It’s an easy exercise to make teams look great on paper because it just lays there and let’s any darn fool write on it.
The NFL is on a constant quest for parity, and again it’s something that can exist on paper and appear to exist on the field, then when you actually have the Broncos play the Seahawks only to get obliterated…well, so much for parity and the paper it’s written on.
In the AFC East, it’s hard not to project the New England Patriots to finish first again. Tom Brady’s passing production dropped last year because he kept losing his targets to injury. Doubtful that problem piles up two years in a row, but unless he wants to join the walking wounded, Julian Edelman cannot continue to be the recipient of one out of every four Brady completions.
I suppose it’s time to quit worrying about the Pats’ running game. Every year they appear to have serious problems, and every season they not only find an answer, they often blow you away with the response. The biggest change is having a new O-line coach, but he doesn’t plan to make any serious alterations. (Mock surprise!) While the Pats drafted three offensive linemen, none of them are expected to be anything more than added depth at the start of this season.
On defense the team is adjusting their skill focus from the front to the back. Bill Belichick built his reputation with a pressure 3-4 design and that certainly won’t change, so all that new coverage ability will give them a chance at a decent pass rush. Not that it’s all on Vince Wilfork now, but the front half of the defense pretty much is.
The New York Jets are projected to finish last. It wouldn’t be the Jets without a quarterback controversy and nothing is more detrimental to offensive cohesion than wondering who the leader in the huddle is going to be. Neither Geno Smith nor Michael Vick - whichever one it turns out to be - will set the world on fire with their accuracy, so the core of New York’s offensive identity will continue to be the running game, benefiting mightily from a stout front five. Free agent signee Chris Johnson will be motivated for a career revival, though at age 29, having the will may not be enough.
On defense here’s another AFC East team ditching its secondary in the hopes they can start over and do it better this time. The line has a couple of solid players but still seems to lack the punch to get any kind of pass rush threat going. The personnel moves on defense are all gambles; no better than toss-ups really, but if they don’t get some turnovers out of this group this year, their hopes to improve on an 8-8 record will go unfulfilled.
Look for the Miami Dolphins to come in second in the division. The offensive line lacked both professionalism and competence last year. Hopes are they’ve got the problems addressed, but O-lines are notoriously difficult and often fragile things to create. They face the real prospect of falling 0-2 in the division early. (Schedule-makers are devils!)
But for a team that last year couldn’t run it, couldn’t keep it, and even had trouble finding it, it’s best to start over. Hence, new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who has never run an NFL offense before. But he likes motion and at least he’s got the type of speed and possession skill on board to make that work. Besides, it’s August and everybody’s playing the “Ol’ If’n Game.”
On defense, if the Dolphins get their run-stopping ability up to snuff, this has the potential to be the best unit in the division. Count on them being very stingy with the points again. The ends are strong and swift, and they picked up some quality free agents to boost their secondary.
Linebacker remains their most obvious weakness, hence they are liable to give up lots of yards again before stuffing things in the red zone. One thing the fans can continue to count on in Miami, though, is a solid cheerleading unit on the sidelines. Enjoy!
The Buffalo Bills are projected to finish third. While they have some decent offensive talent with a young up-and-coming quarterback, they will contend with new receiving targets for him and another year in the playbook to see if he’s smoothed over the rough spots.
If the running game can reach its potential, the Bills have a chance to flip-flop with Miami and get within smelling distance of New England. The running talent is there. Now it’s up to the line to give them some holes to run through.
On defense, again decent talent exists to make some plays in an attacking style, but that approach last year made it hard for them to play consistently and they gave up a lot of points and yardage. A new coordinator brings in a new scheme and will be looking for new leaders.
Talent like Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, etc., need to play like this is the prime of their careers…because it is. The scheduling devil has smiled on Buffalo this year, and their fans have endured a 14-year playoff drought. There’s a chance that could change, but they’ll have to prove it.