Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 NFL Predictions - AFC North

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

Key Gets – David DeCastro (G, Stanford), Mike Adams (T, Ohio State), Sean Spence (LB, Miami)

Key Gones – James Farrior (LB, FA), William Gay (CB, Cardinals), Chris Kemoeatu (G, FA), Bryant McFadden (CB, FA), Aaron Smith (DE, FA)

Key Games – wk1 @ Broncos, wk2 v. Jets, wk5 v. Eagles, wk7 @ Bengals, wk9 @ Giants, wk11 v. Ravens, wk13 @ Ravens, wk14 v. Chargers, wk15 @ Cowboys, wk 16 v. Bengals

The Patriots may have been Super Bowl losers last year, but one could argue that the Steelers had the harder season ending loss.  A team with sights set on another championship took a shot to the gut when Demaryius Thomas took the first play from scrimmage in OT to the house for the game winning score.  If that wasn’t bad enough, their leading rusher, Rashard Mendenhall, tore his ACL during the last regular season game and isn’t exactly making an Adrian Peterson-like recovery.  The Steelers are conceding that he’s going to miss nearly half of the season.  Oh, and did I mention that Mike Wallace is doing his best Dwayne Bowe impression and has yet to sign his one year tender.  Is this team capable of winning the North for the fourth time in six seasons?

One offseason move that could pay off in a big way was the hiring of Todd Haley as OC.  The former Cardinals’ HC will implement an up-tempo passing offense, taking the Steelers away from their run heavy roots, something QB Ben Roethlisberger has been trying to do for a while now.  Look for Roethlisberger to have a big year.  Mike Wallace finally showed up and signed his tender, so Roethlisberger’s favorite heave it threat will be on the field when the season starts.  With or without Wallace’s holdout, Antonio Brown might have become Roethlisberger’s #1 receiver.  The Central Michigan standout busted out in a big way last year with 69 catches but only 2 scores.  I think he’s for real and has a shot of totaling double digits in TDs. Even if the run game is an afterthought, the Steelers have to be leery of their backfield situation.  Starter Rashard Mendenhall is out for a while recovering from his knee injury, and Isaac Redman has limited talents.  The guy who has made a big name for himself this preseason is Jonathan Dwyer.  He’s contributed surprisingly well in the passing game this preseason and looks like he might have a leg up on Redman for starter snaps.  I think the offensive line is finally approaching respectability again.  Willie Colon is thriving at LG, and Maurkice Pouncey is once of the game’s best centers.  Unfortunately projected RG David DeCastro tore up his knee in the preseason and likely will miss the entire season.  Marcus Gilbert looks like a fixture at RT, and they’re hoping rookie Mike Adams is the answer at LT.  I expect this unit to be really strong late in the season. 

You’ve got to think the league’s #1 defense is chomping at the bit to get back on the field and bust some heads after that Denver game.  When you talk about busting heads, you can’t help but think of Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers.  James Harrison keeps getting it done and pairs with LaMarr Woodley to give them arguably the league’s best pair of outside rushers.  Throw in stud ILB Lawrence Timmons and rotational rushers like Jason Worilds and Chris Carter, and that’s a formidable group.  Harrison is dealing with a knee issue this preseason that could turn serious, so that’s definitely worth tracking.  I really like Ziggy Hood up front at one end spot, and Brett Keisel’s beard will try and hold off the more youthful Craig Heyward at the other end spot.  The biggest question in the secondary is still the corner spot opposite Ike Taylor where Keenan Lewis looks to continue his progression as an NFL corner.  Ryan Clark had arguably a career year in 2011, and Troy Polamalu is still one of the game’s more dynamic defenders.  The former Trojan should be the healthiest he’s been in several years.  

I believe the Steelers will be a solid team this year, but their first place projections is also influenced by my thought this will be a down year for the teams of the AFC North.  Not stubbornly sticking to the run could also take this team to the next level.  A potent passing offense combined with one of the game’s best defenses is a combination most teams won’t be able to successfully combat. Heading into the season, I’ve got them as the second best team in the conference.

