Tag Archives: AFC East

NFL 2018: AFC Season Preview

By: Elias McMillan

In the past, I have really fleshed out these previews for each team. But who has time for that? Here are my protections for the AFC in 2018.

AFC EAST

The Patriots will rule this division again. It is really a shame that the other three teams in the AFC East are so far behind. And New England really isn’t the juggernaut that everyone makes them out to be. Yes, they still have the ageless one, Tom Brady. And he is still able to get the most out of his receivers, especially, all-pro TE Rob Gronkowski. But New England enters this season once again with many of the same weaknesses. The offensive line, especially in pass protection, worries me as well as their lack of a run game. New England did improve defensively up front but their secondary is extremely average at best. Despite this, no one in the division is ready to challenge them. I like what the Jets are building though. They lucked out and drafted possibly the best QB in this past draft in Sam Darnold. Now, they just have to build an offense around him because currently, this team just doesn’t have enough weapons. I really like the young pieces they have on defense like safety Jamal Adams and defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Miami is in rebuild mode defensively as they let go a couple of big names in the offseason. I like the addition of DE Robert Quinn who once put up great sack numbers as a member of the Rams. Miami will benefit from the return of QB Ryan Tannehill. They will feel the loss of WR Jarvis Landry but I think RB Kenyan Drake will be a break out player this season. I like the pairing the backfield of Drake and veteran Frank Gore. It was a great story last season when the Bills made the playoffs. I think they will free fall to the bottom of the division this season. I hated the draft pick QB Josh Allen. They have a lot of question marks on offense outside of RB LeSean McCoy who isn’t getting younger. Buffalo’s defense could be able to keep them in some games in 2018 but the lack of offense will keep them from some wins. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Patriots, 2) Jets, 3) Dolphins, 4) Bills

AFC NORTH

The talent that Pittsburgh has will make them the unquestioned favorite once again this year in the North. The big question will again be if the Ben, Brown, and Bell combo can finally break through and win the conference. That question looms even larger in 2018 as it will probably be Le’Veon Bell’s last season in the Black and Gold. The sad part is that it will probably be the defense again that will hold this team back. Can Pittsburgh consistently pressure the QB? Can they get great LB play without Ryan Shazier in the lineup? Can the secondary not be a continued weakness? Those are all legit questions that will need to be answered this season. The good news (if you’re a Pittsburgh fan) is that traditional rivals, Baltimore and Cincinnati, are not in shape to compete with the Steelers. I still can’t believe the Bengals extended Marvin Lewis after last season. The Bengals are still holding on to a talented roster led by WR A.J. Green but they lack the edge to be real players in the division. You never know what you’re going to get out of QB Andy Dalton. He might be able to lean on RB Joe Mixon this year as many are expecting big things out of him. On defense, DT Geno Atkins looks like the lone bright spot on defense for the Bengals. LB Vontaze Burfict can be a difference maker when he is not suspended or acting like an idiot. Baltimore enters this season in a strange place as it is starting to look like the end of the road for many of their veterans. Joe Flacco, who hasn’t been the same player since winning the Super Bowl, looks like he is being groomed to be replaced eventually by rookie QB Lamar Jackson. Flacco will have a fighting chance to solidify his position this year as the team really put out an effort to add weapons around him in the passing game. I think Baltimore will be stout on defense again this year but they are looking mighty old at some key positions. In terms of youth, they still have a good one in LB C.J. Mosley but I believe time is running out for veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Cleveland this year but I don’t understand why. I was rooting for Hue Jackson to succeed there but his shortcomings as a head coach are becoming obvious to everyone. I initially hated what Cleveland did in the draft but I’m starting to warm up to Baker Mayfield. The little kid from Oklahoma has an arm and an “it factor”. I still believe they should have taken Saquon Barkley. On paper, I think the Browns definitely won’t go winless this season. They have a pretty decent cast at the skill positions this year including WR Jarvis Landry, WR Josh Gordon, RB Carlos Hyde, and emerging TE David Njoku. There’s plenty of young talent on the defensive side of the ball as well. DE Myles Garrett could be on the verge of having a productive season. The Browns will still be the Browns in 2018 and I wont mistake a few wins as hope for the future. Especially if that future includes Hue Jackson. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Steelers, 2) Bengals, 3) Ravens, 4) Browns

AFC SOUTH

Looking at the AFC South and I think you will see the best roster of teams in the conference from top to bottom. I don’t believe that Jacksonville will be a one-year wonder after their shocking success from a year ago. You can’t fake the talent they have on defense. Though, I think their lack of a passing game will bite them again in 2018. I’m buying into the Houston Texans in 2018 as long as they stay healthy. I think they can be really deadly offensively with QB Deshaun Watson running the show. I think the Texans defense could be really good with the return of J.J. Watt and the continued progression of Jadeveon Clowney. Again, Jacksonville be tough because of that defense they have but their loyalty shown to QB Blake Bortles might hold them back if they can return to the postseason. Tennessee made a surprising run the playoffs last season and I think they can continue to get better. There were times last year that QB Marcus Mariota looked shaky especially in the pocket. But the guy is playmaker, you can’t deny that. I think the addition of RB Dion Lewis will help him. Lewis and RB Derrick Henry should form one of the better backfield duos in the league this year. The Titans also worked to improve their defense through the draft and free agency this past offseason. CB Malcolm Butler will be given a chance to prove himself after a forgetful season last year in New England. In Indianapolis, the Colts will not win many games this year but the season will be all about QB Andrew Luck getting use to live game action after a lengthy break. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Texans, 2) Jaguars, 3) Titans, 4) Colts

