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2018 NFL Forecast: AFC East Roundtable
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2018 NFL Forecast: AFC East Roundtable The AFC East has been the least interesting division in the NFL. New England has won the East for nine consecutive seasons and in 14 of the last 15 years. In 2017 Baltimore Ravens T-Shirt , the Patriots marched past the Titans and Jaguars in the playoffs but were eventually dethroned by the Eagles in the Super Bowl.Buffalo surprisingly snapped a 17-year postseason drought, yet their rebuilding project is expected to continue through 2018. The Dolphins and Jets combined for just 11 wins in 2017 and do not appear much closer to contending. It seems more probable that the Bills, Dolphins and Jets will all be picking in the top 10 of the next draft than the likelihood that any of them can knock off the Patriots.Vasilis’ Predictions:1. New England PatriotsBill Belichick’s coaching system has lead the Patriots to five Super Bowl championships. Despite losing some key personnel in the offseason, it is difficult to project much of a regression for last season’s runner-up. After jilting Indianapolis, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will return to work with a now 41-year-old Tom Brady. New England may employ a more run-first offense after the departures of Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Nate Solder. Still, Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead and rookie Sony Michel will allow them to devise weekly game plans that create advantageous match ups. On defense, Jason McCourty was acquired to replace Malcolm Butler. He, along with his brother Devin McCourty and high paid corner Stephon Gilmore should form a capable secondary. Pass rush remains a weakness, but the Patriots should cruise into the postseason due to the weakness of their division.2. Miami DolphinsMiami appears to be a team in transition. Ryan Tannehill will return from injury but with his go-to target Jarvis Landry gone, giving DeVante Parker another chance to realize his potential. Kenyan Drake will try to maintain his production from the second half of last season behind a middling offensive line, and Mike Gesicki was drafted to become a mismatch tight end. The Dolphins run defense could take a step back without Ndamukong Suh. However, versatile rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick should immediately improve a lacking secondary. Overall, Miami’s talented young players should win some games for them, but they do not have the quality across the roster to become a genuine contender.3. Buffalo BillsThe strength of the Bills team is clearly their secondary. They have transformed this unit over the last two offseasons by drafting Tre’Davious White and signing Micah Hyde and Vontae Davis. High upside rookie Tremaine Edmunds was selected to become the centerpiece of their defense, yet Buffalo’s pass rush is well below average. The outlook is less than ideal on the other side of the ball. An offense that previously relied on LeSean McCoy’s running faces serious questions after losing the majority of their starting lineman. AJ McCarron was brought in as a placeholder quarterback until rookie Josh Allen is ready to take over, and they have traded for two former first round receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Corey Coleman. Nonetheless, it is unlikely this group will fare well this season.4. New York JetsTodd Bowles’ squad is heading in the right direction, but they are still another year away from contention. The acquisitions of Avery Williamson and Trumaine Johnson add more quality to an underrated defense that already featured Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams. Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold will probably take over for Josh McCown relatively soon. However, besides Robby Anderson, the Jets lack the playmakers or offensive line to produce an above average offense. A group of journeymen running backs, tight ends and receivers is not enough to compete in 2018.Sage’s Predictions:1. New England PatriotsThe Patriots have not lost the division since 2008 when Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1. Barring a similar fate to the league’s best quarterback, the Patriots are once again a lock to win the division and a one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Though there has been some turmoil this offseason with the departure of Malcolm Butler and the four-game suspension of Julian Edelman, Bill Belichick will likely continue his reign of terror in the AFC East. New England ranked first in total offense in 2017 Baltimore Ravens Hats , and despite turning 41 this month, Brady recorded a 100+ passer rating for the third year in a row last season. With the departure of Matt Patricia to Detroit, long time linebackers coach Brian Flores will take over to try to turn around the defense, which ranked 29th in 2017. If the defense can elevate their play and Brady maintains his excellence, an already battered division is in for another season of Patriots dominance. 2. Miami DolphinsThe loss of Ryan Tannehill to a left knee injury doomed the Dolphins hopes last season as they finished with just six wins. While Tannehill has not appeared in a regular season game since the end of the 2016, he is a significant upgrade from the Jay Cutler bandage Miami leveraged last season. The loss of Jarvis Landry, who led the team in receiving yards for the last three years, will have an impact on the offense. The Dolphins will hope that former Patriots receiver Danny Amendola can bring some of New England’s winning ways down the east coast to Miami to support the efforts of emerging receivers DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. On defense, the Dolphins acquired defensive end Robert Quinn and released defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh this offseason. With the Bills and the Jets yet to solidify a signal caller, the edge goes to Tannehill to lead his team to a distant second place finish, even with his sub .500 winning percentage as a starter. 