Team MVP – Ben Roethlisberger
Breakout Player – Jonathan Dwyer
Disappointment – Isaac Redman

2) Baltimore Ravens

Key Gets – Courtney Upshaw (LB, Alabama), Kelechi Osmele (G, Iowa State), Jacoby Jones (WR, Texans)

Key Gones – Ben Grubbs (G, Saints), Jarret Johnson (LB, San Diego), Chris Carr (CB, Vikings), Cory Redding (DE, Colts)

Key Games – wk1 v. Bengals, wk2 @ Eagles, wk3 v. Patriots, wk6 v. Cowboys, wk7 @ Texans, wk11 @ Steelers, wk12 @ Chargers, wk15 v. Broncos, wk16 v. Giants, wk17 @ Bengals

Oh Billy Cundiff.  The Ravens saw their run at another Super Bowl title thwarted when their kicker missed a chip shot FG to send the conference championship game into overtime.  Heck, Cundiff wouldn’t have had a chance to be the goat had Lee Evans held onto the potential TD pass just a couple of plays earlier.  It was a crushing loss for a team looking to reassert themselves as the lead dog in the AFC.  How much of a championship window remains for guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?  Will the Ravens be able to keep pace with the teams like the Patriots, Steelers, and Texans this year? 

Fortunately for Baltimore they still possess one of the game’s most valuable weapons in Ray Rice.  The fifth year veteran rushed for a career high 1,364 yards and added his second 70+ catch season in 2011.  There is no doubt who is the focal point of the offense.  I do worry that, for the first time, there’s no veteran depth behind him; no Willis McGahee or Ricky Williams.  Joe Flacco is one of the harder guys in the league to evaluate.  At times he looks like a guy who can be the guy, and then he goes out and has a stinker.  Flacco rarely ever seems to get into a true flow offensively and, while he has improved in this department, he still doesn’t handle pressure terribly well.  Typically, when he senses pressure, the play is over.  I still think he’s going to struggle to reach his potential as long as conservative Cam Cameron is his OC.  They’ve got to open up this offense and stop being as predictable as they are.  In Flacco’s defense, it’s not like he’s throwing to the Three Amigos.  Anquan Boldin can still catch what’s thrown his way, but he can’t separate and isn’t a difference maker anymore.  I believe Torrey Smith is the key to this offense’s success in 2012.  If he can build upon a commendable rookie campaign and become Flacco’s #1 downfield threat, that’s only going to open things up for the rest of the offense.  Expect Smith to have a huge year.  I do worry a little bit about the offensive line.  They lost guard Ben Grubbs to the Saints, and Bryant McKinnie was late in getting into camp.  Is this unit moving in the right direction? 

The defense isn’t without its questions as well.  First, they’re going to be without their leading pass rusher, Terrell Suggs, or most, if not all of the season with an Achilles injury.  Suggs led the Ravens in sacks last year with 14, and the next closest player was Pernell McPhee with 6.  Yes, he will be missed.  Rookie Courtney Upshaw is going to get a chance to replace Suggs, but that’s a hell of a lot easier said than done.  Ray Lewis is 37, and Ed Reed is about to turn 34.  Both are still among the best at their respective positions, but there’s no denying that both have lost a step (more so Lewis) and are no longer the play-to-play monsters they used to be.  I think the Jarrett Johnson and Cory Redding losses will be significant as well.  Having a front line of Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, and Arthur Jones will cure a lot of ails.  There’s a lot of beef and strength up front for Baltimore.  The most valuable player on defense might just be Lardarius Webb.  The fourth year corner from Nicholls State has quickly and quietly established himself as one of the more dangerous cover men in the game.  I’m a big fan of Jimmy Smith’s and think there’s a ton of scheme-altering potential in having both he and Webb on the field at the same time.  If Smith continues to make strides, you’re talking about having two corners you can put on an island, freeing up the rest of the defense to take more risks and make big plays. 

Will the offensive line be a strength?  Can they develop more than two or three receiving threats?  Who will step up in Suggs’ absence?  I like rooting for the Ravens, but I get a feeling that this isn’t going to be a (positively) memorable season for them.  Anything goes once you get the playoffs.  I just worry that they’ll have trouble getting there.

