Monday, August 29, 2011
2011 NFL Predictions - AFC East
1) New England Patriots
(14-2, 1st in ’10)
Key Gets – Chad Ochocinco (WR, Bengals), Albert Haynesworth (DL, Redskins), Andre Carter (DE/OLB, Patriots), Shaun Ellis (DL, Jets), Nate Solder (OL, Colorado), Ras-I Dowling (CB, Virginia), Shane Vereen (RB, California), Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas), Stevan Ridley (RB, LSU)
Key Gones – none
Key Games – wk2 v. Chargers, wk5 v. Jets, wk6 v. Cowboys, wk8 @ Steelers, wk9 v. Giants, wk10 @ Jets, wk11 v. Chiefs, wk12 @ Eagles, wk13 v. Colts
Are these guys as good as their hype? The Patriots have won as many playoff games in the last three years as the Tampa Bay Bandits, but they’re always mentioned as one of the league’s elite teams. Can they return to dominance this year? I love the addition of Ochocinco and see him fitting in beautifully as Tom Brady’s #2 receiver behind Wes Welker, and locking up Logan Mankins long term was a no-brainer. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is unlikely to repeat his 1,000 yard season given the talent they have at the position. In addition to the diminutive Danny Woodhead, the Patriots went out and drafted Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The former is having an impressive preseason and looks like he’ll be part of the game plan early on. I like the Mallett pick up and am intrigued with how things will work out for him in New England. I question the Haynesworth addition, as I think he’ll prove to be completely useless, even with the Patriots. Bill Belichick will need to continue coaching them up on defense since they chose not to make a significant upgrade in the pass rush department where no individual player recorded more than 5.5 sacks last season. On a positive note, Jerod Mayo is on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players in football, and the guy lining up next to him, Brandon Spikes, had a superb rookie year. I like most of the secondary, particularly corner Devin McCourty and safety Pat Chung. I called for a breakout year for Chung last season, and while he didn’t get a lot of individual national attention, he’s certainly solidified his role on this defense.
I see the Patriots getting to 11 or 12 wins, and I think that will be enough to get them the division. Beyond that?
Team MVP – Tom Brady
Breakout Player – Devin McCourty
Disappointment – Brandon Meriweather
2) New York Jets
(11-5, 2nd in ’10)
Key Gets – Plaxico Burress (WR, Oneida Correctional Facility), Derrick Mason (WR, Ravens), Muhammad Wilkerson (DL, Temple), Kenrick Ellis (DL, Hampton)
Key Gones – Braylon Edwards (WR, 49ers), Jerricho Cotchery (WR, Steelers), Brad Smith (WR/KR, Bills), Damien Woody (RT, retired), Shaun Ellis (DL, Patriots), Jason Taylor (OLB, Dolphins)
Key Games – wk1 v. Cowboys, wk4 @ Ravens, wk5 @ Patriots, wk7 v. Chargers, wk10 v. Patriots, wk14, v. Chiefs, wk15 @ Eagles, wk16 v. Giants
I’m not feeling the Jets mojo this year. How did they get better? Are the rusty Plaxico and old Mason improvements over Edwards and Cotchery? Brad Smith is a loss that will be felt, and LaDainian Tomlinson really wore down last season. Is Sanchez going to take a needed step forward and pick up in ’11 where he left off in ’10, throwing for 5 scores and 0 INTs in his final two games against the Patriots and Steelers? Shonn Green will be the primary ball carrier this year, and I think he’ll be a bright spot. I’m expecting 1,200 yards rushing, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, and Brandon Moore, their three stud offensive linemen, will be big reasons why. Speaking of bright spots, I think Santonio Holmes will have his best year as a pro and finish as a top 10 receiver. Dustin Keller should continue his development as Sanchez’s most reliable safety valve, especially early on with Sanchez’s unfamiliarity with Burress and Mason. On defense Wilkerson and Ellis were big additions to the DL, but like New England, I thought they needed to get better at outside linebacker. I’m not counting on Calvin Pace finally becoming the dominant pass rusher he’s been hyped as. Inside they’re fine. There aren’t many plays where both David Harris and Bart Scott aren’t right in the middle of the action. So much for having the #1 and #1a corners on the same defense. The Jets lost out on Nnamdi and “settled” for re-signing Cromartie. They’ll be one of the game’s best units once again, but I think the lack of a stud pass rushing linebacker is going to keep them from realizing greatness.
The defense will still be stout, but is this team hungrier than they’ve been the past two seasons? I’m a little leery of a letdown and possible missed playoff berth.
