As I noted in my last post, we're getting close to the time when actual, meaningful football gets played in the Fall. Because of this I've spent some time analyzing all the teams in 2015 for both the NFL and College Football.
I thought I'd start, with the AFC East....
New England Patriots
Projected record: 13-3 First place
I'm a little more positive regarding the Patriot's chances in 2015 than are other pundits. I've seen them predicted as low as 10-6, with the average being 11-5. This presupposes that the AFC East, and by default the Patriot's 2015 schedule, is unusually tough. I neither believe that nor do I believe that the Belicheck/Brady duo has fired the final bullet in their gun.
I predict that Brady's suspension will be reduced to two games, and I have them losing both of them. However, I then have them only losing one remaining game once Brady returns. With Gronk seemingly back to his old form and several steps taken to shore up both the defense and offense I think an angry Patriots team is a dangerous Patriots team. History has taught us this much.
This Patriots team seems especially motivated to prove the nay-sayers wrong because of deflate-gate and the fact that their legacy is now suddenly in question by some.
Projected record: 8-8 Second place
The trendy pick for the Bills this year is that they finally break their playoff drought. Much of this excitement is due to the presence of a coach (Rex Ryan) that I view as amazingly mediocre in all but rhetoric. The Bills still don't have a franchise QB, they are thin at several positions (notably WR) they are very young at LB and I'm not as excited about their defense as everyone else.
Maybe Percy Harvin finally lives up to his potential? Maybe either EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor evolves into a starter? Maybe LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson still have tread on the tires? Maybe some of the linebacker's develop?
I may be being generous here.
New York Jets
Projected record: 8-8 Third place
Part of the reason I'm not high on the Buffalo Bills is the same reason that I'm a little more optimistic about the New York Jets. Rex Ryan is no longer there to screw this team up.
I like every position on the offense save QB and RB. Now, granted, those are two pretty big positions not to like but I think you can get to average with what they have on the roster.
In Houston, we've seen the Ryan Fitzpatrick show and know that he's a QB who can't win one for you, but will rarely lose one for you either. Geno Smith is smelling like a bust, and there's little evidence to suggest that Bryce Petty will make the jump to NFL-ready QB this year. I do like Stevan Ridley enough when he's not fumbling, and I think Chris Ivory was an underused basher in the New Orleans system. Maybe Zac Stacey remembers how to play football?
On the WR side the Jets have good professionals, with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and speedster Devin Smith, who caught everything at Ohio State. They also have DeVier Posey, who is insanely talented but never seemed to catch on with the Texans for some reason. If he can flourish......
Defensively the Jets will probably go back to having the best defensive backfield in the Nation with Revis and Cromartie manning the corners. Add to that a strong, but aging, linebacker corps and a tough, tough defensive line and I think the absence of the Rex side-show makes them better.
If they can find a quarterback.
Projected record: 2-14 Fourth place
I can find very little on the Miami Dolphins roster to like. I think Ryan Tannehill is exactly what he's shown himself to be (a quarterback with an above average arm and not much else) and the situation at RB and WR appear dire outside of Kenny Stills.
Defensively the Dolphins are considering starting Brice McCain, who was so bad for the Texans their defense actually improved when he was replaced by a street free agent. Their rebuilding has not gone well, as the roster feels bereft of top talent outside of Suh, who they picked up in free agency. Still, one man does not make a defense, even if he is as dominant as Suh.
I'm also not a believer in head coach Joe Philbin. He reminds me of Gary Kubiak or Mike Tice, a much better coordinator than they ever were head coaches. I predict this will be the last year for a lot of things in Miami, Philbin being among them as new GM Dennis Hickey will look to install his own hand-picked coach.
While many are predicting this to be the strongest division in the AFC I actually thing it's the 2nd weakest, ahead only of the still pathetic AFC South. That said, the Bills and the Jets are getting closer, but will remain in mediocrity for the coming year. Of the two teams I think the Jets are on the correct trajectory for improvement.
The woeful Miami Dolphins are going to begin a 2nd rebuilding project after this year I think, and the New England Patriots will keep it rolling for at least another couple of years. In other words, status quo of the last 5 or so years in this Division.
The Patriots are my only projected playoff team in this division as the #2 seed.