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Schultz: Patriots still the frontrunners in AFC East

Chris Schultz
8/26/2013 4:22:40 PM
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Reason for Pessimism:  When you lose two of the best tight ends in football, you are not going to replace them in one year. How can New England lead the league again in points (34 per game) and yards (427.9 per game) and improve the secondary (29th in pass defence)?  It's not going to happen. There are high expectations for Danny Amendola, but he has only played 12 games in the last two years so durability is an issue. Do they really expect Aaron Dobson (2nd round) and Josh Boyce (4th round) to have instant success as receivers? Tom Brady has said he wants to play well into his 40s and that is great, but first you have to get through the natural regression of being in your mid-30s.

Reason for Optimism:  In the last five years, the Patriots have won 11, 10, 14, 13 and 12 regular season games. They are masters at overcoming adversity. Tom Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 48 straight regular season games -- only six behind the record set by Drew Brees. He will make the receivers look good -- even the rookies. Also, 15 of 16 games for New England are on the East Coast. That's a good travel schedule.

Reality:  In an odd way, this may be a rejuvenation year for New England and specifically Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. It is a new challenge to develop new talent that will rise to the surface as the season progresses. Nobody ran more plays than the Patriots did last year. They can do it again this year.

Prediction:  First in the AFC East.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Reason for Pessimism:  I have a theory about football. I think that it is easier and more effective to build a winner by collecting a group of good football players as opposed to trying to overspend on major talent at key positions. My theory is to be tested in Miami, as nobody spent money on free agency like the Dolphins did last year. On paper this is an outstanding team, but will they play well together and surpass the Patriots for dominance in the division? We saw this story last year with the Buffalo Bills as they opened the bank to improve the defensive line and finished the 2012 season 31st against the run. Still, the additions of Mike Wallace, Darnell Ellerbe, and Brent Grimes are impressive, but how it all meshes is still to be proven. And not having Jake Long at left tackle is a void and young Jonathon Martin is a project as a replacement.

Reason for optimism:  Ryan Tannehill is for real. The Dolphins have been searching for the next Dan Marino since the day he retired, and Tannehill is the best possibility in many years.  Also, the Dolphins have not had a better 3rd down pass rush since the days of the "Killer Bees" of the ‘80s. Cam Wake is proven and may be the most explosive athlete as a defensive end in football. And Dion Jordan has the athletic gifts to be a taller version of Cam Wake. Third down is the most critical down in football and success depends on the quarterback and the pass rush -- the Dolphins have both.

Reality:  Miami has closed the gap of talent between themselves and New England, but until a Joe Philbin team can beat a Bill Belichick team twice in one year, you have to favour the Pats. I still look at Miami as a playoff team, but not necessarily a division winner.

Prediction:  2nd in the AFC East.

BUFFALO BILLS

Reason for Pessimism:  It has been 13 seasons since the Buffalo Bills have made the playoffs -- 13. That is a longer absence that any other team, and only Oakland and Cleveland are close with 10. That's a stark reality. Last year they were 31st against the run and 30th on third down defence. It is unrealistic to think that will improve so dramatically as to become a top 10 defence in one season. Yes, the do have a new coordinator in Mike Pettine -- formally of the Jets -- but he has them switching to a 3-4 defence. Do they have the type of talent play that scheme? Year 14 without playoff is a real possibility.

Reason for Optimism:  E.J. Manuel has all the physical skills to be a very good quarterback. Coming from Florida State, he knows how to handle pressure and good competition. C.J. Spiller could be the next Thurman Thomas . He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and is a complete back. And finally, Doug Marrone seems like a good fit. Yes, he coming to the pros from Syracuse University, but from 2006 to 2008 he was with the Saints and Sean Payton. He is a pro coach that tried college, not a college coach trying the pro game. 

Reality:  This is a 3rd place team. There's too much change in one year and no guarantee that an expensive defensive line will play like the Cincinnati Bengals. I thought the Bills drafted well, especially getting 2nd round pick Robert Woods of USC to compliment Stevie Johnson.  But unless Manuel becomes the next Colin Kaepernick, this is a rebuilding year again in Buffalo.

Prediction: 3rd in AFC East.

NEW YORK JETS

Reason for Pessimism:  Drama, drama and more drama. The New York Jets have evolved into a walking, talking soap opera more than a well-run, efficient football team. Mark Sanchez does not look confident and expecting rookie Geno Smith to be the next RG3 or Andrew Luck is unrealistic. Also Dee Milliner has to be the next Derrell Revis, but he won't be. In the month of October, the Jets play at Atlanta , Pittsburgh, New England, at Cincinnati and New Orleans. By then we will know who the quarterback is for 2013, but that is an insurmountable challenge. With limited wide receiver depth and talent, this season depends on "ground and pound" but every defence in the NFL knows it.  Six players left in free agency -- their top running back and two safeties are no longer Jets. It is a re-building time in New York.

Reason for Optimism:  Rex Ryan is in the last year of his contract. If Geno Smith beats out Mark Sanchez, then the Jets have a salary cap problem.  With Ryan and Sanchez having a sense of urgency to stay in the NFL with this organization, you would think they should produce results. In some ways it is a fresh start with Marty Mornhinweg as the new offensive coordinator and Dennis Thurman on defense. If Chris Ivory has a great year at running back, so do the Jets. They must master a running attack like they did in 2009 and 2010 when they went to the AFC championship game. Ivory seems capable.

Reality: Eleven players, all starters or significant contributors, left the Jets for various reasons. One may be that they did not believe the team would turn the corner in any tangible way. That was probably good thinking. The window of opportunity has closed for the Jets, Jets, Jets.

Prediction:  4th in the AFC East.

Chris Schultz

Chris Schultz

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