Team MVP – Ray Rice
Breakout Player – Torrey Smith
Disappointment – Bryant McKinnie

3) Cincinnati Bengals

Key Gets – Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RB, Patriots), Terence Newman (CB, Cowboys), Jason Allen (CB, Texans), Kevin Zeitler (G, Wisconsin), Devon Still (DT, Penn State), Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)

Key Gones – Cedric Benson (RB, FA), Andre Caldwell (WR, Broncos), Kelly Jennings (CB, FA), Jerome Simpson (WR, Vikings)

Key Games – wk1 @ Ravens, wk7 v. Steelers, wk9 v. Broncos, wk10 v. Giants, wk13 @ Chargers, wk14 v. Cowboys, wk15 @ Eagles, wk 16 @ Steelers, wk17 v. Ravens

They stink.  They’re good.  They stink.  They’re good.  That’s been the pattern of the Cincinnati Bengals for the last four years.  Coming off a 4-12 season in 2010, the Bengals won 9 games and made the playoffs last year.  The biggest reasons for the turnaround were a pair of rookies – AJ Green and Andy Dalton – who set an NFL record for yards and receptions by a rookie QB and WR combo.  With those two in place for the foreseeable future, the year to year up and down routine should cease.

Dalton entered the league as arguably the most NFL-ready QB in last year’s draft and did nothing to disprove those thoughts.  He’s never going to have the league’s strongest arm, but Dalton’s  intelligence and leadership were on display the entire year as he amassed 20 TDs and nearly 3,400 yards passing.  His #1 target, Green, led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and TDs and is already considered one of the best at his position.  It’s very impressive to have two rookies in those key positions make a pretty seamless transition from the college game to the pros.  They should be fun to watch again this year.  What would really help Green is the emergence of another receiving threat.  I think that guy will be Jermaine Gresham.  He’s been a steady player his first two years as a pro, and I believe he’s a big bodied guy that they need to feature a lot more.  Jordan Shipley isn’t recovered from his ACL injury, and neither Brandon Tate nor Armon Binns strikes me as the Marvin Harrison to Green’s Reggie Wayne.  I don’t see how they can’t feature Gresham.  Cedric Benson is gone after three straight 1,000+ yard rushing seasons.  In his place is former Patriot, BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  I don’t think BJGE is a real upgrade over Benson, but I think you’ll see a more balanced running game with Bernard Scott getting increased touches.  Handling the dirty work is one of the league’s best offensive lines.  They’re more than solid at tackle with one of the game’s more underrated linemen, Andrew Whitworth, on the left and Andre Smith on the right.  Rookie Kevin Zeitler steps in and improves RG, but they’re going to have to play the year without LG Travelle Wharton who recently went down with an ACL injury. 

The key to this defense is their talent and depth up front.  Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are strong pairing inside.  Atkins was an All Pro last year, and it could be argued that Peko played near that level as well.  If they weren’t enough, the Bengals went out and drafted Devon Still and Brandon Thompson this offseason.  At end, Michael Johnson finally showed some of that pass rushing potential, but Carlos Dunalp took a step back.  I look for that latter to be closer to 2010’s 9.5 sacks rather than last year’s 4.5.  Rey Maualuga might be the most popular Bengal linebacker, but Manny Lawson is the most valuable.  He’s always around the football and rarely gets caught out of position.  Cornerback was strengthened this offseason with the drafting of Dre Kirkpatrick and the signing of Jason Allen and Terence Newman in free agency.  I think they’re both nice depth signings.  They also have veteran Nate Clements.  If Leon Hall is unable to make a healthy return from last year’s Achilles injury, they’ll have experienced guys to turn to opposite Kirkpatrick.  I’m not as high on the safeties.  Taylor Mays hasn’t figured out the NFL yet, and Reggie Nelson is still an incomplete player. 

I see the Bengals taking a small step forward this year but falling just behind the Ravens for third place in the division.  I believe their play will improve, but I’m not sure they get to 10 wins or back to the playoffs. 

