Y-New England Patriots 13-3
Consistency is the best way to sum up the New England Patriots franchise. Since 2001, the Patriots have never had a losing season which includes 15 AFC East Titles, and five Super Bowl Championships. Since 2010, New England has won no fewer than 12 games in a season, while they have participated in the AFC Championship Game in each of the last seven seasons. That consistency has made the Pats the envy of the National Football League as they are always in contention with their head coach Bill Belichick always coming up with new and unique ways to motivate his team to strive for excellence. However Belichick will have to work harder this year to motivate his Patriots to be excellent.
The jury is still out as to whether or not that the Patriots have recovered from their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52. The Patriots were favored in the contest, but they could never slow down the Eagles offense, and many observers point to the fact that Belichick decided to bench cornerback Malcolm Butler for the entire game. Heading into the contest, Butler was the Patriots best cover corner, and his benching surprised many people as a clear cut explanation was never given along with the fact the he was a pending free agent. Since then Butler has joined the Tennessee Titans, while the Patriots are looking to get back on track in quest of their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But as questionable as the Butler benching was in the Super Bowl, the Patriots still have Tom Brady as their starting quarterback. At the age of 41, Brady is coming off of his third National Football League MVP Award. There are many people who are waiting for the other shoe to drop on Brady’s career in regards to the elite level that he is still playing at, but the man that many folks in the New England area refer to as “Tom Terrific” continues to prove them wrong. Brady excels at getting the football out of his hands quickly, while also spreading it around to a multitude of backs and receivers. Brady seeks perfection from himself, and the same can be said about his counterparts on offense which allows the Pats keep the cohesion that they’ve had for nearly two decades with him under center. And as Brady continues to show that he is one of the best to have ever done it, he is closing in on some elite company as he is on the verge of becoming just the fourth player in NFL history to pass for 70,000 career passing yards.
The Patriots are entering the new season lacking the depth at the wide receiver position that they’ve had in recent years. From last year’s team, wide receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, while wide receiver Danny Amendola left in free agency to sign with the Miami Dolphins. And one of Brady’s go-to-guys in wide receiver Julian Edelman will miss the first four games of the upcoming season after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Brady will have to rely on veteran wide receiver Chris Hogan and wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson to hold it down until Edelman returns, but will they be able to do it?
However even with the Patriots lacking depth at the wide receiver, there is still that mountain of a man lurking on their offense in tight end Rob Gronkowski. At 6’6″, 270 lbs., Gronkowski might be the most imposing figure that the tight end position has ever seen. Gronkowski’s ability to catch passes and run over defenders is legendary, while he is one of the selected few tight ends that needs at least a double team on him at all times. There was speculation that Gronkowski would retire this off-season, or that he could be traded. However Gronkowski and Belichick appear to be on the same page going forward as another All-Pro season appears to be in the works for him.
The Patriots might be thin at wide receiver this season, but they will have a bevy of solid running backs. New England lost running back Dion Lewis in free agency to the Titans, but they didn’t waste anytime in regards to finding his replacement. The Pats used a first-round pick on former Georgia running back Sony Michel who was an explosive player in college. Michel was a solid runner, while his skills as a pass catcher coming out of the backfield will be utilized in the Patriots offensive scheme. Michel is the latest in a long line of quality running backs who’ve come to the National Football League from Georgia such as Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley as he is a prime candidate to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Aside from drafting Michel, New England also signed former Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill as he’ll team with the likes of James White and Rex Burkhead in the Patriots backfield. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels won’t have a shortage of quality backs to get the football to as New England will incorporate plenty of swing and screen passes which will work as de facto runs.
New England also lost left tackle Nate Solder in free agency to the New York Giants, but they made a trade this off-season with the San Francisco 49ers to acquire left tackle Trent Brown. In three years with the 49ers, Brown started in 28 games, and so far with the Patriots, he has impressed his coaches which could result in him becoming an anchor on their offensive line.
New England lost their defensive coordinator from last year’s team in Matt Patricia who left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions, but it is all about rolling with the punches in order to keep the machine rolling under Belichick. Brian Flores has been with Patriots organization since 2004, and he has worked his way up through the ranks as will get his opportunity to be the team’s defensive coordinator. Under Belichick, the Pats have generally had a bend, but don’t break philosophy on defense which wasn’t the case last season as they were 29th in the National Football League.
The Patriots should have a stout defensive line as they acquired defensive tackle Danny Shelton from the Cleveland Browns, as his presence along with that of defensive tackle Malcolm Brown will give them nearly 700 lbs. worth of beef on the interior of their defensive line.
Since joining the Patriots in 2012, middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been an important member to their defense. Hightower was placed on injured reserve last November after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle, and without him, New England’s defense was not the same. Now Hightower is healthy and his presence as the quarterback of the defense will be a welcomed sight for the Pats, as with him leading the way, the front seven should be improved.
