills only managed 21 sacks. Through two games here in 2016, Buffalo has 5 sacks, but the unit has been unable to make game changing plays.
Ryan has gone from a master motivator that nearly helped the Jets reach the Super Bowl, to a guy that now simply believes his own press clippings. When the Jets were good, Ryan was the best thing since sliced bread. But when things went bad, Ryan couldn’t find a friend in the media. The same can be said for Ryan now with the Bills who will focus more on his team’s heart and determination, as opposed to the offense’s inability to execute on third down, the fact that his defense cannot stop anybody, or the reality that under him Buffalo has been one of the most penalized teams in the National Football League which is clearly a lack of discipline.
I do believe that Ryan was born to wear a whistle around his neck, but the time might be right for him to go back to doing what he does best which is to coach defensive football. Defensive coordinators don’t have to worry about having microphones in front of them each day, and they can also focus on one side of the football as opposed to being responsible for each aspect of the team.
All hasn’t been bad for Ryan in Buffalo as he has proven that Taylor can be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. But the downside on Ryan is that his first, two draft picks of 2016 in defensive end Shaq Lawson and linebacker Reggie Ragland won’t be able to contribute this year due to injuries. Ragland suffered a knee injury in training camp, but Ryan knew what he was getting with Lawson who required shoulder surgery which led to many teams taking him off of their respective draft boards heading into the NFL Draft. Pro Bowl wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been slowed recently by foot and knee injuries which has also led to the notion that the Bills appear to be a sinking ship.
It’s late September and the Bills already have their backs against the wall. And if the Bills are unable to win at home this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, you can expect the boos to reign down on Ryan at New Era Field at a more powerful rate than the water goes over Niagara Falls. Bills owner Terry Pegula wanted to make a splash when he hired Ryan, but right about now he appears ready to go belly up.