AFC East Preview
September 5, 2012 Leave a comment
New England Patriots
2011 Record: 13-3 (1st, AFC East, L in Super Bowl)
Projected 2012 Record: 13-3 (1st, AFC East)
Key Arrivals: TE Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Jake Ballard, TE Bo Scaife, RB Joseph Addai, WR Jabar Gaffney, LB Bobby Carpenter, WR Donte Stallworth (Cut), OG Robert Gallery, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Anthony Gonzales, DE Johnathan Fanene
Key departures: Cut TE Bo Scaife, RB Joseph Addai, Cut WR Chad Ochocinco, Cut WR Anthony Gonzalez, OLT Matt Light, UFA RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, March 21 (to Bengals); UFA DE Mark Anderson, March 21 (to Bills).
The Patriots are coming off another disappointing loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl (how often can you say that?), but most of the team they put together for their run last season are still around. The biggest blows to the team are the losses of DE Mark Anderson, who went to divisional rival, the Buffalo Bills, and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who went to Cincinnati. Aside from that, the Patriots are returning essentially the same squad. Stephen Riley fills the ever rotating void at running back, and while they used him a lot in the preseason, don’t expect a lot out of him come the regular season. This is still Tom Brady’s show, and it will continue to be until Belicheck pulls the plug (as Brady stated a few weeks ago). The Patriots have added several tight ends in Visanthe Schiancoe and Jake Ballard to go with Gronkowski and Hernandez, literally bulking up their receiving core.
This will make the Patriots even harder to defend than before. Schiancoe was a solid TE with Minnesota, even with QBs like Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerrote throwing his way. He had his two most productive years with Brett Favre (2009, 2010), gaining 1096 yards, and 13 TDs, and now has another elite, future Hall of Fame QB in Tom Brady.
The defense has a lot of room for improvement….a lot. Ranked 31st in passing defense (294 yards allowed), and 17th against the run, they also lost Mark Anderson, their breakout DE. The Patriots still have the big man, Vince Wilfork, whose effect doesn’t necessarily show up in the form of sacks. Wilfork is an imposing force that takes up 2 linemen, all the time. As long as he anchors this defensive line, the Patriots can get some pressure up front. The secondary has a lot more to prove, but as long as they can keep the turnovers up, New England will be okay.
Are you noticing a pattern here? With these teams in the Top 5? Are you noticing how most of them have elite quarterbacks? That’s going to change with our final entry next week.
New York Jets
2011 Record: 8-8
Projected 2012 Record: 9-7
Key Arrivals: OT Stephen Hoyer, OT Ray Willis, S Yeremiah Bell, PK Josh Brown, TE Hayden Smith, QB Tim Tebow, S LaRon Landry, WR Chaz Schillens, QB Drew Stanton
Key Departures: OG Trevor Canfield, OL Robert Turner, QB Drew Stanton, S Brodney Pool, CB Maurice Cole
Did they fix the offensive line? Call me when they did, because as long as they continue to struggle up front, they’ll continue to be mediocre: they ranked 20th in sacks allowed and blocked for a running core that averaged only 105 ypg (22nd). Speaking of mediocrity, the offense is 21st in passing yards per game with a measly 206 ypg, and Mark Sanchez still hasn’t shown that spark that made everyone think he was worthy of a Top 10 pick. In 2011, Sanchez did throw for over 3400 yards, but his completion percentage is still well under 60% (56.7) and he still throws too many interceptions (18) and was absolutely awful inside his own territory: Sanchez threw 10 INTs on his own side of the 50 and was sacked 22 times.
On the other side, Revis is currently holding out, but we know the Jets will hand him over the money he’s asking for to get him back in camp. He’s still one of the best DBs in the league (if not THE best) and will continue to make sure he’s the highest paid CB in the league as long as he’s playing like it. The Jets were 5th against the pass last season (201 ypg), and with Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie coming back to assist Revis, as they were 10th in INTs, so nothing in that department should change. The rushing defense wasn’t bad: 35 sacks in 2011 (T-17th), they’ve added Quentin Coples to bolster the strength up front. Overall, the defense was 2nd in forced fumbles, and they allowed only 312 ypg, with 6.7 yards per pass and 3.9 yards per run (again, not bad, but we’ve seen better from them). Adding LaRon Landry at safety puts, for lack of a better word, a net behind your solid corner core.