Team MVP – AJ Green
Breakout Player – Jermaine Gresham
Disappointment – BenJarvus Green-Ellis

4) Cleveland Browns

Key Gets – Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama), Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State), Josh Gordon (WR, Utah)

Key Gone – Peyton Hillis (RB, Chiefs)

Key Games – wk1 v. Eagles, wk2 @ Bengals, wk4 @ Ravens, wk5 @Giants, wk6 v. Bengals, wk8 v. Chargers, wk9 v. Ravens, wk11 @ Cowboys, wk12 v. Steelers, wk16 @ Broncos, wk17 @ Steelers

Cleveland finished 4-12 for the second time in four seasons and has gone a pathetic 18-46 over that span.  The team was recently sold, and the forgetful Mike Holmgren era will undoubtedly soon be a thing of the past.  They couldn’t run the ball.  Peyton Hillis saw his 2010 rushing total cut in half during a season that saw him injured and in a contentious relationship with management.  They couldn’t throw it.  Of the league’s QBs with over 400 pass attempts, only Blaine Gabbert threw for less yards than Colt McCoy.  They couldn’t catch it.  Greg Little led the way with 61 receptions which put him 41st in the league, tied with Kansas City’s #2 receiver, Steve Breaston, and Buffalo’s #2 receiver, David Nelson.  The picture above says it all.

They’ve attempted to rectify their offensive woes this offseason by addressing their skilled position deficiencies.  Brandon Weeden, the 28 year old rookie from Oklahoma State, already has the starting job.  He’ll be an improvement over McCoy, but I don’t think he’ll have as much early success as the two other QBs taken before him in the draft.  Trent Richardson goes from the NCAA’s best back to Cleveland’s savior.  If the Browns are going to put many points on the board this year, Richardson will need to live up to his billing.  He recently underwent a knee scope, so that will be worth watching as the regular season nears.  Whether he’s running hot or cold, Richardson is going to be the focus of the offense.  They don’t have any other option.  Joining Little at receiver is supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon.  Cleveland spend a 2nd round pick on the receiver and will expect him to join Little in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.  The most proven part of the offense heading into the season is the men doing the blocking up front.  Left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack are among the best at their positions, and drafting Mitchell Schwartz will give them an upgrade at right tackle. 

The defense isn’t in as bad a shape as the offense.  They were a top ten unit last year and finished second in the league against the pass.   Their biggest problem is that they were among the worst in the league at stopping the run, and losing Phil Taylor for most of the season with a torn pectoral isn’t going to help things.  Left end Jabaal Sheard was the most consistent defensive lineman and was dominant at times in accumulating his 8.5 sacks which was good for second best ever by a Browns rookie.  D’Qwell Jackson is a real asset when healthy, and he made it through last year unscathed.  Cleveland rewarded him with a large contract.  They were dealt a blow in the preseason when Chris Gocong suffered a torn Achilles which will cause him to miss the season.  Gocong isn’t a spectacular player, but he did a lot of the dirty work and teamed well with Jackson.  The guys flanking Jackson with year will be under a microscope.  In the secondary, teams avoid Joe Haden about as much as they do Darrelle Revis.  The problem is that no one else is creating turnovers.  They finished with 9 INTs which was 22 less than the Packers had.  With more balls coming their way due to teams shying away from Haden, Cleveland defensive backs need to create more takeaways. 

They’re counting on a bunch of rookies on offense and are already losing players on defense before the season starts.  Barring a collapse by the Ravens or Bengals, I don’t see any way this team doesn’t finish in the basement. 

Team MVP – Joe Haden
Breakout Player – Greg Little
Disappointment – Brandon Weeden

Division MVP – Ray Rice
Division Breakout Player – Torrey Smith
Division Disappointment – Brandon Weeden

Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 NFL Predictions - AFC East

 1) New England Patriots

Key Gets – Brandon Lloyd (WR, Rams), Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse), Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama), Bobby Carpenter (LB, Lions)

Key Gones – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (RB, Bengals), Andre Carter (DE, FA), Mark Anderson (DE, Bills)

Key Games – wk3 @ Ravens, wk4 @ Bills, wk5 v. Broncos, wk7 v. Jets, wk 8 @ Rams, wk10 v. Bills, wk 12 @ Jets, wk 14 v. Texans, wk 15 v. 49ers