Free safety Devin McCourty is one of the longest tenured Patriots, and now he’ll have the opportunity to play with his twin brother. Cornerback Jason McCourty was acquired from the Browns this off-season, and aside from giving New England another veteran player on defense, he also gives them someone else with solid instincts.
It’s hard to believe, but kicker Stephen Gostowski has been with the Pats for 13 years. And as Gostowski had a tall task in replacing Adam Vinatieri, he has lived up to it and then some as he has become one of the most accurate kickers in National Football League history. Gostowski’s accurate and strong leg has helped New England pull out some close games in the past, while that theme will continue in 2018.
Even though New England lost in the Super Bowl, they will have a target on them as they are the current gold standard of the National Football League. And with that being the case as well as playing for Belichick, the Patriots won’t have any time to worry about having a Super Bowl hangover.
Miami Dolphins 7-9
The 2017 National Football League was one to forget for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were displaced due to Hurricane Irma as they moved their operations to Southern California for several weeks. The storm forced the postponement of the Dolphins Week 1 affair with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers which resulted in Miami having to play 16 consecutive games without a break. The Dolphins were done in by a lack of leadership and discipline on the field as they finished with a record of 6-10 which was a far cry from their 10-6 mark in 2016 that resulted in a playoff appearance. But as Dolphins head coach Adam Gase looks to get his team back on track, has he done enough to make the Fins a force in the AFC East?
One plus for the Dolphins is that they will have a healthy Ryan Tannehill at quarterback this year. Tannehill suffered a torn ACL last August that forced him to miss the entire 2017 season. Tannehill is back now, but the most important thing for him is to once again trust his body. Tannehill is a mobile quarterback, and if his legs are not at 100%, it will hinder his chances to bounce back.
The Dolphins were a walking disaster on offense last year as they were 25th in the National Football League in total offense. And because of Miami’s struggles on offense, Gase and team general manager Chris Grier have focused on having leadership as opposed to talent.
Last season the Dolphins traded running Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles, while this off-season saw them trade wide receiver Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns. And in free agency the Dolphins signed running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Very quietly Gore is one of the best running backs in National Football League history. In Gore’s 13-year NFL career he has amassed 14,026 rushing yards which is fifth all-time. And even at the age of 35, the future Hall of Famer is not showing any signs of slowing down. But the biggest impact that Gore’s arrival will have on the Dolphins is his leadership ability. Gore is one of those rare players that hates to lose more than he enjoys winning, and any team that wants to taste victory needs players with that mindset.
In Amendola, the Dolphins are getting a player who knows what it takes to win in the National Football League. Amendola won a pair of Super Bowl Titles with the New England Patriots and during his tenure with the team, he was one of quarterback Tom Brady’s most reliable pass catchers. Amendola has always been a solid route runner, and along with that he fits the mold in regards to what Gase wants which is to change the culture in the locker room.
The Dolphins were 16th in the National Football League last season in total defense, but it is never a good sign when a defensive back is the team’s leading tackler. Last season strong safety Reshad Jones led the Dolphins in tackles with 122 as he did a solid job in playing both the run and pass. Jones’ strong season led to him being selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career. And although that Jones is lining up to have another solid season, if he is once again the leading tackler for the Dolphins, it will not be a good sign for them.
At 36-years of age, defensive end Cameron Wake is still one of the better rushers in the National Football League as he is coming off of his fifth season in which he has recorded at least 10 sacks. At 6’3″, 263 lbs., Wake uses leverage to his advantage and as he enters the new season, he is just 8 sacks away from joining Jason Taylor as the only players in Dolphins franchise history to record at least 100 career sacks.
Unlike last year the Dolphins won’t begin this season with as many expectations, and it will be interesting to see how they’ll respond to that.
New York Jets 3-13
It’s hard to believe, but the New York Jets have not made the playoffs since 2010. This seven-year drought is the second longest playoff drought that the Jets have had since joining the National Football League in 1970. The Jets have been done in by bad personnel decisions and drafting which has spilled over to the field. The Jets have gone 5-11 in each of the last two seasons as it has been hard to determine whether or not that this team wants to compete or rebuild. But if you’re willing to put the past two years behind, the moves that the Jets have made this off-season have finally given their fan base some hope that things could finally be getting better.
Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles have three years under their belts as the general manager and head coach of the Jets respectively, and the biggest surprise is in their first three years with the organization, they never found themselves a franchise quarterback. However that changed this year as the Jets would use the third overall pick in the draft on quarterback Sam Darnold.
For most observers Darnold was the best available quarterback heading into the draft due to his ability as a passer as well as his poise in pocket. Darnold has the intangibles to become a franchise quarterback, but he will have a tall task ahead of him in regards to dealing with both a fan base and media presence alike in the New York area that are clamoring for the Jets to find the next Joe Namath.
