Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 NFL Previews: AFC East

by Darren Boyd

AFC East

The AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots and that trend continued in 2012. The Pats went 6-0 against the rest of the AFC Least, finished 12-4 and lost in the AFC Championship game. They should dominate in 2013 as well despite the Aaron Hernandez Murder trial and Rob Gronkowski probably missing the 1st 6 games due too several lingering injuries. The Miami Dolphin finished 7-9 and this offseason spent a fortune in Free Agency on what some are calling "Ireland's Last Stand" as the GM is on the final year of his contract and must have a winning season.  The New York Jets had a lackluster season of 6-10, fired their GM and drafted QB Geno Smith to lead them past the Matt Sanchez debacle. The Buffalo Bills finished 6-10 and fired their coach. They brought in Doug Marrone as the new coach and drafted EJ Manuel from Florida St to be their QB.

New England Patriots

The Patriots Offense rolled all year until the lost to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game. This offseason has been trying on the Pats to say the least. Of course the shocking arrest of Aaron Hernandez for murder has been well documented so ill move on. On the field the Pats let Wes Welker walk to the Broncos and replaced him with fragile Danny Amendola. They also spent 2 high draft picks in receivers Aaron Dobson and TCU's Josh Boyce. Tight End Rob Gronkowki had multiple surgeries in the off season and is on the PUP list. This should keep him out thru week 6 of the regular season. Of course the Pats lead the NFL in total offense but what was shocking is that they have a legitimate running game now. Stevan Ridley rushed for 1263 yards and 12 TDs last year. Im not ready to write off the Pats this year despite their losses on offense. They have Tom Brady and he seems to make all receivers better.
    On Defense, the Pats were stout against the run and awful against the pass.  Rookie Chandler Jones started off fast collecting 6 sacks thru week 8 then injuries or the dreaded rookie wall slowed him down as he finished with 6 sacks. Vince Wilfork is still playing at an elite level. Bill Belichick loves SEC players on his defense. Dont'a Hightower had a solid rookie year. He had 4 sacks and seemed to improve through out the season. The Pats are expecting big things from him this year.  The Pats secondary is a work in progress. Last years trade for Aquib Talib worked out well for them. Perianal knuckle head Alfonzo Dennard was arrested for DUI over the same and may have his probation revoked Aug 27. Cant count on him getting on the field for the Pats.  The Pats used a 3rd rounder on CB Logan Ryan from Rutgers and his buddy at safety Duron Harmon to add depth to the secondary. Their safeties had good seasons with Devon McCorty grabbing 5 INTs and Tavon Wilson snagging 4.
    I thought the Pats had a decent draft. They went with another SEC linebacker in Jamie Collins, loaded up on speedy wide receivers and continue to address their weak secondary. Vegas still loves the Pats with 11.5 total wins in the over/under and what was 5-1 Super Bowl Odds has slipped to 8-1. FFL fans be leary of Danny Amendola, he will flash some but odds are that he will get hurt AGAIN.

