Since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2001, they’ve failed to win the AFC East twice (’02 Jets, ’08 Dolphins). That’s the basic question when you look at the division; can you make a case for another team winning it? The Patriots early Super Bowl run has dried up during this stretch of division dominance. Since their ’04 championship, they’ve made it back to the big game twice, only to lose to the Giants both games.
Vegas has the rest of the division slotted under 8 wins, not a promising sign that the Bills, Dolphins or Jets will take down the Pats this season. Every year in the NFL, surprise teams make big time improvements in the standings and make the playoffs. Can any of the other three team make the playoffs, via the wildcard or by knocking off Brady and Belichick? Let’s take a gander, as the east draws the NFC North and the AFC West this season.
Win totals are from www.scoresandodds.com. Win total posted with juice on the over and under, respectively.
Miami Dolphins 7.5 wins (-105/-115): An up and down year landed on 8-8 for Miami last season. A 3-0 start turned into 5-6, before the Fins won three straight and were in the playoff chase. Then, in games against the Bills and Jets, they combined for 7 points, losing both (of course) and ending the year on a very flat note. The Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying scandal broke in the middle of the season, which was a major distraction. Given all this team went through, that 8-8 record is respectable. This team also played a ton of close games, going 6-4 in games decided by six points or less.
Having a distraction like the bullying fiasco is bad enough, but having it within your offensive line is especially crippling. The numbers don’t lie, as Ryan Tannehill was sacked 58 times, most in the league. Besides the OLine issues, Tannehill doesn’t have many weapons to help his cause. Mike Wallace was brought on to add speed and a deep threat to the offense, but ended up having a season pretty comparable to fellow pass catchers Brian Hartline and Charles Clay. Less than 1,000 yards receiving and five touchdowns is not what Miami had in mind when they shelled out the big contract to Wallace. Redskins fans should be wary, DeSean Jackson could be a similar disappointment. Paying big bucks for a one trick pony WR is typically not a wise investment. The Dolphins did try to address the OLine and rush game this offseason, with the additions of Branden Albert on the line and Knowshow Moreno in the backfield. They also addressed the line in the draft. Lamar Miller was their leading rusher last year, with only 700 yards. We like what we’ve seen from Tannehill and feel that if he can get some more support from the rest of the offense, he could be a pretty productive signal caller.
Defensively, the loss of Paul Soliai is a big one. The NT was a big part of stopping the run and eating up blockers for the Miami front seven. It’ll be interesting to see how much the elite pass rushing duo of Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake miss the big man in front of them. Inside backers like Koa Misi and and Dannell Ellerbe will also feel the pinch, if a suitable replacement isn’t found for Soliai, as they look to stop the oppositions run game. Brent Grimes is the bright spot in the secondary, after coming over from Atlanta in 2013. The Dolphins locked him up to a longer deal, after a great 2013 in South Florida.
The Dolphins have an unorthodox schedule, with a “road” game versus the Raiders in London the last weekend of September, followed by a week five bye. Miami is a strange team, in that they really don’t play any better at home than on the road, so trying to find a strong trend with the layout of the schedule is pointless. Lately, they’ve also been a team that wins games you thought they had no shot at, and loses games they were favored to win. They also don’t particularly own anyone in their division, with only one sweep of a season series within the AFC East since the start of the 2010 season (Swept the Bills in ’11).
Gun to head: As we’ve seen already with this division previews, there are a lot of teams like Miami in the parody plagued NFL. Some nice pieces, some reason for concern and a win total set right around eight wins. This is an improved division from last year, tough to see eight wins for Miami. Under 7.5 it is.
Our own free will: Another coin flip. Thanks, but no thanks. Pass.
