The SportsCrew | AFC East Preview - 2016/17
NFL Previews: AFC East - 2016/17
NFL, AFC East, Football
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Stromme’s Takes: Facts, and Points: AFC East

Stromme’s Takes: Facts, and Points: AFC East

By: Mike Stromme

 

Predictions:

  1. New England Patriots (13-3)
  2. New York Jets (10-6 Wild Card)
  3. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
  4. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

The Patriots have made the playoffs 13 of the last 15 seasons, each postseason trip was through a division title; no wild card births. Even with Brady missing the first quarter of the season, nobody has ever gotten rich betting against the combination of Brady/Belichick… The Jets are a strong, well-rounded team on both sides of the ball who deserved to make the postseason a year ago. They won’t miss in 2016… The Bills might be a sneaky pick in the NFC East, but not the AFC counterpart. There’s a lot of encouraging signs of growth in Orchard Park, but I don’t think 2016 is their year… Lots of moving parts in South Florida. Brand new offense, brand new defense. How will the Dolphins handle the transformation? I have my doubts.

 

New England Patriots:

No Brady, no Lewis, no Jones? No problem.

Simply put, this team is one of the greatest dynasties in North American sports history lead by the greatest coach in North American sports history paired with one of the greatest QBs in NFL history. And this is coming from a fan of a team that lost to this team in Super Bowl XXXVI.

I get how controversial that statement sounds, I know I will receive a ton of cyber flack for writing what I just wrote. Sure, you could point to SpyGate or under-inflated footballs, but it takes a little more than that to take 13 division titles, six conference championships and four Super Bowl victories in 15 years. Name me another franchise to make that type of run. The Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s? Ruth and Gehrig’s Yankees? Bill Walsh and Joe Montana haven’t done what Tom and Bill have, neither has Don Shula or Vince Lombardi. 13 division titles in 15 years?!?! That’s just unheard of.

Yes, Brady won’t play the first four games. And yes, their dynamic young running back Dion Lewis will start the season on the PUP list. Julian Edelman isn’t exactly an iron man and even Gronk has his injury history. I get it, they’re not perfect. However, when they were at full strength, they were nearly unstoppable.

In 2015, this team didn’t lose a game until Nov 29., in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champ

When it comes to consistency, look no further than New England (image from eonline.com)

When it comes to consistency, look no further than New England (image from eonline.com)

ions. After that, injuries took their toll to key role players, Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount and multiple offensive lineman all missed significant time. At one point, they had one of the most makeshift offensive lines the NFL has ever seen. They also got so desperate for a running game, they signed a 32-year-old Steven Jackson off the street.

These injuries would bury most teams, not New England. Instead, they went to the AFC title game and lost by just two points. They were STILL a field goal away from the Super Bowl.

It really doesn’t matter who is on this team, Belichick will still find a way. Brady blows out his knee in Week 1 of 2008 and the Patriots still win 11 games. In 2011, they gave up 6,577 total yards (31st in the NFL) and STILL went to

the Super Bowl. If I’m being honest, I really don’t care who is on the field for this Patriots team, they’ll find a way to win.

Whether you like it or not, the Patriots will be great, they will win and they will always be Super Bowl contenders as long as Bill Belichick is coaching this team. As lazy as that sounds, it’s just a matter of fact. It’s history. It will take a real special season from the Jets, Bills or Dolphins to dethrone the Patriots and to be honest, I just don’t see it happening.

 

New York Jets:

It’s really unfortunate that they play in this division, because I really like this team.

What’s not to love? They’re strong on all sides of the ball. Now that Fitzpatrick and the team have ended their game of contract chicken, this team’s passing attack should be just fine. The Harvard grad still has one of the best receiver

The Fitz-Magic show comes back for an encore (image from foxsports.com)

The Fitz-Magic show comes back for an encore (image from foxsports.com)

tandems in the league to throw to and a veteran running back in Matt Forte; who can do a little bit of everything.