If only Wes Welker had made just one more catch.  It was 2nd and 11 with just over 4 minutes to go in Super Bowl XLVI when Welker got free behind the Giant secondary and dropped a pass he’d hauled in countless times before at New York’s 20.  Unable to convert, the Patriots punted the ball away and for the second time in five years fell victim to an Eli Manning Super Bowl comeback victory.  So the question I have is this – Do the Patriots get off the canvas and back to the top of the conference, or is it someone else’s time.  HoustonPittsburgh

Despite the presence of arguably the game’s best tight end, Rob Gronkowski, and fellow phenom Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady suffered (if you can say a 13-3 team suffered) from the lack of a vertical threat.  Enter Brandon Lloyd.  The veteran receiver follows former coach Josh McDaniels to the Patriots and gives the Patriots the most legit receiver they’ve had opposite Welker since before Moss quit trying.  The sky is the limit for Lloyd in this offense, but I think the star of the show is going to be Hernandez.  I look for the third year tight end to be nearly uncoverable.  Speaking of Welker, one has to wonder if watching both of the tight ends land big extensions will have any effect on his play.  Welker is 31, and if Lloyd makes the impact I expect he will, the Patriots might watch Welker walk next March.  Second year back Stevan Ridley figures to take over the bulk of the backfield work with BenJarvus Green-Ellis moving on to Cincinnati.  Assisting Brady and the run game is quite possibly the league’s deepest offensive line.  Nate Solder slides in at left tackle for the retired Matt Light, but the rest of the unit returns intact.  I fully expect Brady to have another MVP caliber season, and the play of his offensive line should be a key factor in him doing so. 

The defense got a much needed boost on April 26 when Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower became Patriots.  Jones is the guy I mocked going to the Jaguars at #7 overall as someone with a huge upside and ability to contribute right away.  Bill Belichick is counting on him doing just that as Jones steps into the starting spot vacated by Andre Carter.  I see him finishing in the top five in Defensive ROY voting at the end of the season.  Hightower looks to contribute right away as well.  He’ll bring his versatility and physicality to a group that already consists of standout Jerod Mayo and another intense linebacker in Brandon Spikes.  You can’t not mention Vince Wilfork, the big man in the middle still demanding double teams.  Things aren’t as rosy in the secondary.  Devin McCourty fell off in a big way in his sophomore season, and Ras-I Dowling couldn’t shake a hip injury and end up missing almost all season.  Kyle Arrington and his NFL leading 8 INTs are certainly a bright spot, and if Alfonzo Dennard can behave and get over a training camp hamstring problem he could be a draft day steal.  At safety, Patrick Chung hasn’t yet reached the level I expected he would by now.  He’s likely to be flanked at free safety by free agent signee Steve Gregory; a versatile veteran who projects well in this scheme. 

Last year they went 13-3 with a subpar secondary and a pass rush led by two guys who are no longer on the team (Andre Carter and Mark Anderson).  I think they’re better at RB with Vereen, obviously better at receiver with Lloyd over the pedestrian Deion Branch and Chad Johnson, and rejuvenated up front defensively with Jones and Hightower.  It would be a disappointment if they didn’t again reach the conference title game.  

Team MVP – Tom Brady
Breakout Player – Chandler Jones
Disappointment – Wes Welker

2) Buffalo Bills

Key Gets – Mario Williams (LB, Texans), Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina), Cordy Glenn (OL, Georgia), Mark Anderson (DE, Patriots), Nigel Bradham (LB, FSU), Zebrie Sanders (T, FSU)

Key Gones – Demetrius Bell (T, Eagles)

Kay Games – wk1 @ Jets, wk4 v. Patriots, wk5 @ 49ers, wk9 @ Texans, wk10 @ Patriots, wk14 v. Rams, wk17 v. Jets

Buffalo started 5-2 last year, including victories over New England and Philadelphia, but it was all downhill from there.  The Bills went 1-8 the rest of the way, losing 7 in a row for most of that stretch and finished in last place.  In a completely related event, Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled through the second half for the second year in a row and led the league in INTs with 23.  For some perspective, the offensive line led the league in sacks allowed with, yes, 23.  That tells me Fitzpatrick is simply making poor decisions with the football.  The defense was a sieve, allowing the most yards per game in team history.  They were also among the league’s worst at getting after the passer.  Will things be different in 2012?