AFC WEST

I think we’re going to see a changing of the guard in the AFC West this season. Kansas City has had a good run under Andy Reid but they aren’t getting younger and are beginning a turnover at many key spots on the defensive side. The LA Chargers showed promise last season but it wasn’t enough to make the post season. I think this year’s team will be under a lot of pressure to produce as QB Phillip Rivers could be playing in his last games. I think the Chargers have enough talent to give Rivers one more run in the post season this year. WR Keenan Allen quietly had a productive season last year and the ground game is pretty good led by Melvin Gordon. I’m really excited to see how good their defense can be. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa form a great pass rushing duo. Rookie safety Derwin James could be another young defender who can make plays. There is a lot of hype surrounding the return of head coach Jon Gruden to Oakland but I’m afraid that it is just that: hype. Gruden, a media darling, was always over rated as a coach and is now being used as a ploy to get fans in Oakland to forget that their team is leaving them for Vegas in the near future. Despite the clown show antics from the front office, Oakland returns a decent team in 2018. The David Carr-Amari Cooper connection should continue to lead this offense. Hopefully, DE Khalil Mack can return with no signs of rest after a lengthy contract hold out. Denver will be defined by their defense again in 2018. Von Miller will led a really good front seven this season but the secondary will miss CB Aqib Talib who was traded. The Broncos brought in QB Case Keenum who is coming off a great year in Minnesota. I’m not sure if he can recreate that magic again on a new team but Denver will need him to, as they have nothing behind him at that position. Kansas City has handed over the offense to QB Patrick Mahomes after trading away Alex Smith. Mahomes has impressed in the preseason. WR Tyreek Hill and RB Kareem Hunt will provide him with top-notch options to go to in the air and on the ground. Kansas City has drafted well on defense recently but I think they will miss some of those veterans who did not return this year, especially CB Marcus Peters. Projected Finish (Playoff Team in BOLD): 1) Chargers, 2) Raiders, 3) Broncos, 4) Chiefs

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NFL 2017: AFC Preview (Condensed)

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Tom Brady and the Patriots reloaded in the offseason. Does the rest of the AFC stand a chance?

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC East

New England Patriots – The Patriots won another title last season with a roster that wasn’t supremely talented. During this offseason, New England added significant upgrades on offense at RB and WR and on defense at DE and CB. Also, TE Rob Gronkowski returns after missing much of last year due to injury. It looks like the Brady-Belicheck combo will be the cream of the crop once again in the AFC. Although, it seems when the Patriots reload like this, they find a way to disappoint in the post season. We’ll see if this season will be different. Prediction: 15-1 (AFC East Champs)

Miami Dolphins – Miami made the playoffs somehow last season. But they don’t have much momentum going into 2017. It doesn’t help that they lost Ryan Tannehill to injury in training camp and had to replace him with a Jay Cutler they had to drag out from the announcer’s booth (Why didn’t they sign Kaepernick?). Positives: they found an answer a RB last season (Jay Ajayi) and they are pretty solid at the receiver positions. On defense, they have a tough front four and I like the offseason addition of Lawrence Timmons. Negatives: Miami secondary may be the down fall for this defense, yet again. And you’ll never know which Jay Cutler that you’re going to get. Prediction: 8-8

Buffalo Bills – Buffalo did Rex Ryan wrong and now they seem to be tanking. They traded their best WR and CB for draft picks. The Bills made a smart trade on draft day in April. Buffalo is stockpiling draft picks. It’s good idea but its not going to help them win 2017. I feel bad for LeSean McCoy who is wasting his talents up there. I’m interested in seeing how QB Tyrod Taylor will fair with limited weapons in the passing game. Buffalo has young talent on defense. I really liked Shaq Lawson from the 2016 draft. If he’s healthy, he’ll be impact player. Regardless, I don’t see many wins in Buffalo this year. Prediction: 5-11

New York Jets – The Jets are tanking. I hope it doesn’t cost head coach Todd Bowles who won 10 games in New York just two seasons ago. The Jets literally got rid of every veteran on the team except RB Matt Forte. The QB position is a disaster. What is josh McCown doing to keep finding work in this league? WR core? Garbage. They do have some promising talent on defense. It’s going to be an ugly year for the Jets. Prediction: 2-14

 

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers return with supreme talent on the offense between the QB (Roethlisberger), RB (Bell), and the WR (Brown). That, along with that over achieving offensive line, Pittsburgh should be able to rule the North again. What will stop them in the playoffs? If it isn’t the inability to stay healthy, it will be the lack of big plays from their defense. Losing and not replacing Lawrence Timmons at middle linebacker will prove to be a mistake. Pittsburgh is solid on the defensive line but they lack players in the secondary that can make big plays. But what they are really missing is an impact pass rusher. Can rookie T.J. Watt be that guy? Despite the questions, Pittsburgh should be New England’s main rival for the AFC crown. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

Baltimore Ravens – Baltimore quietly made some improvements this offseason especially on defense. I like the addition of S Tony Jefferson. They have solid veteran leadership in the secondary between him and Eric Weddle. Terrell Suggs returns for what maybe his final season. Look out for rookie Tyus Bowser to become a difference maker off the edge on this defense. Baltimore’s defense will keep the Ravens in a lot of games but they have serious questions on offense. It feels like everyone has been waiting for 2012 Joe Flacco to return and it just hasn’t happened yet. It would help if he could get some consistency from his supporting cast. Maybe WR Jeremy Maclin can help. The success of this season for the Ravens will be up to if the offense can finally figure itself out. Prediction: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals – Cincinnati again brings a talented roster to the table but their undisciplined nature seems to be their undoing. I like Marvin Lewis but how does he still have a job as he continues to vouch for Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict? On offense, the Bengals need Andy Dalton to stay healthy because he has a great collection of skill players around him, highlighted by WR A.J. Green. The Bengals have a talented defense led by DT Geno Atkins. But I think their immaturity will hold them back. They might push Baltimore for second place in the division. Prediction: 8-8

Cleveland Browns – Same as it ever was for the Browns. QB questions. Young talent on both sides of the ball. Seasoned veterans. Cleveland just can’t seem to put it all together. But this season could set the table for some success down the road. The Browns will see what they have in rookie QB DeShone Kizer right out of the gate. First round pick Myles Garrett will receive tons of playing time as well and he has impressed in the pre-season. I will be interested in seeing how Cleveland does with this current crop of young talent. I’m a believer in Hue Jackson. Prediction: 6-10