The only thing that makes me nervous about this offense is the lack of depth behind Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. If say, one of these guys were to go down for a significant portion of the season, you have Quincy Enunwa, Devin Smith, Kembrell Thompkins and Jeremy Ross. A murder’s row of uncertainty. Now all of a sudden, a very respectable aerial attack gets real predictable real quick.

But hey, even if the worst happens, this team has a real defense that can keep the team respectable. Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are two of the more dynamic interior defensive lineman in the league, with another one of a similar, yet younger, mould in Leonard Williams.

Veterans Davis Harris (a Rex Ryan-era holdover) and Erin Henderson patrol the middle of the linebacking core, while young linebackers Lorenzo Mauldin and Trevor Reilly take care of the outside. Rookies Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins look to make an impact as well. Overall, they have a steady mix of veterans and young talent.

While the secondary isn’t deep, Darrelle Revis is still there and any secondary that has him and his island is always going to be a threat.

Todd Bowles is the perfect coach for this franchise. A soft-spoken, defensive savant is exactly what the doctor ordered for a post-Rex Jets franchise. He’s a respectable coach who let’s his players do the talking between the lines, a stark contrast from the former.

This team has talent, they have chemistry and they have a good coach. I firmly believe that this is the year the Jets grab their first post-Rex playoff appearance.

 

Buffalo Bills:

If pregame tailgate parties equalled wins, this team would have a similar pedigree to the Patriots.

I cannot believe that I live in Southern Ontario, just a two hour drive from the Ralph, and have not taken in one of these bad boys! One of these days, one of these days…

But man, as long as the Buffalo Bills keep playing football, the cheap folding table industry will be alive and well! Sooo many suplexes.

But anyways, the Bills are in for another season of mediocrity. I really like what they have going for them offensively, they won’t light up the scoreboard, but should control the pace of the game when they have the ball with that strong running game. My real concern is, what happens when they don’t have the ball. Can Rex fix this defense? They didn’t sack the QB last season (31st in sack percentage) or create many turnovers (22nd in turnover percentage).

The Bills lead the league in rushing a year ago. LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor combined for 1,753 rushing/receiving yards and reached paydirt nine times. Taylor also threw for an additional 3,035 with a TD-INT ratio of 20-6. That’s just the QB and the main RB in a run-first offense. And by run-first, I really mean run-first, they literally ran more running plays than passing plays (465 pass-509-run). In 2015, that’s almost unheard of.

Running the ball is a classic, time-tested way of winning football games. And while the Bills will matchup well against some teams, they’ll struggle with others. Teams that can keep this running game in check and get a quick lead can bury this team. This team is built to play with a lead, not come back from one. Sure, Sammy Watkins is an incredibly talented receiver, there’s no debate there. However, who’s behind him? Robert Woods? Dezmin Lewis? Gerg Salas? If Watkins goes down, an already one-dimensional team gets damn thin in a hurry.

The offseason, specifically the draft, was a good news, bad news situation for Buffalo. Good news was, they drafted not one, but two very promising LBs in Reggie Ragland out of Alabama and Shaq Lawson out of Clemson. Lawson was hurt coming into the draft, and is expected back in Oct. Ragland on the other hand, tore his ACL early in camp and will miss his rookie campaign. Two linebackers who can rush the passer, and both have their rookie seasons derailed. Oh, and IK Enemkpali, a LB who went down in infamy for slugging Geno Smith in the face last Aug., tore his ACL in camp as well. He wasn’t expected to start, but that’s a little more depth depleated from a Bills defensive front that’s already hurting big time.

Lawson might still be okay this season when he returns though. Lawson, a Clemson alum, was teammates with Seth Ryan; son of Rex and nephew of Rob. I take it that Rex probably saw a great deal of Clemson last season, he knows which players might fit his defense better than most. I’m sure he was a great influence into getting Lawson to wear that charging bull on his helmet.

