2016 NFL Season Preview: AFC East
The Patriots have owned this division for over a decade — close to fifteen years of dominance. Their 2016 season outlook suggests that they have as great a chance as any of their previous seasons, to win the division.
But, there’s an elephant in the room so let’s address it.
The Patriots will be without All-Pro QB Tom Brady for the first four games as he serves his four game suspension for Deflate Gate, which is in turn causing some to believe the Patriots will be vulnerable doing said four game Brady-less stint — They won’t. Head Coach Bill Bellichick will have this team ready to play each week — nothing else I’ve ever been more certain of than that fact.
Will the Patriots go undefeated without Tom Brady? Doubtful, but they will be highly competitive. Along with Bellichick, they still have Josh McDaniels, a highly effective Offensive Coordinator, TE’s Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett working in tandem and a disciplined yet motivated defense that will look to hold their own while Brady is out. It will be business as usual for this team and I honestly have them as the favorite (duh) to win the division even without Tom Brady the first four games.
The Patriots will face tough competition from within the division, probably much tougher than it faced last season a season in which it went 6-2 vs division opponents. Two of their first four games of the 2016 season are against Division rivals, so the Brady-less team will get tested earlier from within the division but they’ll be ready to play.
I believe the Patriots will be able to adequately hold off fierce competition from within the division and will in fact repeat as division champs in 2016.
Prediction: 12-4 (Division Champs)
1.) Jets – Is Ryan Fitzpatrick exactly who we think he is?
In 2015, Fitzpatrick tossed a record 31 td passes to go along with his 15 interceptions and 3,900 yards. The numbers on paper are more than solid, they’re pretty damn good, but three of his fifteen interceptions in 2015 came in a Week 17 “win and in” loss vs Rex Ryan and the Bills — yuck.
Despite posting those highly respectable numbers on the season, that Week 17 game sticks out like a sore thumb and has been keeping Jets fans up at night ever since the end of the 2015 season. We know who Ryan Fitzpatrick is; an eleven year, six team journey man that is trying to become more consistent and more reliable. This has been his issue; showing promise and flashes every where he’s gone, only to turn right around and essentially become a shell of what the supporting base believed him to be.
So who is he and can he put it together to finally give this talented Jets team and chance at dethroning the Patriots in this division?
Assuming he’s anything more than what history suggests he is, will be something that requires wishful thinking and hope, two things I’m usually guilty of applying to more situations than not. In this case, it’s really hard to tell considering this is probably the most talented team he has ever quarterbacked — not hyperbole.
This is the best defense, he’s being coached by one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL and he has the best WR tandem in the NFL at his disposal. A WR tandem that combined for 189 catches, 2,529 yards and 26 TDs in 2015. He has a pair of immensely versatile RBs in the back field in Matt Forte and Blial Powell, a pair of talented RBs that can do more than just run as they both will add tremendous value to the passing attack.
Fitzpatrick will need to do more for this Jets team, which when you look at his 2015 numbers on paper, it’s hard to ask any more out of the QB position than he seemed to have provided, but he left a lot to be desired in a few games last season.
Jets have serious talent on offense and a defense that has added speed and resigned its leader in Muhammad Wilkerson. In order for the Jets to have a legitimate chance at dethroning the Patriots in this division, they will have to get better more consistent play out of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not going to tip toe around it, Fitzpatrick steps his game up just a notch above what he provided for this team last season, the Jets have a legit chance at a serious push for the AFC East title and more.
Prediction: 11-5 (2nd in the Division)
2.) Buffalo Bills – Who is Tyrod Taylor?
Like the aforementioned Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor has a lot to prove this season as well or he too will find himself facing a bit of sharp uncertainty after the 2016 season. He’s an incredibly talented and immensely gifted dual threat QB but that talent and gifts wasn’t able to translate into any meaningful for the Buffalo Bills football team in 2015 (outside a season sweep of the Jets). However, like the aforementioned Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor is now going into his second season in an offense in which he was able to mature within in the 2015 season. Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman should be able to trust Taylor more, which means more authority to do more at the line and more overall.