 

AFC South

Tennessee Titans – I’m buying into the Titans this season. They impressed a season ago and they may have made the post season if QB Marcus Mariota doesn’t get hurt late in the season. Tennessee has a good mix a RB with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, a great offensive line, and they added weapons in the passing game. Once the defense figures itself out, they could become a contender in the AFC. But for now, I think they’ll be good enough to win the AFC South. Prediction: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)

Houston Texans – Houston has made the playoffs in two straight seasons. I would say this is mainly because of their defense. In 2015, in was all about J.J. Watt. In 2016, while Watt was injured, it was all about Jadeveon Clowney. Who knows what this defense will be capable of with both Watt and Clowney in the line-up. Houston has a legit starter at RB (Lamar Miller) and a legit number one receiver (DeAndre Hopkins). What they don’t have is a legit starting QB. Could it be the returning backup Tom Savage or the rookie who just won a national championship, Deshaun Watson? Either way, I’m expecting more big things from the defense in Houston. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Indianapolis Colts – I feel like the majority is expecting nothing from this Colts team, which makes them kind of underrated. But they still have plenty of issues. Issues number one: the health of Andrew Luck. I expect Luck to start out on the PUP list (6 Games) so they are going to have to roll with Scott Tolzien. Good thing for Tolzien, the best player on the team is a WR (T.Y. Hilton). The defense is full of cast offs from another teams. I think a lot of teams will sleep on Indy and for good reason. But I don’t think they’ll completely stink. Prediction: 7-9

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville should have been the team that brought in Colin Kaepernick. The jig up for Blake Bortles. The Jaguars actually have promising talent on both sides of the ball. It is clear that the QB position is holding them back. It’s too bad, I guess. I really like what they have on defense. But it wont be enough to make up for the shortcomings offensively. Jacksonville will likely be drafting a new QB early in the draft next April. Prediction: 4-12

 

AFC West

Oakland Raiders – The Raiders had a great 2016 season that was derailed by Derek Carr’s injury before the playoffs. Now, Carr returns to a team that is ready to take the next step and win the AFC West. Oakland is set up pretty well offensively. I think Marshawn Lynch’s return to the NFL wont have as much as an impact as some people may want to but at the least, he’ll serve well as a weapon in the red zone. Outside of their front four, I’m still worried about the defense especially in the secondary. Prediction: 12-4 (AFC West Champs)

Denver Broncos – Denver suffered through a Super Bowl hangover last year but I think they can rebound in 2017. I still like what their defense brings to the table. Von Miller is one of the best players in the league. I’m not sure how far this offense will be able to take them under the command of QB Trevor Siemian. But the Broncos have plenty of weapons at the skills positions on offense. They still have a stacked WR group led by Demaryius Thomas. Also, remember this name from out of the backfield: sixth round pick RB DeAngelo Henderson. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid has won 10+ games in Kansas City 3 out of the 4 seasons as head coach. And in the one season he didn’t, the team still finished over .500. I think that impressive streak will come to an end this season. The Chiefs are in the process of pushing out many veterans on the roster and that turnover will affect their chances to compete in the AFC West. Alex Smith will be feeling the heat all season from the first round QB they selected in April, Patrick Mahomes. The offense will feature TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreke Hill but Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin are both gone. They do have a great defense to lean on but that group is starting to age. This will be a down year for the Chiefs. Prediction: 7-9

Los Angeles Chargers – I absolutely hate the Chargers move to LA. It stinks to the high heavens. It stinks for the NFL. As for the team, they could be a sleeper in the AFC West if they can stay healthy. I feel like you could say that every year about this team though. Phillip Rivers returns for yet another season where he will see his WR core suffer through many injuries. At least he still has an aging TE Antonio Gates to go to. It would be nice if RB Melvin Gordon can continue the success he had a season ago. I think the story from this team this year will be the emergence of DE Joey Bosa as he will become a defensive star in this league. Between Melvin Ingram and Bosa, the Chargers could have the best pass-rushing duo in the division. It would be cool to see this team grab some success while they still have Phillip Rivers but I don’t see it happening. Prediction: 6-10

 

AFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. New England Patriots – 15-1 (AFC East)
  2. Oakland Raiders – 12-4 (AFC West)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers – 11-5 (AFC North)
  4. Tennessee Titans – 10-6 (AFC South)
  5. Houston Texans – 9-7 (Wild-card)
  6. Denver Broncos – 9-7 (Wild-card)

NFL 2016: AFC East Preview

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Despite age and suspension, the Patriots train is on track once again in 2016.

