4. Miami Dolphins
Key Personnel Additions: Arian Foster, Mario Williams, Kiki Alfonso, Byron Maxwell
Key Personnel Losses: Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon, Rishard Matthews, Brent Grimes
The Adam Gase era in Miami begins this year. While Gase is a terrific offensive coordinator and has done great work with both Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler, this is a different situation. This is a team in transition and has made questionable moves this offseason.
Let’s first start with the offensive side of the ball. Ryan Tannehill has made strides in his first few years in the league, but regressed last year. We know he can make plays with his legs, but can he be the first Dolphins franchise QB since Marino? I am not so sure about that. Landry is an young superstar wide receiver in the making. Great hands and route running, but they will need the other guys (Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker) to make plays to get him in one-on-one coverage. Foster is an underrated signing whom when healthy, is still as dynamic as they come. The question with him is – will he play three games or 14. Other than that, what else do they have? Their offensive line is not good and will put pressure on Tannehill to release the ball fast. Don’t be surprised with a struggling offense here, even with all the knowledge Gase brings here.
Losing your top defensive lineman and cover corner is not a good start to the offseason. Yes they brought in Alfonso and Maxwell in a questionable trade, but does that solve their problems? I think we can all agree it does not.
Expect a re-building project to begin with Gase at the helm. Both sides of the ball are a big work in progress. If Gase can work his magic with Tannehill, the rebuilding time can be shorter, just not this year. Expect a long season Dolphin fans.
Forecast: Fourth in the AFC East, but with a top 7 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
3. Buffalo Bills
Key Personnel Additions: Reggie Bush, Tyrod Taylor (extension)
Key Personnel Losses: Mario Williams, Chris Hogan, Leodis McKelvin
So year two of the Rex Ryan and Tyrod Taylor era is set to get underway. What can we expect out of these two, as the success/failure of Taylor will be linked to how long Ryan keeps his job. The Bills believe in Taylor as evident by the contract extension, but is he worth the money or the number of years in the extension? We will find out very quickly.
With LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams in the backfield, expect a ground and pound type of offense. With Sammy Watkins deadly on the outside, expect some great throws by Taylor and then some that will make you shake your head. Improved on offense, yes, but not just enough to make the playoffs.
Ryan’s defense will be improved this year. With the defensive line they have, expect the total sacks number to go up this year. They will make more plays on the ball and force turnovers. I envision a typical Rex Ryan type of defense returning this year. They will be a top 10 defense, but their shortcomings will be on the offensive side of the ball.
For the Bills to be a playoff team, they need to follow the blueprint of the 2015 Broncos. I just don’t think the defense is on that historic level, nor do I think Ryan can game plan well enough to put them in a position to win.
Forecast: I expect the Bills to finish third in the AFC East. You will have some big wins against good teams, but unless Taylor takes the next step, it will be another year without the Bills in the playoffs.
2. New York Jets
Key Personnel Additions: Matt Forte, Ryan Clady (trade), Ryan Fitzpatrick (re-signed)
Key Personnel Losses: Chris Ivory, Antonio Cromartie, Damon Harrison
The Jets are coming off of a strong 2015 season with a 10-6 record, just missing the playoffs. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career year and after a long offseason with contract disputes, they finally were able to reach a deal. Fitz is the ideal veteran QB this team needs. A lot of expectations are being thrown Gang Green’s way this year with Todd Bowles in his second season, but can they duplicate last year’s season and produce back-to-back 10 win seasons?
Matt Forte still has much left to give in the tank. He fits the Jets mold perfect. Expect a solid season out of him in both running yards and catching the ball from the backfield. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will need to be as explosive as they were last year. The difference this season is their schedule is much tougher, so Fitz may struggle. For their season to be a success, they need to keep a healthy balance between the run and the pass, limit the turnovers and own the possession battle each week.
Expect the defense to be improved with Bowles defensive schemes. Muhammad Wilkerson and Williams will be explosive as it gets on each side of the line. Don’t be surprised if they are in the top three in the league with team sacks, especially with how Bowles like to blitz. The key here is can they stop the run and will their older cornerbacks be able to return to form. Darrelle Revis is still a shutdown corner, but outside of him, who else can cover? If they can get to the quarterback quick enough, it won’t matter as much. Bowles needs this to be the case for them to be successful.
Forecast: Second in the AFC East. The Jets have the potential and talent to be a threat this year. Despite the tough schedule, expect the Jets to hang around for a playoff spot until the last week of the season. If they can get a wild card spot, I believe this defense is constructed to make a January run.
1. New England Patriots
Key Personnel Additions: Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Chris Long
Key Personnel Losses: Chandler Jones, Brandon LaFell
Deflate gate is finally over. The NFL got what they wanted and Tom Brady accepted his four game suspension. With that being said, do not expect the Pats to drop off. Bill Belichick is still there. Gronk is still there. They still play the AFC East six times. They have been the gold standard of AFC East dominance over the past 15 years and that will continue.
With the two tight end sets back in play with Rob Gronkowski and Bennett, look for them to go with short quick passes and leverage the mis-matches on the safeties. Both are tough covers to begin with, and together it will be dynamic and explosive even with Jimmy Garoppolo quarterbacking for the first four games. I expect them to go 2-2 at worse during that stretch. Once Brady comes back, expect a long winning streak to follow with offensive numbers reminiscent of the 2011 season.
I do believe the Pats defense will be a work in a progress with that side of the ball struggling early on. Expect Belichick to try to be creative with this group especially in the beginning. You cannot replace a guy like Chandler Jones on the outside. Once Brady comes back, the pressure on the defense will be lifted, and they will start to make more plays on the ball. Don’t judge this side of the ball by the first four games, but where they are come week 14. Look for Chris Long to have a solid first year in New England, getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 sacks.
Forecast: The Patriots will win the AFC East once again. I do think they will look vulnerable at times on defense, but expect Belichick to get enough out of his team to continue his dominance on the division. This is a Super Bowl or bust team and they will not disappoint.
What are your thoughts? Let us know who you think will come out on top of the AFC East.