The major question surrounding the Jets is what role will Tebow eventually settle into? He’s the backup QB who will most certainly be used to various packages, and if Sanchez continues to struggle, you can guarantee that Rex Ryan will call his name. Tebow isn’t a great passer by any means, but he’s the first QB who has the fanfare and has yielded the results necessary to challenge Sanchez at QB, and only time will tell how Sanchez reacts to this new challenge. Does he step up and finally reach his potential CONSISTENTLY? Or does he fall apart under even more pressure? I don’t see much more than another mediocre season for the Jets while they struggle to find an offensive identity. They don’t know if they’re a running team or a passing team, they switched back and forth during some games last season and couldn’t keep any consistency. That said, out is Brian Schottenheimer, and in comes Tony Sporano, who won’t drastically change Sanchez, but may be able to provide a backbone for this offense to rely upon.
In short, we know the defense will be just fine, but we need to know what identity Sporano gives this offense and if Sanchez can handle the added pressure.
2011 Record: 6-10 (4th, AFC East)
Projected 2012 Record: 9-7 (Tied, 2nd AFC East)
Key Arrivals: DE Mark Anderson, DE Mario Williams
Key Departures: CB Drayton Florence, OT Demetrius Bell, WR Roscoe Parrish
Nothing can ever be said to justify losing 7 straight games (and 8 of your final 9), which is what the 2011 Bills managed to do after starting the season 5-3. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick started strong, but finished incredibly weak. He finished the season with the most interceptions in the league (23), but threw for almost 4000 yards and had 24 TDs to show for it. RB Fred Jackson will return after going down mid-season, and hopes to duplicate the success he had in 2011, rushing for 934 yards in 10 appearances.
On defense the Bills have lost CB Drayton Florence, who was part of a defense that was 6th in the league in terms of interceptions. In order to replace him the Bills have drafted CB Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks, he’ll join a secondary with Leodis McKelvin, Jarius Byrd, and Terrance McGee. The Bills excelled at creating turnovers, and they gained even more strength up front by bringing in DE Mark Anderson from New England and Mario Williams from Houston. They’ll add to a frontline that already includes Alex Carrington, Chris Kelsay and Marcell Dareus, meaning the Bills defense will be dangerous, but all this means nothing if they can’t fix their rushing problems (allowed 139 ypg). The secondary still has to get better at all-around coverage as well, as they took a lot of gambles last season that never paid off, after-all, they ranked 19th against the pass.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will be key in the Bills attempt to right what went wrong last year: keep the turnovers down and everything will be okay, but if he slips back into late 2011 form he’ll find himself out of a job and the Bills will once again be left out in the cold.
Projected 2012 Record:
Key Arrivals: QB David Garrard, WR Legedu Naanee, OLB Gary Guyton, S Tyrell Johnson, DB Richard Marshall
Key Departures: WR Brandon Marshall, OT Marc Colombo, RB Lex Hilliard, S Yeremiah Bell, DE Kendall Langford, QB Chad Henne
The Chad Henne era has ended and the bridge to the Ryan Tannehill era has begun. Henne was let go this offseason and signed with Jacksonville, while former Jags QB David Garrard came to town to compete with Matt Moore (and the aforementioned Ryan Tannehill). Dolphins went majority offense in the draft, selecting OT Johnathan Martin, TE Michael Egnew, RB Lamar Miller, and WRs BJ Cunningham, Rishard Matthews, but the real reach to me was the selection of Tannehill.
I understand Miami is in dire need of finding a new franchise QB, and I understand it’s been tough this past decade without the playoff wins you’re used to. But reaching for Tannehill after Moore had a decent 2011 campaign (especially at the end) and you’ve signed David Garrard, just reeks of desperation. Stephen Ross wants a big time name without thinking of what the team really needs…you’ve just traded your #1 WR, you’ve lost two big defensive players, and Reggie Bush is your sole dependable running back…why not fix these problems first? Moore will likely start day 1, but regardless of how well he does, the franchise will find a way to shift to Garrard and eventually Tannehill, and you’ll probably have another Gabbert/Jacksonville on your hands.
I don’t know how often Tannehill is going to play, but he will, and he WILL struggle.
Prospects don’t look great for Miami, they have a lot of retooling and discovering to do. Does Lamar Miller have what it takes to split the load with Reggie Bush? Can Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and the newly drafted rookies step up to the plate and fill the void left by Brandon Marshall?
Time will tell, for a team that had a decent offense to go along with a struggling defense, it shall be interesting to see what they look like with a regressed offense.
Staff Division Picks:
James Malone: New England
Ryan McLaughlin: New England
Craig Floyd: New England
Tony Prock: New England
Ari Temkin: New England
Jordan Bishop: New England