In 2015 Taylor gave us — 20 tds, 3,035 yards and 6 ints — not a single 300 yard passing game, yet his completion percentage hovered around 63.7% for the entire season. He totaled 568 yards rushing and 4 tds — a dangerous dual threat weapon for the Bills indeed. The Bills, have a few pieces in place that will allow them to be more competitive than some will expect but less competitive than some hope. They have a really good offensive line, a incredibly underrated secondary and a running game that will help Taylor progress more than we think it will.
Question: Can Taylor be the QB that proactively takes this Bills team where they need to go? Does Roman, Ryan and the Bills truly believe in him enough to truly let him loose on the league?
Answer: Yes. I believe he can and I believe they will allow him to do so. I like the Bills chances at surprising some during the 2016 seasons and their relatively competitive team will allow them to be playing meaningful football up until mid to late December.
This 2016 Bills team has tons to be excited about if you’re a Bills fan. Rumbling has head coach Rex Ryan on the hot seat the entire off-season and fair or not, it’s likely reality at this point. Should provide the team with extra motivation because as much as Rex tends to rub some the wrong way at times, he’s a great man, a great personality and players love to play for him. Bills will play hard for Rex in 2016 and Bills fans should certainly look forward to some competitive football.
Prediction: 9-7 (3rd in the Division)
3.) Dolphins – Is Adam Gase the answer to the Tannenhill question?
New Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has garnered a reputation for working effectively with QBs and bringing out the best in them. In his young coaching career, he’s worked with Tim Tebow in Denver, Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler. All things considered, he’s had success with each of them and we can’t take anything away from him despite what some may try to tell you. He’s earned the respect around the league and earned the Dolphins job.
With that being said, Gase is facing his biggest test yet considering he’s not just looking to have success with a QB, but he’s now responsible for seeing that said QB sufficiently and adequately leads his entire team into success. Not an easy task considering his QB is Ryan Tannenhill, a QB that has failed to string together any form of positive consistency over the past few seasons, and that’s me putting it nicely.
In 2015 — Tannenhill tossed 24 tds, 12 ints with a 61.9 completion percentage.
These numbers aren’t bad by a long shot, they just aren’t enough to carry a team the way the Dolphins needed him to carry them last year.
Again, getting Tannenhill to become more consistent and less detrimental to the team’s success has been a struggle for the Dolphins over the past few seasons despite Tannenhill showing tremendous promise at times.
He sometimes can be as accurate as any QB in the league while leading his team on long scoring drives, but can never consistently put it all together and what’s worse, finds himself at times providing counter-productive plays for his teams.
Out goes Joe Philbin and enters Adam Gase the QB whisperer (or so i’m told). In comes a new philosophy but in also comes Tannenhill’s last chance to show some sort of positive consistency to a coach that is not tied to him in any way whatsoever. Gase has his work cut out for him in getting more out of Tannenhill that a former offensive coordinator in Joe Philibin was unable to. HC Adam Gase brings with him a potent passing attack that relies heavily on the QB to make good decisions with the ball, and deliver it on time and accurately, but can Tannenhill deliver the way Gase is used to?
Dolphins really do have a few pieces on offense and defense, but it’s truly hard to get excited about it.
A respectable set of WRs in Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker (though Parker is really unproven).
RB Lamar Miller is gone which leaves the top two RBs at Arian Foster and Jay Ajayi (although I expect Daniel Thomas to push hard for some reps).
They have a few pieces on defense that you can get excited about, but in the end, this will all come down to Gase and Tannenhill.
I just don’t see the firepower on this team to adequately dethrone the Patriots as division champs. I don’t think they will be as bad as some think, but they will surely be much worse than we are expecting.
Prediction: 7-9 (4th in the Division)