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC East

New England Patriots – Obviously, the headlining story with the Patriots this upcoming season will be the Tom Brady suspension. Brady will miss the first four games in the regular season this year and Jimmy Garoppolo will beging the season as the starting QB. Garoppolo has been in Brady’s shadow for years now and even though he doesn’t have a lot of regular season experience, I think he’ll be able to handle the situation well until Brady returns. It’s hard to tell if Garoppolo will light up the stat sheet in Brady’s absence but I think I can say that the offensive personnel that New England has will be a big help for him in those first four games. New England isn’t known for having a great running game but they struggled with running the ball when RB’s LaGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis both went down due to injuries. Having those two guys back and healthy will definitely help the running game especially if they can both last 16 games. When you’re a young QB that lacks experience, the TE usually becomes a safe bet when it comes to targets. If this is true about Garoppolo, he’s going to be in pretty good shape as he has the best TE in the league to throw to, Rob Gronkowski. Along with Gronkowski, the Patriots also brought in another huge TE to the passing game, Martellus Bennett. Between Gronk and Marty B, the Patriots will have probably the top TE duo in the league. Gronk is a threat as a big target in the open field no matter what the situation. Bennett isn’t the same but he’ll be a huge target as the Patriots march towards the end zone. Also with the wealth of talent at the TE position, the Patriots have an underrated veteran led receiving core. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are somewhat injury prone but when healthy they are as tough as they come. The way to stop the Patriots offense has always been through the offensive line and that won’t be any different in 2016. The Patriots will be looking to get better play from that unit this season but it’s unclear if that will come in fruition. New England made a trade for OG Jonathan Cooper but he is already facing injury problems much like he did in Arizona. Thinking of Arizona, it’s time to talk about that defense because the Patriots got Cooper by trading away their best defensive player. Even though the Patriots have been successful in recent years without having a top defense, they will greatly miss Chandler Jones on that defensive line. The Patriots do have a nice mix of young guys and veterans on the defensive line but no players on the level on a Jones. At defensive end, Rob Ninkovich returns and Jabaal Sheard will probably be the guy who will get the first crack at replacing Jones. The Pats also brought in veteran Chris Long from the Rams but his best days as a pro are probably behind him. New England had a top ten run defense in 2015 and they’ll look to continue that success in 2016. Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch will probably be the starters inside on the defensive line. I like the addition of DT Terrance Knighton who didn’t have a great season last year in Washington but he’ll be a key mentor and leader this season. At linebacker, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are a decent duo. They brought in Shea McClellin from Chicago who didn’t fit over there in a 3-4 defense. If he can improve, he’ll add some flexibility as a guy who can play outside linebacker and can rush the passer on passing downs. New England’s secondary was a middle of the road unit last season and I don’t see how they improved in the offseason. CB Malcolm Butler is probably their best corner but I’m not sure if that’s really a good thing. Safety Devin McCourty is a leader in the secondary and probably the only consistent playmaker. Patrick Chung has had some rough recent season in New England but they have failed to replace him. I’m not sure how much of an impact a rookie can have but I really like 2nd round pick, Cyrus Jones out of Alabama. So basically, I think this Patriots team will be much like how they’ve been recently. The defense may overachieve but it will be Brady and the offense as the tone setters on this team. Despite being dominated in that AFC Championship game a season ago, it was amazing to see Brady and the offense rally and still almost pull off the comeback. That will serve as motivation going into this season. Again, they will not face much of a challenge in the AFC East but because of their losses on defense, I’m not sure if they’ll be able to match what they did a season ago in the playoffs. I think Brady will return ready and refreshed. But Father Time is still undefeated and you have to wonder if this will be the season where he starts to decline. I don’t think we’ll see that happen in 2016 but I don’t know how good New England will be in the post season this year because of the losses on defense. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC East Champs)

New York Jets – The Jets had surprise success in 2015 and even more surprising, they have IK Enemkpali to thank for that. But seriously, I don’t see the Jets having the success they had offensively with Geno Smith as the starting QB. Ryan Fitzpatrick may be a career journeyman but he was exactly what the Jets needed at QB last season. After a lengthy contract holdout, Fitzpatrick is back for 2016 looking forward to leading the Jets aerial attack once again. I don’t know if Fitzpatrick will be able to create the same success he had a season ago but the Jets will have the tools on offense once again to succeed. The offensive line may have gotten better as they traded for a new left tackle, Ryan Clady, who started for a Super Bowl champion a season ago. Fitzpatrick built a great relationship with the two, big outside receiving threats on this team, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall is coming off one of his best seasons and Decker proved to be a valuable piece of the passing attack. The Jets need to develop more depth at that position though. I also think the Jets got better at RB. Chris Ivory left for Jacksonville but they signed Matt Forte. Forte isn’t a tough, between the tackles, runner that Ivory is but he is a lot more versatile as a receiver out of the backfield and he offers more speed once he gets to the second level. The Jets also have decent depth at the RB position with Bilal Powell and Bernard Pierce. There is a lot to be optimistic about for the Jets on offense this season. Going into the offseason, there were a lot of questions surrounding the strength of the Jets defense, the defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson was in a contract dispute and Sheldon Richardson was rumored to be facing a lengthy suspension. Wilkerson got his long-term contract, Richardson will only miss one game, and they also have a young beast in 2nd year tackle Leonard Williams. The Jets will continue to be strong up front defensively in 2016. At outside linebacker, the Jets will be looking for some more growth from Lorenzo Mauldin who had a decent rookie season. The middle of the defense will continue to be anchored down but veteran LB David Harris. Also keep an eye out for rookie, first round pick, LB Darron Lee, who was among one of the quickest at the position in this past draft. CB Darrelle Revis returns once again as the leader of the secondary. Revis is still a top defensive player in this league but their really isnt much around him in this Jets secondary. Safeties Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist are average at best and the Jets really don’t have a solid starter opposite of Revis at CB. Outside of Revis, I don’t think the Jets secondary is that great but the strength of the defense comes from up front and that usually always helps out that unit. The Jets return a defense that was 2nd in the league at stopping the run last season. Head coach Todd Bowles surprised everyone with that success his Jets had a season ago and they will hope to build on that in 2016. The Jets actually look strong on paper but I think last year was a case where a lot of things went right. And even with that, the Jets still missed the playoffs. I think the Jets will be a tough football team again this year but I don’t see them overtaking New England in 2016. They will definitely compete for a playoff spot. Prediction: 8-8

