New England Patriots– The Patriots look good for a fifth straight divisional title in the AFC East which lacks any other serious playoff contenders. They suffered a reverse at the hands of an inspired Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship last year having lost the Superbowl the previous year. Once again they look to have too much for their divisional foes although whether they have improved on last year’s team has to be in serious doubt.
Offensively the Patriots led the league in both scoring and offensive yards in 2012 but their arsenal of weapons looks severely depleted in 2013. Losing 100 plus catches a year from Wes Welker hurts, his ability to get open is unparalleled and although replacement Danny Amendola is a similar type of receiver his health and overall production both leave something to be desired by comparison. Another huge loss was jailed Aaron Hernandez, his murder charge has surely hurt the whole organisation and the Patriots dynamic duo of tight ends is no more. With all-pro Rob Gronkowski struggling to overcome a slew of injuries it appears Brady may have to lean heavily on rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce and will also need more from versatile Julian Edelman. Bruising LeGarrette Blount comes in to help Stevan Ridley who had a breakout 2012 and Shane Vereen who emerged in the playoffs, the loss of pocket rocket Danny Woodhead will hurt on third downs although Vereen has potential for that spot. Anchored by one of the league’s best offensive lines the Patriots should again be amongst the team’s best offenses but whether they are quite the force of old is in doubt.
It is obvious after two defense heavy drafts that Bill Belichick believes the Patriots defense is their weakness and he is actively trying to address a unit that hasn’t been championship calibre in recent years. Vince Wilfork remains one of the premier defensive tackles in the league but his new partner in crime Tommy Kelly is a questionable acquisition from Oakland. Breakout candidate Chandler Jones and underrated Rob Ninkovich lead the pass rushers and should get help from rookie second rounder Jamie Collins. On the face of it a quartet of Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Devin McCourty and newly acquired Adrian Wilson shouldn’t rank as low as 29th against the pass again. Rookie Logan Ryan adds depth but the secondary will again need more help upfront to hold up, particularly against the league’s more potent passing attacks. The unit on paper looks better than last year’s 25th ranked squad but make no mistake, they will give up plenty of points and yards.
2013 Predicted wins– 11-12
Playoff Prediction– Again likely to reach the AFC championship but don’t look as strong as the likes of Denver so can’t see them making the Superbowl.
Miami Dolphins– Mediocrity has become the norm in Miami although owner Stephen Ross and General Manager Jeff Ireland are doing their very best to end that. Big money acquisitions Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Dustin Keller are joined by third overall pick Dion Jordan on a roster which appears far more blessed with top end talent than in recent years. Of course second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s progression will be all important although the old cliché ‘they will go as far as he takes them’ isn’t quite accurate.
Ranked 27th in total offense last year former Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman’s unit should be improved and have to be if the Dolphins are to get anywhere near the playoffs. Ryan Tannehill is vital to that improvement, he was uneven as you would expect from a very inexperienced rookie last year (just one season as a college QB). He does possess all the physical attributes required for the position and his attitude is impressive. If he can take the expected step forward this could be a vastly improved offense in 2013. He should certainly be helped by the free agent addition of Mike Wallace, one of the league’s fastest wide receivers. Wallace should form an effective tandem with Brian Hartline who had a career year in 2012 and seemed to have great chemistry with Tannehill from the start; they look the ideal duo of the possession receiver in Hartline and the playmaker in Wallace. New tight end Dustin Keller should also be an upgrade; he often flattered to deceive in New York but has the athletic ability to breakout. Losing the dynamic Reggie Bush is a blow so second year man Lamar Miller looks set to get the majority of carries although Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee should both get plenty of touches also. On the offensive line, the loss of former first overall pick Jake Long will be evaluated by how well second year man Jonathan Martin plays in his spot. Veteran Tyson Clabo will move into the right tackle spot whilst a young interior is led by third year pro bowl possible Mike Pouncey. The offense must be improved and they are banking on their big money free agent additions along with improvement from Tannehill to make it happen. Enthusiasm is tempered by a pair of new tackles and the lack of a proven playmaker in the backfield however so I don’t see a top 16 offense.
Defensively the Dolphins bend but don’t break style has been pretty effective in the past couple of seasons. Ranking sixth and seventh in points allowed is an excellent return but their 327 yards per game allowed last year along with just 10 interceptions showed improvement was still needed. All-pro pass rusher Cameron Wake is the star man and should at last get some help in the form of rookie Dion Jordan. A dynamic Jason Pierre-Paul type athlete, Jordan could easily be a rookie of the year candidate. Inside, the enormous Paul Soliai and underrated Randy Starks are an excellent tandem. With Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett gone and replaced by versatile Phillip Wheeler and improving Dannell Ellerbe the Dolphins again have a decent linebacking unit. The weakness of the defense looks to be corner, Brent Grimes replaces Sean Smith but the team needs rookie Jamar Taylor to start and produce from day one, there is little depth so team’s will attack with spread offenses and pressurise this group. Safeties Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones provide stability but the secondary is still a concern. Defensively Miami have a strong front seven and if Jordan can be effective they could have one of the league’s best pass rushing tandems but their secondary could be found out by New England, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore.
2013 Predicted wins– 7-8
Playoff Prediction– Would need to win all the close ones to make the playoffs but realistically don’t look ready to make it there this season.
New York Jets- The Big Apple’s best known soap opera looks set to continue at pace in 2013. Tim Tebow leaves his starring role but rookie Geno Smith can take his place. Brash, abrasive head coach Rex Ryan enters the final year of his contract and his team has been in steady decline the past couple of years. With star player Darrelle Revis gone the team is extremely light on pro-bowl talent and is set for another year of quarterback conundrums and catastrophes. New general managers normally mean new head coaches and barring a big turnaround this looks set to be Ryan’s last season of a head coaching stint that promised so much but ultimately failed to deliver.
