ALL 32 of the NFL’s franchises have started their training camps in preparation for the new season.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking at the state of play in each division, starting with the AFC East. If this preview was written a fortnight ago, it would have looked mightily different. Such is the nature of the NFL offseason, where one signature can drastically improve the outlook for a team and one injury can devastate a franchise.
For the New York Jets, the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick to a $12million contract for the year (meaning he avoids the franchise tag) has the former effect. Fitzpatrick’s agreement to the deal concluded negotiations so drawn-out that he could’ve completely shaved his legendary beard and grown it back to lengths of Gandalf proportions.
Nevertheless, the fact he’s on the team is nothing but good news for Gang Green and their quest to push the Patriots off the top spot because the defence features stars like Darelle Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson. Above all, it is well coached by Todd Bowles.
New England has won the AFC East seven times in a row. In fact, since the turn of the century, the Foxboro club have only not won this division three times.
Avoiding the number increasing to four will be a tough challenge, with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady suspended for the first four games due to another wearily long offseason saga, Deflategate. 2014 second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo will take the reigns in the meantime, but his relative inexperience will not be as much of a factor with this year’s Madden NFL cover star Rob Gronkowski in the line up, and this year he’s joined by tight end Martellus Bennett, who made the Pro Bowl in 2014.
The Patriots’ defence is always solid, and if Jamie Collins and Malcolm Butler can build on impressive showings last year then it will be hard to beat New England regardless of how murky the QB situation turns out to be.
Miami and Buffalo will have a tough time of keeping up this year. For the Dolphins, Adam Gase is a first year head coach of a team lacking in elite talent on both sides of the ball. Jarvis Landry is emerging into a spectacular playmaker at wide receiver but can he shoulder the load alone while Devante Parker develops? And will Ndamukong Suh be able to prove his value in the second year of his six-year, $114 million contract – especially now that Olivier Vernon is off the the Big Apple?
In terms of the Bills, Rex Ryan brings aggression – and a heck of a lot of soundbites and excitement – but not always results. An 8-8 finish last year was underwhelming and the defence, while aggressive, was not efficient and it certainly wasn’t disciplined. It tied first in penalties and was outright first in yards surrendered from those penalties. Last year’s rookie Ronald Darby was a bright spot at cornerback however and if he can build on those two interceptions he can be a big-time player. For the offense, everyone has had a year to figure out QB Tyrod Tylor and there are doubts over the health of star wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That may force the Bills to run the ball more but with LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams in the backfield – and possibly Reggie Bush – that may not be a bad thing, at least once Williams comes back from a four-game suspension.
1st – New England Patriots
2nd – New York Jets
3rd – Buffalo Bills
4th – Miami Dolphins