Buffalo Bills – Rex Ryan arrived in Buffalo last year with so much noise and hype but it didn’t really materialize into anything last year. The Bills played some stretches of good football but by the end of the season, they fell apart. The Bills still have some good players going into 2016 but now they are completely rebuilding the defense and I don’t know if they’ll be able to resemble the team that Ryan wants so quickly. I’m confident that Rex Ryan can be successful in Buffalo but I’m worried about the Bills giving him enough time to build up his defensive scheme. On offense, Buffalo is pretty much set and they’ll be looking to continue the success they had a season ago especially on the ground. The Bills found their QB last season in Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is a great athlete and an average QB but he fits what the Bills want to do on offense. Buffalo had the best running attack in the league a season ago and Taylor is apart of that. Even a bigger part of the running game is all-pro LeSean McCoy. McCoy had a disappointing season by his standards and he’ll be looking forward to starting 2016 completely healthy and with a chip on his shoulder. Last year, RB Karlos Williams was a break out player and was a great compliment to McCoy. Williams is currently facing suspension and is dealing with some injury issues. So, Buffalo also brought in veteran Reggie Bush who might have a role early on this season while Williams is out. I’m not sure what Bush has left in the tank but at the least, Buffalo run blocks very well and Bush might have some left to offer in special teams. Buffalo’s passing attack could be better but lets face it: passing isn’t Tyrod Taylor’s strong suit. And its really a shame because WR Sammy Watkins is able to put up much better numbers than what he has shown but they need to find a way to get him more touches. QB’s like Taylor usually have a decent option at TE and that what he has in Charles Clay. In 2016, the running game will set the tempo for the Bills offense again. When pressed, Taylor can be a playmaker with this arm and his legs. But I don’t know if he can be good enough where the offense doesn’t have to lean on the running game so much. I don’t know what to expect from the Bills defense this season because Rex Ryan is in the process of completely rebuilding that unit in his 3-4 scheme. On the defensive line, DT Marcell Dareus will continue to be a disruptor but he will need more help around him. For a team making a transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, the Bills actually have a decent group of LB’s. But they may be already hurt in that department due to injuries. First round pick, Shaq Lawson, will miss the beginning of the season and second round pick, Reggie Ragland, is going to miss his entire rookie season. Inside at linebacker, I think Preston Brown and Zach Brown (no relation) will do just fine. But the Rex Ryan defense needs pass rushers to excel. OLB Jerry Hughes can get the QB but Buffalo needs more than just him. In the secondary, Buffalo has a good pair of starting CB’s in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. Also, Ed Reed will coach the secondary, which is exciting. I like Buffalo’s core as a ground and pound team on offense and a tough run stuffing team on defense. But there aren’t enough pieces on both sides of the ball where I can see this team taking the next step. I sure hope that the Buffalo front office realizes that Ryan needs at least one more offseason to get the defense closer to what he had in New York. The blueprint for success is there in Buffalo. They are just going to have to give Rex a little more time. Prediction: 7-9

Miami Dolphins – A season ago, Miami made so much noise in the offseason with the moves they made in free agency. At the end, it proved to be a disaster and their head coach was fired. Going into 2016, I was hoping that Miami would hire a stronger personality to really grab ahold of this locker room instead of hiring “insert successful coordinator’s name here”. Instead we got the latter and I don’t sense much excitement surrounding this team going into this season. Everyone is still waiting for QB Ryan Tannehill to break out. I’m starting to think that this isn’t a good thing that we are still waiting. Either Tannehill is going to become this next great Dolphins QB or he is not. To Tannehill’s credit, he has done better statistically each season but he hasn’t done good enough where he can raise Miami out of mediocrity. Again to his credit, that task might be too tall for just for him. Miami’s supporting cast on offense didn’t get better in the offseason with the departure of starting RB Lamar Miller. Miller left for Houston and Miami really didn’t think much on the subject of replacing him. They have second year RB Jay Ajayi who is still struggling to stay healthy and they brought in Adrian Foster from Houston who is an aging veteran. Journeyman Isaiah Pead might end up being the Week 1 starter. At receiver, Tannehill has a good collection of talent to throw to. Jarvis Landry wont get the fame that fellow LSU Tiger Odell Beckham Jr receives in New York but he is probably just as good of a receiver. DeVante Parker merely scratched the surface in his rookie season and Miami will be looking for him to have a bigger role in the passing game in 2016. Tannehill also has a good target at TE in Jordan Cameron. Not having a running game will hurt this Miami offense but I think its time for Tannehill to go all-gunslinger this year and see if he can become an elite passer in this league. Miami’s defense was a massive disappointment last season. Ndamukong Suh got the big money deal from Miami but the team isn’t getting a fair return as Miami had one of the worst run defenses last season. Suh should be extra motivated to return to the form that made him one of the most feared defenders in football. DE Cameron Wake is still one of the best pass rushers in football. DE Mario Williams was brought in from Buffalo to replace Olivier Vernon. Wake is coming off from an injury and Williams is an aging vet at this point of his career. Miami’s defensive line was such a disappointment last season; I really don’t have any realistic expectations for them in 2016. But Miami is going to have to have that unit improve if they hope to amount to anything in 2016. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins are decent LB’s and Miami brought in Kiko Alonso who is coming off injury-plagued seasons in Buffalo and Philadelphia. If healthy, Alonso will improve the Miami LB core. Miami’s secondary is headlined by safety Reshad Jones who is coming off his best season as a pro. Miami brought in Byron Maxwell who found out last season that life outside of Seattle can be rough. I expect even more abuse for him in 2016 as he just wasn’t that good to begin with. Miami’s secondary was a weak point last season and that will probably be the same in 2016. With the hiring of Adam Gase at head coach, I really don’t know what is Miami’s long-term plan with this team. With so many high profiled veterans, this locker room is not the place for a rookie head coach. Miami is short on talent and leadership. Prediction: 5-11

2016 NFL Draft Grades: AFC

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Shaq Lawson will be able to use his pass rushing skills in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense in Buffalo.

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC EAST

1. Buffalo Bills: (Team Needs: DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), QB, WR, CB, LB) – I absolutely love Rex Ryan’s draft class for the second season in a row as Bills head coach. DE Shaq Lawson can be the pass rusher in a 3-4 that this defense needs. Reggie Ragland is one of the top tacklers in the draft and Buffalo was able to draft him in Round 2. Adolphus Washington’s athleticism makes him a great fit up front in this 3-4 defense. QB Cardale Jones was one of my favorite prospects in this draft. He didn’t have a great final season at Ohio State but he probably has the strongest arm of any QB in this draft. He could be able to push hard for the back up position at QB in camp. In the 6th round, they got WR Kolby Listenbee who is one of the fastest receivers in the draft. Buffalo also pretty much addressed all of their needs. Grade: A