Fred Jackson returns from a broken leg and teams with CJ Spiller to give the Bills a solid rushing combo.  Spiller more than held his own in Jackson’s absence, showing the rushing and receiving skills the Bills thought they were getting when taking him 9th overall in 2010.  Stevie Johnson returns as the #1 receiver with Donald Jones and David Nelson vying for the other starting spot.  Johnson topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season but didn’t take his game to the next level as hoped.  After signing a big extension in March, will he be content with where his is as a player, or will he take that next step?  Up front, they’re really large at tackle with rookie LT Cordy Glenn and RT Erik Pears.  This is an underrated unit that should be even better with the acquisition of Glenn and the return to health of center Eric Wood.  The success of this offense will hinge upon the decision making of Fitzpatrick. 

One way to address defensive deficiencies is to replace the coordinator.  They did that by hiring veteran coach Dave Wannstedt.  Another way to get better is to get yourself a game changing force.  They did that by signing Mario Williams in free agency.  The former Texan heads north and will be the marquee player on this squad.  In Buffalo Williams returns to a 4-3 scheme more suiting his skills and will be lining up next to promising tackle Marcell Dareus.  In the secondary, 2012 draftee Stephon Gilmore steps in as a starter across 2011 draftee Aaron Williams giving the Bills two potential long term fixtures at corner.  If those two can handle themselves on the boundaries Mario Williams will reap the benefits.  The key to this defense though may be MLB Kelvin Sheppard, the second year player from LSU.  The Bills are really excited the fast and physical backer. 

If all goes according to plan, the Bills will lean heavily on Jackson and Spiller in the ground game.  I believe Fitzpatrick can lead this team to the playoffs, but he’s got to significantly cut down on the turnovers, especially if the defense doesn’t make strides.  If the defense does stiffen, the Bills should be in line for a shot at their first playoff appearance since 1999.  

Team MVP – Fred Jackson
Breakout Player – Kelvin Sheppard
Disappointment – Leodis McKelvin

3) New York Jets

Key Gets – Tim Tebow (QB, Broncos), LaRon Landry (S, Redskins), Yeremiah Bell (S, Dolphins), Quinton Coples (DE, UNC), Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech), Demario Davis (LB, Arkansas St)

Key Gones – LaDainian Tomlinson (RB, FA), Plaxico Burress (WR, FA), Jim Leonhard (S, Broncos)

Key Games – wk1 v. Bills, wk2 @ Steelers, wk4 v. 49ers, wk5 v. Texans, wk7 @ Patriots, wk11 @ Rams, wk16 v. Chargers, wk17 @ Bills

Last year saw the Jets finish 8-8, the team’s worst record since 2007, and miss the conference championship game for the first time in the last three seasons.  They suffered through two separate three game losing streaks and were a meager 2-6 away from home. 

Offensively, Mark Sanchez threw 9 more TDs than the previous season but also tossed 5 more INTs as well.  I’m still not a fan, and I don’t see how he’s going to get any better with the Teblow sideshow coming to town.  Shonn Greene achieved 1K for the first time in his career, but he’s a limited runner who might have already shown his potential.  Gone are veterans Plaxico Burress and LaDainian Tomlinson, and the lone proven wide receiver, Santonio Holmes is sidelined this preseason with a rib injury.  Will Stephen Hill be a reliable weapon in his first season?  Dustin Keller has increased his seen his production go up over the last three seasons, but are the Jets getting any better with him as the center of the passing game?  Up front, Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson are still among the game’s elite at their positions, but the rest of the unit makes you cringe.  Matt Slauson was basically handed his old job because Vladimir Ducasse has been too big of a bust to replace him, and RT Wayne Hunter is arguably the game’s worst starting tackle. 

The defense doesn’t appear to be sprinting in the right direction either.  Darrelle Revis remains one of the game’s best, but there were rumblings of a holdout this offseason due to unhappiness about a contract to which there remains two years.  I see things getting worse rather than better in this situation.  David Harris remains the stabilizing force of the defense, but he doesn’t appear to be taking his game to the next level.  The situation at safety was atrocious, so they brought in LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell.  The former still isn’t completely back from his Achilles injury.  On the positive side, Sione Pouha and Muhammad Wilkerson are two strong forces up front, and Quinton Coples has earned positive reviews so far.  In the pass rushing department, Calvin Pace should do better now that he appears to be healthy, and Aaron Maybin was a pleasant surprise.  The latter could be even more dangerous with a full training camp under his belt.