Speaking of hurting, the defensive line also took a beating this offseason. Mario Williams left for the rival Dolphins, Kyle Williams is still recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee he suffered last Nov. (he’s questionable for Week 1), and star NT Marcell Dareus will sit out the first four games of the season for substance abuse problems; he’ll also spend time in a rehab facility. Where the hell did this pass rush improve?

While there’s questions up-front, the back end of this defense is solid. Last season, the projected starting DBs, Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Corey Graham and Aaron Williams combined for a whopping 48 passes defended. This lead for a team completion percentage against of 57.3%, third-best in the league. Where they n

Rob AND Rex?! Oh God... (image from sportressofblogitude.com)

Rob AND Rex?! Oh God… (image from sportressofblogitude.com)

eed to improve, however is limiting the big plays and creating turnovers. Sure, QBs completed less than 60% of their passes against the Bills, but they still threw for 3,972 (20th in the NFL). They only generated turnovers on 11% of defensive plays (22nd in the NFL). While they’re good, there’s still room for improvement.

The Bills were 5-3 at the Ralph last season, 3-5 on the road. Let’s get real, it’s totally those table slamming, beer-shotgunning, cocaine in the stands, tailgate parties that give the team that edge! Let’s get real, that’s like, 80% of the

reason why the Ryan brothers are here. Seriously though, how awesome would it be to be a fly on the wall in one of those Doritos-fingerprinted, Miller Lite-fueled pregame meetings run by the Ryan brothers? You laugh, but I bet it happens more than you think. Rob has Rex in a headlock over some girl he swiped from him in 1990, Greg Roman breaks it up (again).

Anyways, for a team that won’t make the playoffs, the Bills will be fun to watch from a safe distance.

 

Miami Dolphins:

Simply put, I’m not buying the Dolphins in 2016.

Bringing in Adam Gase will not make this offense any better. The personnel is very similar to a year ago, all they added was Arian Foster and drafted Leonte Carroo and Laremy Tunsil, an offensive lineman that infamously had a gas mask video leak on draft day. How did they get better? By hiring a coach that called plays for a Chicago Bears team that threw for just 3,663 total passing yards last season? I’d argue that the Bears have better offensive talent than this team.

The notion that Ryan Tannehill will suddenly turn into Dan Marino is just not going to come to fruition. He’s an average QB on an average (at best) team with average weapons around him. Expect something like 60%/4,000/25/10. Which is fine, but it won’t be enough to challenge the Patriots, or even the Steelers, Broncos,

Is Adam Gase REALLY the answer?

Is Adam Gase REALLY the answer?

Jets, or any other wild card contender.

I don’t have a great deal of faith in their rushing attack either. I mean, Arian Foster may or may not have something left in the tank, but do you trust him to stay healthy over the course of a full season? At the work load this team expects from one running back? And at the same token, I don’t think they trust Jay Ajayi in that realm either. Why do you think Foster’s here in the first place? Why do you think the team went and attempted to break the bank to acquire C.J. Anderson from Denver in restricted free agency? Read between the lines, the Dolphins are going to eventually struggle to run the ball.

Defensively they have some talent. With names like Suh, Wake, Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso, Koa Misi, Reshad Jones, they look good on paper (or on a Madden Ultimate Team). Unfortunately, this isn’t a MUT nor an IDP league. In total, this team is projected to start five newcomers on defense and an additional six new faces were acquired for depth via trade/free agency. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t trust teams (especially defenses) that go through this much change in just one offseason. They’res  going to be some chemistry issues early on, 11 guys are learning a totally new playbook. It’s not going to be easy for this team early on.

Oh, and the Dolphins start the season against the Seahawks, Patriots, Bengals and Steelers in their first seven games before the bye week. It will be interesting to see how this revamped Dolphins squad reacts to that early season gauntlet.

 

 

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