The only place to start when looking at the Jets is the quarterback position. Former first round pick Mark Sanchez has been a bust considering what the Jets traded to get him. In his first couple of seasons as a game manager he was able to get by but under pressure he has been shown up time and again. Even so he is the clubhouse leader at the position over Geno Smith who was the second quarterback drafted in a much maligned class. Much like last year the volatile Jets fans will soon start to scream for Sanchez out when times get hard and Smith will take Tebow’s place as the reputed saviour. He is likely to get game time this year but in reality isn’t ready for a starting role. Whoever is under center will struggle for targets, talented trouble causer Santonio Holmes is recovering from season ending foot surgery while second year man Stephen Hill is still a raw talent rather than a reliable target. Jeremy Kerley is a solid if undersized target while Jeff Cumberland looks set to get the starting tight end role despite ability wise looking no better than a backup. Last year’s leading rusher Shonn Greene is gone but similar styled Chris Ivory arrives from New Orleans via trade. Ivory, a big bruising runner is favourite to start. Another new addition Mike Goodson is more versatile and should at least get third down duties if not the starting role. Left Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Center Nick Mangold are both amongst the league’s best but the rest of the line is in transition. An offense that ranked 30th overall last year and the same in passing again looks woefully devoid of talent and teams are sure to focus hard on the running game with eight in the box.
The Jets defense perennially carries the offense as it did in 2012 and will again be expected to be elite. Unfortunately being the solid unit that it was in 2012 won’t be enough, Rex Ryan needs to return his defense to being a real elite group but with shutdown corner Darrelle Revis gone they have lost a huge part of Ryan’s better defenses. His place goes to ninth overall pick Dee Milliner out of Alabama, a big corner who excels in man coverage although not quite to Revis level. Antonio Cromartie had his best season for many a year in 2012 and should again be a strong presence opposite Milliner. Free agent acquisition Dawan Landry and second year man Josh Bush look to be the starters at safety but neither inspire confidence. Antwan Barnes was a nice acquisition from San Diego who should help a workmanlike linebacking corps. A steady flow of new, high draft picks on the defensive line has left plenty of talent there with Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson all set to get time at defensive end and Kenrick Ellis likely to take over the starting nose tackle job from departed Sione Pouha. With Ryan back calling the defense this unit will as usual be a strong one but lack of an elite pass rusher hurts and they won’t likely get much rest either.
2013 Predicted wins– 5-6
Playoff Prediction– Ryan’s defenses have led the Jets to the playoffs in the past but with so little offensive talent it is hard to envisage a repeat.
Buffalo Bills– It seems the Bills latest rebuilding process starts every year and 2013 is no different. Former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone is the latest new head coach but talk of superbowls is hardly likely to excite a Bills fanbase used to big promises and small performance. With a three way quarterback battle and a whole slew of veterans released to be replaced by rookies this team is once again back to the start of a rebuilding process. Hopefully for their long suffering fans the Bills will finally come good and start to build something of promise for the future in 2013.
The aforementioned three way quarterback battle is between former Philadelphia backup and brief Arizona starter Kevin Kolb, journeyman veteran Tarvaris Jackson and EJ Manuel, the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2013 draft. Manuel is the future but Kolb looks the favourite for now, he was viewed as a certain starter back in his Philly days but took an almighty beating in his two years in Arizona. A pocket passer lacking Manuel’s physical tools, I would expect Kolb to start but Manuel to come in in the second half of the season for Buffalo to see what it has. The strength of the Bills offense is the running game led by CJ Spiller who had a breakout year in 2012 despite injuries. Veteran Fred Jackson is a good compliment to the explosive Spiller but what is on the face of it one of the league’s strongest duos is weakened by the fact that both are injury prone. Stevie Johnson is far and away the Bills best receiver and should again comfortably top 1000 yards receiving. With eyes on the future second and third round draftees Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin and second year wideout TJ Graham will all get plenty of playing time and battle for the second receiver slot, Buffalo has to hit on at least one of this physically gifted trio. Big bodied tight end Scott Chandler is an endzone target but not a dynamic playmaker by any means and he is recovering from a major knee injury. The offensive line is one of the league’s better units, tackles Cody Glenn and Erik Pears, center Eric Wood and guard Kraig Urbik are a strong quartet, they must replace the departed Andy Levitre (Tennessee) but have several candidates to do so. A much changed unit and with eyes on the future the Bills offense isn’t expected to be a major force although both Johnson and Spiller are dynamic playmakers likely to make their share of highlight reels again.
Defensively Buffalo appointed former Jets coordinator Mike Pettine to try and turnaround a woeful unit. Six veteran starters departed, just two came in plus three rookie draft picks. $100 million dollar man Mario Williams is again faced with the same 3-4 scheme which saw him as an inbetweener in Houston and led to his departure. Kyle Williams, former Seahawk Alan Branch and Marcell Dareus form an impressive looking defensive line with Mario Williams likely to rotate his position but basically just get after the quarterback in a scheme where blitzing should be heavy and often. It is to be hoped that free agent acquisition Manny Lawson (Cincinnati) and rookie Kiko Alonso can breathe life into a distinctly average group of linebackers. Second year corner Stephon Gilmore impressed as a rookie and Leodis McKelvin is also pretty solid. Safety Jairus Byrd is one of the league’s best and a real ballhawk, Aaron Williams looks likely to move into the spot alongside but must prove his physicality for the role. This unit boasts some elite talents but must fill some holes also, particularly in the linebacking corps. They can’t afford to rank 31 against the rush again and must also improve their pass rush but a strong secondary and new scheme give them hope.
2013 Predicted wins– 4-5
Playoff Prediction– Inconceivable that Buffalo play on into January.