2. Miami Dolphins: (Team Needs: OT, OG, CB, DE (4-3), DT, S, RB, WR) – Miami may have gotten the steal of the draft in OT Laremy Tunsil. There are some character issues with Tunsil maybe. Well, I wouldn’t say “character issues”. More like “acting like a dummy issues”. But with the bizarre way his draft stock fell all in one night while costing him millions of dollars, Miami will be getting a talented player who is eager to show that he is worth it. They drafted for secondary help in CB Xavien Howard but I feel that they could have gotten a better player a pick 38. RB Kenyan Drake is a reach in the third round. He kind of a one-trick pony in how he is like a poor man’s Darren Sproles. Miami should have addressed the RB position earlier. Thomas Duarte could be a steal in the seventh round if he can stay fast while bulking up to many play TE. Grade: B-

3. New York Jets: (Team Needs: OT, QB, ILB, OLB (3-4), CB, TE) – LB Darron Lee is a heck of player and he’ll do well in this 3-4 defense as an inside tackler or someone who can rush from the outside and make plays in the backfield. A lot of Jets fans didn’t like the Christian Hackenberg pick but his skill set matches what the Jets need at QB. Hackenberg has issues with being a “statue” at QB and holding on to the ball too long but once he figures it out, fans will see that he has one of the better arms out of the QB’s in this draft class. I didn’t see Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins as a dynamic pass rusher coming off from this draft but he’ll provide solid depth. The Jets hit most of their need areas but I feel like they could have done better in the later rounds. Especially with addressing the secondary. Grade: C

4. New England Patriots: (Team Needs: DE, OG, OT, WR, LB, CB, RB) – This was not a strong draft by the Patriots. It makes it worst that they didn’t have a first round pick. I’m a big fan of CB Cyrus Jones though. He doesn’t offer much size but he is as tough as they come and usually covers receivers tough in man-to-man situations. They addressed the offense line but they didn’t draft a tackle. I have no idea why they took a QB in the third round. WR Malcolm Mitchell could develop as a great special teams player. Grade: C-

AFC NORTH

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Tyler Boyd is a talent that could rise quick in Cincinnati.

1. Cincinnati Bengals: (Team Needs: CB, WR, DE (4-3), LB, DT, S) – The Bengals had a strong draft and they get extra points from me for trolling Pittsburgh. The Steelers had their eye on CB William Jackson but Cincy took him from right under them. Cincinnati has drafted so many first round corners in recent history but they did lose guys at that position in the offseason. Jackson was one of my favorite corners in this draft and his talent will get him on the field quickly as a rookie. The Bengals needed a receiver and so I correctly mocked Pitt’s Tyler Boyd to them in the second round. Boyd should be able to rise up the depth chart quick while learning from vet A.J. Green. Nick Vigil was one of the better inside linebackers in this draft. DT Andrew Billings should have gone in the first round but there were questions about the health of his knee. Billings may not be healthy but once he gets to 100%, he’ll prove to be a great steal for the Bengals in the fourth round. I had OG Christian Westerman going in the second round and the Bengals were able to get him in the fifth. They should have drafted some defensive end help but even without that, this was a very solid draft class. Grade: A-

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: (Team Needs: CB, S, NT, OLB (3-4), WR) – It has been a while since the Steelers addressed the secondary so early and often in the draft but they did so this past weekend. I think CB Artie Burns was a reach in the first round but he provides a need and he is very talented. Safety Sean Davis is a bit undersized but he’ll be fine as long as he gets to the ball carrier in a hurry and makes plays. Javon Hargrave may be the nose tackle of the future for this defense and many within the organization were big fans of this pick. I like the selection of OT Jerald Hawkins because the Steelers lost a tackle in free agency and Hawkins probably should have been drafted sooner. I didn’t see OLB Travis Feeney as a 3-4 linebacker but his speed should make it easy for him to transition into a playmaker on defense or special teams. I love the final pick of LB Tyler Matakevich who was a heck of a player at Temple. Solid draft by the black & gold. Grade: B+

3. Cleveland Browns: (Team Needs: S, OLB (3-4), ILB, QB, OT, WR) – Cleveland drafted the most players but that’s not what makes a draft a success. It’s the quality of players and Cleveland did okay in that department as well. I don’t know if Corey Coleman is the top receiver in this draft and I thought Cleveland was done with short receivers but Coleman is an absolute playmaker that should make an immediate impact on this offense. The Browns also scored big at the top of the second and third rounds by drafting a couple pass rushers. Emmanuel Ogbah had a beastly final season at Oklahoma State and offers great speed off the edge. Carl Nassib is tall at 6’7 and led all of CFB in sacks last year. The Cody Kessler pick is a head scratcher though. They really focused on the WR position in the later rounds. And I like the final pick of LB Scooby Wright who could be the next Zach Thomas. Grade: B+

4. Baltimore Ravens: (Team Needs: OT, OG, RB, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), CB, S, ILB) – Baltimore could have had the top offensive tackle in the draft. But because of the ongoing controversy they settled for Ronnie Stanley who is still pretty good in his own right. I love the draft picks of Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi. Both of those guys have a future in this league as 3-4 outside rushing linebackers. Getting RB Kenneth Dixon in the 4th round will prove to be a steal. Dixon may have a lot of miles on him but he is as tough of a runner as they come. I’m interested to see what they do with Navy’s Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds made his college career as a runner but they will see what he can offer as a receiver. Grade: B

AFC SOUTH

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If Myles Jack can be healthy, he’ll be the steal of the entire draft for Jacksonville.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: (Team Needs: DE, OLB (4-3), CB, OG, OT) -Talent wise, the Jaguars hit it out the park with this draft class. Jalen Ramsey fell to them at number 5 when it was said that he was going in the top 3. Ramsey will provide the help in the secondary that this team desperately needs. In the second round, they took LB Myles Jack who if was 100% healthy would have been a top ten pick. When Jack is ready him and Telvin Smith will form the fastest LB duo in the league. DT Sheldon Day was another steal in the 4th round for Jacksonville. The Jaguars also drafted three other defensive ends. If youre a Jacksonville fan, you have to feel good about the foundation being built on the defensive side of the ball. Grade: A