3. Buffalo BillsDespite appearing in the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season last year, the Bills decided to part ways with quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The prospects of an AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman or Josh Allen led team are not all that promising for the 2018 season. Regardless of who is starting, the addition of Kelvin Benjamin for an entire season should help an offense whose leading receiver in 2017 recorded only 83 more yards than Benjamin did in just six games with Buffalo last year. With an offense that ranked 29th and a defense that ranked 26th last season, the Bills have a lot of room for improvement but continue to lack the pieces and leadership to bridge the considerable gap in the AFC East. 4. New York JetsTodd Bowles has not been within striking distance of his first season win total (10), finishing 5-11 in the last two years. The Jets have not made the playoffs since 2010, starting seven different quarterbacks in as many seasons. While some have hopes that USC product Sam Darnold will change the tide, he is still competing against Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown for the spot. Regardless of who earns the honor, the starter will lack offensive weapons to target as the Jets leading wide receiver Robby Anderson will have to prove he can overcome recent arrests and character concerns to record his first 1,000+ yard and double digit touchdown total season. On defense, the Jets ranked just one slot above the Bills in total defense (25th) and forced only 11 turnovers in 2017. The likelihood that the Jets are truly competitive with another new starting quarterback, limited talent and a bottom feeder defense is slim. Jake’s Predictions:1. New England PatriotsThere would have to be a combined spontaneous combustion of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to pick against New England at this point. The coaching is consistently top notch, the quarterback just took home league MVP and the Patriots have appeared in three of the last four Super Bowls. The expectation is the same this year, without much resistance from the rest of this division.2. Miami DolphinsIs this the year Ryan Tannehill finally puts it all together? Probably not, and it is fair to question if the 30-year-old is ever going to live up to the high hopes the Dolphins had when they drafted him eighth overall in 2012. However Baltimore Ravens Womens Hoodie , Miami still has enough talent to be considered second best in a weak division, and Adam Gase should have enough tricks up his sleeve to keep them relatively competitive this season.3. New York JetsMany have been high on Sam Darnold’s stock, and he certainly looked the part in his first preseason action against Atlanta. Expect him to win the job and go wire-to-wire as the Jets starter from Week 1, but fans should not anticipate New York to win a lot of contests in 2018. Rather, this will be a growing year where Darnold shows promise for the future, and Todd Bowles keeps his job as a result.4. Buffalo BillsWhile Josh Allen has more potential than some experts believe, he is in a tough spot to begin his career. The surrounding offensive talent is reminiscent of the historically bad group that Mitchell Trubisky inherited last year, and it does not bode well for Buffalo that AJ McCarron has not secured the starting spot to take some pressure off the rookie. Ultimately, it would not be surprising to see Buffalo picking in the top three of the 2019 draft, even if Allen shows the promise that led the team to select him seventh overall in April. OAKLAND RAIDERS (6-10)New faces: Coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, WR Jordy Nelson, RB Doug Martin, CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Daryl Worley, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, LB Derrick Johnson, S Marcus Gilchrist, LB Emmanuel Lamur, LB Tahir Whitehead, FB Keith Smith, DL Tank Carradine, QB AJ McCarron, OL Kolton Miller, DT Maurice Hurst Womens Customized Baltimore Ravens Jerseys , DE Arden Key, DT P.J. Hall.Key losses: Coach Jack Del Rio, DE Khalil Mack, WR Michael Crabtree, RT Marshall Newhouse, LB NaVorro Bowman, CB TJ Carrie, CB Sean Smith, CB David Amerson, P Marquette King, S Obi Melifonwu, DT Mario Edwards Jr., QB E.J. Manuel.Strengths: Few teams invested more in interior of offensive line than Raiders with center Rodney Hudson, guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson. Gruden seeks power-running offense with Marshawn Lynch behind trio. Successful run game could open up play-action passing game for QB Derek Carr. Carr seeks bounce back from down season plagued by back injury, unimaginative offense.Weaknesses: Secondary full of questions for coordinator Guenther. CB Gareon Conley struggled to stay healthy since being drafted in first round in 2017. Melvin had strong season with Indianapolis last year but only got one-year, prove-it contract. Safeties have mix of unproven young players and aging ones. 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph yet to develop into playmaker. Reggie Nelson brought back at age 34 but seemed to be step slow last year. Marcus Gilchrist provides versatility with ability to cover slot.Fantasy Players To Watch: WR Amari Cooper. Considered top receiver heading into last year. Cooper had career lows with 48 catches for 680 yards in 2017. Raiders believe he can get back to 1,000-yard level from first two seasons. Red-zone favorite Crabtree let go this offseason, possibly creating more TD chances for Cooper.Vegas Says: Super Bowl 35-1. Over/under wins 8.Expectations: Return of Gruden brings optimism to Raiders fans who have had just two winning seasons since he left following 2001 and seeking success before move to Las Vegas in 2020. That changed when team traded best player in Mack before start of season following contract holdout. Questions remain about how Gruden will fare after nine seasons away from sideline. He seeks return to power football and old-school styles successful in first stint. Gruden likely adding new modern wrinkles to offense as well. Best move might be hiring of Guenther, which gives Raiders first proven DC in years. Defense needs better schemes with Mack gone following trade to Chicago. Pressure on rookies Hurst, Hall, Key to make up for pass rush missing with Mack's trade.