The QB situation wreaks of controversy, and I don’t believe Greene is a back this team is going to be able to lean on to get them back to the top of the AFC.  Will the offensive line’s play improve?  Will the Revis situation become an in-season distraction?  I think there’s too much going against this team to get them back to contention this season.  Hey they’ll sell jerseys though. 

Team MVP – Darrelle Revis
Breakout Player – Muhammad Wilkerson
Disappointment – Shonn Greene


4) Miami Dolphins

Key Gets – Ryan Tennehill (QB, Texas A&M), David Garrard (QB, Jaguars), Richard Marshall (CB, Cardinals), Jonathan Martin (T, Stanford), Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri), Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)

Key Gones – Yeremiah Bell (S, Jets), Chad Henne (QB, Jaguars)

Key Games – wk1 @ Houston, wk3 v. Jets, wk5 @ Bengals, wk6 v. Rams, wk 8 @ Jets, wk11 @ Bills, wk13 v. Patriots, wk14 @ 49ers, wk16 v. Bills, wk17 @ Patriots

The Tony Sparano era is over.  After an 11-5 record and playoff berth in his first season as head coach in 2008, the Dolphins went 18-27 the rest of his tenure with three straight losing seasons making that five sub .500 seasons in the last six years.  What can Joe Philbin bring to the table? 

When analyzing any team’s offense one has to first look at the QB position, and even the most optimistic fan would struggle to find a lot of good things to say about their starter.  David Garrard was the #1 in camp, but he went down with a knee injury.  Matt Moore was outplayed by a guy who was out of the league last year, and he’ll likely start week one and every week after until Philbin is ready to hand things over to Ryan Tennehill.  Reggie Bush rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career that he’s rejuvenated in Miami.  He’s the lead rusher ahead of the disappointing Daniel Thomas and promising prospect Lamar Miller.  They may have rid themselves of Brandon Marshall and his problems, but that doesn’t make them any better on the field.  Chad Johnson was signed to ease the on-field loss, but he got dropped after headbutting his wife.  Davone Bess has been a reliable receiver, but he’s not a big playmaker.  Brian Hartline and Legedu Naanee would struggle to shine with Aaron Rodgers getting them the football.  Now throw a rookie under center.  Speaking of centers, the Dolphins are strong there with Mike Pouncey and even stronger with a now healthy Jake Long at left tackle.  In the draft they grabbed Jonathan Martin to upgrade right tackle.  Talented guard John Jerry is getting his ass kicked on Hard Knocks.  Philbin is implementing a zone blocking scheme, so even if everyone’s healthy, they’ll still be learning a new scheme.

Speaking of new schemes, the Dolphins have switched to a 4-3 defense, and I believe it’s going to have its own give and take.  I think the transition will be a success in the pass rushing department.  Cameron Wake was a solid outside linebacker, and he should be even more disruptive playing end, a position he played successfully in the CFL.  
It’s the run defense that concerns me.  They were good against the run in the old scheme, but will that carry over seamlessly in the new defense?  Are Paul Soliai and Randy Starks better off  as 4-3 tackles?  Karlos Dansby will be a stud wherever you line him up, but Koa Misi and Kevin Burnett are uninspiring on the outside.  At corner, Sean Smith has settled in nicely in one spot, but Vontae Davis was deep in the doghouse and eventually dealt to Indianapolis.  The capable Richard Marshall will take his spot.  Will Yeremiah Bell’s loss be felt on the back end?

In my opinion the Dolphins are clearly the fourth best in their division.  They’re implementing new offenses and defenses and have too many questions in key positions. It’s going to be another long year on South Beach

Team MVP – Reggie Bush
Breakout Player – Jared Odrick
Disappointment – Their Entire Passing Game

Division MVP – Tom Brady
Division Breakout Player – Chandler Jones
Division Disappointment – Shonn Greene