2. Tennessee Titans: (Team Needs: OT, OLB (3-4), ILB, CB, S, DT) – OT Jack Conklin was a good player for Tennessee to trade up for. He’ll help provide stability to that offensive line. The Titans took a young pass rusher in Kevin Dodd. I thought Dodd would be a better fit for a 4-3 but he’ll be fine as a pass rusher from the outside in this defense. I like the selection of DT Austin Johnson as well. RB Derrick Henry is talented but now Tennessee’s backfield is loaded. Not sure if they needed to take a RB so early. I feel that Tennessee should have addressed the secondary and the inside LB position sooner than they did. Grade: B

3. Houston Texans: (Team Needs: TE, WR, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), C, S) – Houston was looking for help at WR opposite of DeAndre Hopkins. Taking WR Will Fuller in the first round seems like a reach to me. Fuller is one of the fastest players in the draft but he is a body catcher. I’m kinda more excited for third round pick Braxton Miller who has great hands and can do some special things in the open field. Center Nick Martin was a smart pick as the Texans lost their starting center in free agency. I find it interesting that the Texans didn’t address any of the pass rushing positions. DT D.J. Reader is a huge body that will learn a lot from Vince Wilfork. Grade: B-

4. Indianapolis Colts: (Team Needs: OT, RB, WR, ILB, OLB (3-4), CB, S) – Taking a center in the first round is almost always going to be viewed as a reach but it is an extremely safe pick for the Colts. They also got more offensive line help in the third round with the selection of OT Le’Raven Clark. I had Clark going early in the second round so I view this pick as a steal for Indy. Two of the noteworthy defensive picks were safety T.J. Green and DT Hassan Ridgeway. Both picks address needs but I don’t seem too impressed by those selections. Grade: C

AFC WEST

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Joey Bosa, the best pass rusher in the draft, will help maximize the front 7 in San Diego.

1. San Diego Chargers: (Team Needs: DE (3-4), OG, OT, WR, S, TE) – Despite already having solid starters at outside pass rusher, the Chargers took Joey Bosa at pick number 3 and I really didn’t see that coming. It’s a smart pick by San Diego as they can now maximize their pass rush on the inside and the outside. Bosa is versatile and good enough to make an difference rushing as an outside linebacker or as a inside defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Not sure if TE Hunter Henry was needed in the second round but he’ll be a solid backup to Antonio Gates. Though they did need to replace Ladarius Green. I like the picks of Max Tuerk and Donavon Clark who will address the interior of the offensive line. I think San Diego missed out of opportunities to address the secondary and the receiver position. Grade: B+

2. Oakland Raiders: (Team Needs: OT, WR, RB, DE (3-4), ILB, CB, DT) – There was a lot of buzz surrounding safety Karl Joseph before the draft but he certainly isn’t worth a top 15 pick. I think Joseph will do well in this defense but Oakland definitely reached on that pick. I liked the next two Oakland selections in Jihad Ward and Shilidue Calhoun. Ward is a great fit as a DE in a 3-4 and Calhoun will do well as a rushing outside linebacker. QB Connor Cook is a curious pick but he could push to be the number 2 QB on this team. I like speedy RB Deandre Washington from Texas Tech and OG Vadal Alexander is a heck of a value in the 7th round. Very solid draft by the Raiders. Grade: B

3. Kansas City Chiefs: (Team Needs: WR, S, CB, OLB (3-4), ILB, QB, OG, DT) – Kansas City did okay for a team that traded down a bunch. I like the second round pick of Chris Jones who should be a great fit on Kansas City’s defensive line. OG Parker Ehinger was a smart pick by the Chiefs who are looking for a starter at that position. I don’t think QB Kevin Hogan will be anything in the league but he was one of my favorite QB’s to watch at Stanford. The odds will be stacked against him but he is a great competitor. I like the sixth round pick of CB D.J. White. White has decent size for a CB and made a lot of plays at Georgia Tech. The Chiefs didn’t address many of their needs. I thought they could have taken a pass rushing outside linebacker or someone who plays safety. Grade: C

4. Denver Broncos: (Team Needs: QB, RB, OT, ILB, OG, TE) – I mocked QB Paxton Lynch to Denver and it was a pick that absolutely needed to happen. Lynch is very similar to Brock Osweiler and will have a great chance at winning the starting job in the pre season. RB Devontae Booker is one of the toughest runners in this draft and he’ll have a good chance at making this roster. I’m kind of shocked that Denver didn’t address the offensive tackle position of the inside linebacker position. Grade: C-

NFL 2014: AFC East Preview

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With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady is looking forward to another AFC East title.

By: Elias McMillan

New England Patriots – The Patriots are coming off an offseason where they did lose a couple of pieces but despite that, chances are pretty good that they will win their 12th division title in 14 seasons. They will be lead on offense once again by QB Tom Brady who is getting up there in age but is still one of the top passers in the league. Brady had a pretty decent season year despite all of the turn around seen at the receiver position. He’ll have returning younger targets like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and veterans like Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Last season, Edelman became the target that Brady really started to lean on. But the real impact player in the passing game for New England is TE Rob Gronkowski who is looking forward to an injury-free 2014. If Gronkowski can stay on the field this season, him and Brady can once again put up great numbers and give defenses nightmares. I think the running game for New England will be hurt by the departure of RB LaGarrett Blount but Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are serviceable RBs for what the Patriots do on offense. New England will also be looking for a better season from their offensive lineman. The one sure way to beat this Patriots offense is to get to Brady and that wont be any different this season. On defense, the Pats will benefit from having DT Vince Wilfork back from injury. On the outside, DE’s Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones do a pretty decent job at rushing the QB. The LB core might be hurt by the departure of Brandon Spikes but they still have serviceable guys in that unit like Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower. They also lost CB Aqib Talib in the secondary but they were a lot more aggressive in the efforts to replace him. I really like the addtions of CB Darrelle Revis and CB Brandon Browner. Those are two veterans that can still play at a very high level and set an example to the younger defensive backs. The one thing that the Pats really have in their favor this season is that they shouldn’t see too much competition from inside their division. I would say that they are definitely good enough to win another AFC East title but I don’t know if they have improved enough to make it to their third straight AFC Championship game. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC East Champs)