Miami Dolphins 

The Miami Dolphins had a new coach, Joe Philbin and a new QB Ryan Tannehill last year. It lead to a 1 game improvement from the season before to a 7-9 record. Some fans feel they have finally found a successor to Dan Marino in Tannehill. Tannehill's rookie year was overshadowed by RG3, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson but he had a solid year. He continued to improve every week. He has the size, arm strength and athleticism to become a franchise QB. My concern is does he have to "Killer Instinct" factor to either close out games or win games in the 4th. Coach Philbin has set the bar for Tannehill at 24 TD passes and 85 QBR this year.  The Dolphins spent a fortune on Mike Wallace to give Tannehill a premier weapon. Brian Hartline had a good year and was retained but he was clearly a #2 WR. The offense suffered a major blow when free agent prize Dustin Keller was lost for the year in a preseason game. He had formed a connection with Tannehill this offseason and preseason and I felt he would lead the team in catches this year. It might be a tight end by committee approach this year. Reggie Bush has moved to the Lions so its up to Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to carry the load in the running game. Thomas has looked good in camp and preseason but has a fumble history and injury history. The Dolphins O-Line is a huge question mark. Jonathan Martin is taking over at left tackle from Jake Long. The biggest question mark with Martin is his strength. He has said to have put on 15 pounds of muscle this offseason. The Dolphins did sign Tyson Clabo to play right tackle as part of the massive free agent signing binge.
    On defense the Dolphins stunned everyone by traded up to 3rd overall to get Dion Jordan. Jordan will play passing downs this year to help out Cam Wake in getting to the QB. Jordan had major shoulder surgery in April and is still limited in practice. The Dolphin defense was good at getting after the QB but lousy at creating turnovers. The team only had 10 INTs and let Sean Smith walk in free agency. The Dolphins replaced 2 out of their 3 starting linebackers when they released Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. They were replaced with younger and faster models in Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler.  In the secondary, they doubled down on Cornerbacks by taking Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the 2nd & 3rd rounds. The Dolphins may have the biggest coup in free agency as they signed Brent "Frank" Grimes from the Falcons. He is coming back from Achilles surgery but has been shutting down Mike Wallace in practice and already has a INT in the preseason.
    As I mentioned earlier, this season is GM Jeff Ireland's last stand. The owner has demanded a winning season so Ireland went all in. He spent a fortune in free agency, rarely does that work out, and made some bold moves in the draft. The draft class has potential down the road but will Ireland be there to see it thru? Vegas does not think so and has the Dolphins have 7.5 total wins over/under and 40-1 Super Bowl Odds. This team will go as far as Ryan Tannehill's development takes them in year 2. If he fails it wont shock me to see a new GM, Coach and QB in 2014.
New York Jets 
Jets fans can't wait to get the 2013 season started. They have had a rough offseason to say the least. They hired a new GM, John Idzik, have had multiple player off the field issues, plus traded the best cornerback in the game and will start the season with a QB controversy. Mark Sanchez is awful. He threw 18 INTs last season and was pulled or benched several times. The old GM decided to give him an extension and he has 8.5 million guarantied bucks coming to him this year so he can't be cut. The Jets brought in broken down QB David Garrard but his knees gave out and he retired before training camp. They drafted Geno Smith in the 2nd round and he might be the starter this year. The Jets sent the Saints a 4th rounder to acquire Chris Ivory as their starting running back. The Jets Wide Receiving corp might be the worst in the NFL. Santonio Holmes is coming off of the dreaded Lisfranc foot injury and his return for the 1st few weeks of the regular season is in doubt. The Jets don't have a #2 receiver that is established. Jeremy Kerley did have a nice year in the slot. Since Dustin Keller has moved on Jeff Cumberland or oft injured Kellen Winslow Jr will have to fill that void at tight end. The Jets pass protection must improve regardless of who is the QB. Geno Smith has a little more mobility then the statue Sanchez. Their run blocking was solid last year as the Jets were 12th in the NFL in the run game. Former Cowboy Stephen Peterman, who was a high draft pick and cut went to the lions and carved out a nice career, is the new left guard. Willie Colon from the Steelers is the new Right guard.
    On defense the Jets were great against the pass but awful in stopping the run. They have the versatile superstar in the making Muhammad Wilkerson who can play nose or end. He had 5 sacks last season. The Jets used pick #13 from the Revis trade to get DT Sheldon Richardson.  The linebacker spots have a few changes from last season. Gone is Bart Scott, who was released and now is a TV man. Demario Davis will try and fill Scott's shoes. Coples has moved Outside Linebacker but suffered a major ankle injury which should keep him out the 1st few weeks of the season.  The Jets secondary has major issues. After the Revis trade, the Jets spent their #9 pick on Cornerback Dee Milliner. He will have some huge shoes to fill. They still have Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie at #1 corner position. The safety position is a huge question mark. The unproven Antonio Allen is the free safety and Dawan Landry is replacing his brother at Strong Safety.  It seems the feeling around the league is that Rex Ryan needs a winning season to be back. He will depend on his defense and hope to win low scoring games.
    I liked their draft. They landed 3 immediate starters and bolstered their O-Line. Vegas seems to think this will be Rex's last year has they set the over/under at 6.5 total wins and are 70-1 long shots to make it to the Super Bowl. 
Buffalo Bills 
The Bills have not reached the playoffs in 13 years and from the looks of thing I don't see that streak ended in the near future. Out is Chan Gailey, in former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. Out awful QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, In read option QB EJ. Manuel whom they took with the 16th pick in the draft. Manuel currently is nursing an injury so Kevin Kolb may start week 1 against New England. This talent starved team only has 2 offensive weapons. CJ. Spiller at running back and Stevie Johnson at Wide Receiver. CJ Spiller finally became the starter last year, several weeks into the season too late.  He ran for 1244 yards and 6 td's plus caught 44 passes. He is a top 5 FFL selection for sure. The oft injured Fred Jackson will be the 3rd down back. S Johnson had a decent year, 79 catches 1046 yards and 6 td's despite who was there QB. The Bills drafted Robert Woods in the 2nd round and one of the fastest football players on the planet, Marquise Goodwin from Texas in the 3rd. The hope is that they will emerge as the number 2 &3 wide outs on this team.  The Bills have a young O-Line, it should continue to gel and improve.
    On Defense, The bills were good against the pass and dreadful against the run, ranking 31st and allowing an astonishing 145 yards a game. The Bills will offer different looks on the defense to try and fix the run game issues. Mario Williams is headed into the 2nd year of his monster deal. He had 10.5 sacks last year while dealing with a wrist issue. The Bills linebackers could be the worst in the NFL. They brought in Manny Lawson from the Bengals in Free Agency to help. They used a 2nd rounder on Kiko Alonso at inside linebacker. The Bills secondary features one of my favorite players in the NFL, Jarius Byrd. He lead the AFC with 5 int's last year. Stephon Gilmore had a good rookie year. The other corner back spots remain open. Leodis McKelvin is a hell of a returner but not some much as a cornerback.  The Strong safety position looks up for grabs between Da'Norris Searcy and 4th round pick Duke Williams
    I liked their draft class. It looks like they landed some players who will step in right away. Of course this class will be judged by EJ Manuel. If I was a coach or GM, I would have not put my NFL fate in the hands of Manuel but hey, they are the Bills. Vegas has them at 6.5 over/under in wins and 100-1 no shots at making the Super Bowl. I wont be shocked if they have a top 3 pick in the next draft.

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