Team MVP – Santonio Holmes
Breakout Player – Shonn Green
Disappointment – Calvin Pace
3) Buffalo Bills
(4-12, 4th in ’10)
Key Gets – Nick Barnett (LB, Packers), Brad Smith (WR/KR, Jets), Marcell Dareus (DL, Alabama), Aaron Williams (DB, Texas)
Key Gones – Paul Posluszny (LB, Jaguars), Donte Whitner (S, 49ers), Lee Evans (WR, Ravens)
Key Games – wk3 v. Patriots, wk5 v. Eagles, wk6 @ Giants, wk9 v. Jets, wk10 @ Cowboys, wk12 @ Jets, wk14 @ Chargers, wk17 @ Patriots
Fred Jackson isn’t Adrian Peterson, but his talents would be more appreciated on a better team. Unfortunately for Jackson, he’s running behind arguably the worst offensive line in the game. There isn’t a starter on that line that I’d want as a backup on the Bucs. Is CJ Spiller going to have a better sophomore season and threaten Jackson’s carries? I say no, and if ’11 mimics ’10, the bust buzz will start. Steve Johnson exploded on the NFL and became a guy you watch the highlights for each week. That’s hard to do on the Bills, and it will be even harder for him to repeat that feat with everyone now aware of his abilities. Evans’ better days are behind him, but what’s left behind to take his place is a bunch of #4 receivers. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t Joe Montana, but the guy can play the QB position. He’s a guy who can manage the game for you and create a play or two on his own to make a difference. He and Johnson have great chemistry, and if he can get anything from the rest of the receivers, he’ll surpass last year’s numbers. The loss of Posluszny is going to be a big one, but I like how they brought in Nick Barnett to add some stability. Shawne Merriman is having an impressive preseason, but it’s been a while since he was an impactful player. Outside of Merriman, they’re unlikely to get much of a pass rush from the LB level once again. If your NT is leading the team in sacks (Kyle Williams 5.5 in ’10 led Buffalo), you’re not winning many meaningful games. I love the drafting of Dareus to help fix the defensive line. He’s one of my top 3 candidates for Defensive ROY and should do some damage next to Williams.
That offensive line gives me the chills, and it’s probably going to be another long year in Buffalo as they and the Dolphins battle for 3rd place.
Team MVP – Fred Jackson
Breakout Player – Marcell Dareus
Disappointment – CJ Spiller
4) Miami Dolphins
(7-9, 3rd in ’10)
Key Gets – Reggie Bush (RB, Saints), Matt Moore (QB, Panthers), Marc Colombo (OL, Cowboys), Mike Pouncey (OL, Florida), Daniel Thomas (RB, Kansas State), Edmond Gates (WR, Abilene Christian)
Key Gones – Ronnie Brown (RB, Eagles), Ricky Williams (RB, Ravens), Channing Crowder (LB, retired)
Key Games – wk1 v. Patriots, wk4 @ Chargers, wk6 @ Jets, wk8 @ Giants, wk12 @ Cowboys, wk14 v. Eagles, wk16 @ Patriots, wk17 v. Jets
Can Dolphins fans feel good about their offseason? Granted, getting younger at the RB position was a necessary move, but the biggest deal of the offseason is the one they didn’t make. Kyle Orton is still a Bronco, and I think that not making that trade is going to come back and bite the Dolphins. I can’t wait to see how nuts Brandon Marshall gets with another year of Chad Henne under center. Marshall should finish closer to 100 receptions this season than last regardless of who is under center, but he’ll need to do better against playoff teams. From week 6 on, Marshall totaled 20 receptions for 0 scores in games against the Steelers, Ravens, Bears, Jets, and Patriots. I do think Davone Bess has the ability to be a consistent threat, and keep an eye on Gates. There’s a bit of potential there. Is Reggie Bush going to be any better in a worse offense, with a worse QB, on grass? I say no. Right now he looks like the starter because Daniel Thomas, a guy I was down on coming out of Kansas State (had him ranked lower than most), hasn’t done much of anything this preseason. Whoever is running better go left behind Richie Incognito and one of the best left tackles in the game, Jake Long. On defense, Karlos Dansby is the stabilizing force in the middle. He didn’t make as many big plays as hoped in his first year as a Dolphin, but he’s one of the game’s best inside backers. I love Vontae Davis and think his future is bright, but he’s got to make more game changing plays, turn more of those pass break ups into INTs. He’ll team with Sean Smith to give the Dolphins two of the more talented young corners in the game. Jared Odrick’s rookie year was wiped out due to injury, so he’s almost like another draft pick; love his potential. Jason Taylor is back, but it’s 2011, not 2002.
They’re a bad team that isn’t getting a lot better anytime soon. A lack of a run game will bury this offense and its hopes of a winning season.
Team MVP – Jake Long
Breakout Player – Davone Bess
Disappointment – Daniel Thomas
1) New England Patriots
2) New York Jets
3) Buffalo Bills
4) Miami Dolphins
Division MVP – Tom Brady
Division Breakout – Marcell Dareus
Division Disappointment – Daniel Thomas