New York Jets – Last year around this time, just about everyone was expecting for the Jets to stink. Instead, Rex Ryan turned around and did a great coaching job getting them to 8-8. Now, the Jets have some confidence going into this season and they also made some improvement with some additions in the offseason. I think the Jets can be successful this season because they are going to simplify things for 2nd year QB Geno Smith. When I say “simplify things”, I mean to say that they are going to try to run the ball more and more effectively. And I believe they can with the backfield of RB’s Chris Ivory and free agent signee, Chris Johnson. The Jets might still be questionable upfront with their interior linemen but I expect them to be a strong team running the football on the strength of those two backs. I think we are still a ways away from seeing Geno Smith as a good passer, which is why bringing in Mike Vick was a great idea. I expect Smith to start out as the starter but if he doesn’t show improvement passing the ball, Ryan will be ready to make the switch to Vick. For the second straight season, their isnt a real stand out in the Jets receiving core. They brought in WR Eric Decker from Denver and he is coming off of a productive season catching passes from Peyton Manning. I think he can give the QB’s here a decent target to go to but I don’t see him as being a huge difference maker. Hopefully, rookie TE Jace Amaro can develop into a reliable target because I can see him getting plenty of run in his first year. The strength of the Jets defense is the defensive line that is built around Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. Those two are huge studs that play with a non-stop motor. They have the ability to stop the run and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Jets can also get a decent outside rush from Calvin Pace. On the opposite side of him, Quinton Couples is on his way to becoming a bust. It’s a good thing they brought in a proven pass rusher in Jason Babin right before camp. In the middle of the defense, the Jets are still getting great play out from MLB David Harris. In the secondary, the Jets really need CB’s Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner to play at a high level. I’m excited about 1st round draft pick safety Calvin Pryor who is a speedy ball hawk. If Pryor can stay on the field, he’s a guy you can count on always being around the football. I think that the Jets upgraded enough talent wise to at least compete for a playoff spot this year. I don’t see them being in New England’s class but I’ll get them a shot at surprising people this year. The keys will be if they can fully commit to running the football and if they can get enough big plays from the QB position. Having impact players at the line of scrimmage will give them a lot of chances to win but once again, they need to have the QB situation figured out early this season. Prediction: 9-7

Buffalo Bills – Considering the death of owner Ralph Wilson, the selling of the franchise on going, and Jim Kelly’s brave fight against cancer, the Bills are the sentimental favorites in the AFC East this season. Unfortunately, they have already suffered some set backs even before the season started and they though have enough talent to get out of the basement of this division. Second year QB E.J. Manuel showed some flashes last season but he wasn’t consistent enough. Obviously, he must show some improvement in year two. Manuel does have a great supporting cast around him. The RB position is absolutely stacked with standouts, CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson, and proven vets, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon. WR Sammy Watkins might be a future star in this league but Buffalo might have given up too much for him. And I’m not sure why they traded away WR Stevie Johnson. They must be counting on WR’s Mike Williams and Robert Woods to be consistent targets this season. The Bills will also have question marks up front on the offensive line where they might be counting on two rookie tackles, Seantrel Henderson & Cyrus Kouandjio. On defense, the Bills will be hurting after losing LB Kiko Alonso for the season to injury. They will be led once again on the defensive line by DE Mario Williams but they don’t really have another impact player on the opposite side. DT Marcell Dareus is great player but he is a question mark this season because of illegal troubles. At the LB position, they will be without Kiko Alonso but they brought it a couple of vets with some ability, Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers. In the secondary, they lost safety Jairus Byrd to free agency and that might created a major hole there. They do have a decent duo at CB with Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. But mostly, this defense will greatly miss LB Kiko Alonso. Buffalo has plenty of young talent but injuries and inexperience might keep them from contending for a title in 2014. There will be high hopes surrounding WR Sammy Watkins. He will have to perform at a high level early in his career to make Bills fans forget that they don’t have a first round selection next April. Prediction: 5-11

Miami Dolphins – I don’t have high expectation for the Dolphins this season. In fact, I expect the wheels to completely fall off for head coach Joe Philbin. With every thing the team dealt with last season, it was amazing that they even got to 8-8. But they did suffer a late season collapse that might linger into this year. On the bright side, QB Ryan Tannehill is probably the best QB in the division not named Brady. That might not be saying much when you’re comparing him to Manuel and Smith but Tannehill showed a lot of promise last season. Tannehill leads an offense that includes some decent targets in Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Wallace had a down year based on his standards but he does have a lot to improve on going into 2014. TE Charles Clay developed into a reliable target for Tannehill last season and he wont be under the radar this season. Miami really lacks a stand out player at the RB position. RB’s Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas both have some ability but either are going to be stars in this league. They signed RB Knowshon Moreno in the offseason but he has been receiving the opposite of rave reviews so far in training camp. What really hurts the Miami offense is the offensive line, which is a complete mess. That unit will most likely see 5 new starters this season and it will probably continue to be a work in progress as the season goes on. On defense, they are led by supreme pass rusher, DE Cameron Wake. Last years first round pick, DE Dion Jordan, hasn’t lived up to expectations yet but he is still young enough to improve from a disappointing rookie year. Miami is pretty solid at LB. Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi, and Phillip Wheeler provide the defense with solid play last year and they’ll continue that this year. I don’t feel so good about Miami’s secondary. Safety Reshad Jones will miss some time because of a suspension. They signed Cortland Finnegan in the off-season but I’m not sure what he can offer to team because of his age. Miami did have a bright spot at CB last year with the play of veteran Brent Grimes. I think Miami is some years away from becoming a playoff team. It would really mean a lot for the future of this team if Ryan Tannehill builds upon what he did last year. Prediction: 4-12