Instead of the Jets relying on 39-year old quarterback Josh McCown, or veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to start the season under center for them, they are giving the keys to the franchise to Darnold immediately. The Jets solidified this move when they recently traded Bridgewater to the New Orleans Saints. Last year the Jets were 28th in the National Football League in total offense, and as they still lack the players at the skill positions, Darnold will have his work cut out for him in regards to succeeding.
Kacy Rodgers is set to begin his fourth year as the Jets defensive coordinator, and after his unit was ranked 25th in the nation in total defense last season, they are lacking play makers heading into the new campaign.
Linebacker Demario Davis led New York in tackles last season with 135, but they allowed him to leave in free agency as he is now with the Saints. The Jets also parted with the disgruntled Muhammad Wilkerson as the defensive end is now a member of the Green Bay Packers.
Led by strong safety Jamal Adams, New York’s back four could be formidable, but without a true pass rusher in the front seven, or a strong presence at linebacker, it will be difficult for the Jets to dictate things on that side of the football.
Due to the fact that the Jets have an easy schedule to begin the season, they could sneak up on some teams. However the second half of the Jets schedule will be telling which includes two meetings with the New England Patriots.
Buffalo Bills 3-13
The Buffalo Bills are set to enter the 2018 National Football League season in an unusual position. Last season the Bills were able to do something that they had been unable to do since 1999 which was to qualify for the playoffs. The Bills were an up and down team all season long, but a win against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 coupled with some breaks allowed Buffalo to be playoff bound.
However Buffalo’s trip to the postseason would be short lived as they lost in the AFC Wild Card game to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the contest the Bills were only able to muster 3 points which included 263 yards of total offense. And although that the Bills were a playoff team last year, they were 29th in the National Football League in total offense which led to general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott getting bold this off-season in regards to fixing their offense.
From McDermott’s first day on the job with the Bills last year, he never warmed up to quarterback Tyrod Taylor. In three years as the Bills starting quarterback, Taylor was consistently inconsistent, and in McDermott’s one year with him, they never developed a chemistry together which led to him being traded to the Cleveland Browns this off-season.
And with the Bills void at starting quarterback, Beane and McDermott turned their attention to the National Football League Draft. Most people expected the Bills to go after a quarterback early on in the draft which is exactly what they did.
Buffalo moved up in the first round of the draft to select quarterback Josh Allen who they feel will be their next franchise signal caller. At 6’5″, 237 lbs., Allen has the prototypical size to be a quarterback in the National Football League, while he was drafted off of what he did in 2016. Allen was injured for a portion of the 2017 college football season at Wyoming which saw a decrease in his production. However the Bills feel that Allen has what it takes to succeed in the NFL and only time will tell if that’ll be the case.
But if Allen is going to be the Bills franchise starting quarterback, it is all about the team that is around him. Since coming into the National Football League in 2009, running back LeSean McCoy has been one of the better ball carriers in the game. McCoy continues to climb up the all-time ranks for running back as last year saw him become one of only 31 players in NFL history to gain 10,000 yards rushing. But one of the big questions in regards to McCoy is whether or not that he can still produce at a high level. McCoy turned 30-years of age this past July which is ancient for a running back in the NFL, and you have to wonder when the wear and tear of the position will finally catch up to him.
The Bills were 31st in the National Football League in passing offense last season with their leading receiver being tight end Charles Clay with just 558 yards. Buffalo still lacks explosiveness at the wide receiver position, and that along with a suspect offensive line means that this offense will be stuck in the mud. Conventional wisdom would have meant that the Bills should have gone to AJ McCarron to start the season under center, but he was traded to the Oakland Raiders. McCarron’s departure means that the Bills will turn to Nathan Peterman to begin the season for them at quarterback. And Peterman’s presence won’t be a comforting sight for Bills fans as he only completed 49% of his passes in two starts last season, while throwing 5 interceptions.
Last year the Bills were 26th in the National Football League in total defense, but they should be an improved unit under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Buffalo could stand to have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL after they signed former Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei this off-season as well as drafting defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. Another part of the equation on Buffalo’s defensive line will be whether or not that defensive end Shaq Lawson will be healthy enough to make an impact. Lawson was a first-round pick by the Bills in 2016 under former head coach Rex Ryan, but he has only been able to appear in 21 games, while also being unable to produce when he is on the field. And with the addition of cornerback Vontae Davis, Buffalo’s secondary should be improved as well, but a solid defense alone may not be enough to get them to the postseason in consecutive years.
Three of Buffalo’s first four games this year will be away from home, but only one of those contests will be versus a team that made the playoffs in 2017. However the odds will be stacked against the Bills in regards to a playoff team once again.