Buffalo Bills 6.5 wins (-140/+120): The price on this over came down, which is OK by us, because we are bullish on the Bills this year with such a low number. Let’s talk about that front seven. Three guys with double digit sacks are back this season: Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes. They are also moving Manny Lawson into the defensive end rotation, after he had one of the best seasons of his career last season and enters a contract year. The 3rd pick of the 2011 draft, Pro Bowler Marcell Darius is also in the rotation, as is former Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who is great against the run. The secondary is solid, with former first rounders Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin at the corner positions. Jim Schwartz comes over after he was fired as the Lions coach to sit as Defensive Coordinator. He must be licking his chops with the talent he inherited. We absolutely love this defense and it’s the main reason we like Buffalo to go over 6.5 wins.
On offense, it’s up to E.J. Manuel (from? Virginia Beach). The Bills got aggressive in the draft to acquire Sammy Watkins at WR. Paired with another former Clemson Tiger (C.J. Spiller), the Bills have some big time speed at a couple skill positions. Manuel struggled at times last year, and missed five games with a knee injury. A four INT stinker at Tampa late in season really killed his stat line for the year. He’ll be in the same offense for a second consecutive season, as will 2nd year WR Robert Woods, who had a promising rookie season in 2013. The offensive line was an issue last year, and hasn’t been upgraded much. That unit is one of the glaring issues on the team.
The schedule is very manageable. One disappointment for Bills Backers is there is only one home game in December. What will make the Buffalo fans smile, is that there is no bastardized home game in Toronto this season. Buffalo really needs to target the middle of their schedule, where they play five home games over eight weeks. The other three weeks are a bye week and trips to Miami and New York to face the Jets, places they haven’t had major issues winning in the past.
Gun to head: Over all day. Love this play
Our own free will: Lock it up, the over is a bargain, just like the price of the team evidently.
New England Patriots 10.5 wins (-200/+170): So, about that price tag. The last time Belichick/Brady didn’t win 10+ games? That would be 2002.
Of course, 10-6 would be a loser here. During the streak, they have gone 10-6 twice. Wanna try and roll the dice on the under against those odds? Paying 2 to 1 is a steep price, one we can’t advise paying on a season total.
The Pats are the Pats, they added Darelle Revis, who like all the other Pats free agent signing through the years, will have a career year. Brandon Browner at the other corner will be a problem for teams as well; he came over from Seattle but will have to serve a four game drug suspension because, well…he came over from Seattle.
The Pats get a bye at the perfect time this season, right after Denver at home and right before a four week stretch that has road trips to San Diego, Indy and Green Bay.
Sorry guys, but it’s retreading old ground talking about this team. It’s been the same team, more or less, for 12 years. Do you want to pay 2 to 1 to have a little something extra to root for when Brady is leading a 4th quarter come from behind drive? That’s the question.
Gun to head: Under! Wait what?! Yep. Look at that offense, and take away Brady. It’s hideous. There is so much pass rush in the AFC East, we’ll take the +170 and bet that Tom Bundchen misses some time. Plus, screw the Pats.
Our own free will: The under, what the hell. Smallish play.
New York Jets 7 wins (-130/+110): After an overachieving 2013 season, where the Jets won their last two games to make it to 8-8 and save Rex Ryan’s job, Vegas pegs them at seven wins this season. If (big, big IF) they get solid QB play from either Michael Vick or Geno Smith, we think this team has a shot at repeating the .500 record.
In the trenches, this team is stacked. That will keep you in a lot of ballgames. The offensive line has been solid for years, led by former UVa standout D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. On the defensive line, Sheldon Richardson, Muhammed Wilkerson and Damon Harrison form one of the best DLine units in football.
So we’ve got a great OLine and great DLine. We’re off to a good start on this seven wins. The running back formerly known as Chris Johnson came over from Tennessee after lingering on the free agent market like the last guy to awkwardly leave a party. Will a change of scenery revive his career? He has looked pretty useless the past couple of seasons. Eric Decker left the cozy confines of a Peyton Manning offense for a huge pay day, the New York night life and a really shaky QB situation. 2nd round pick Jace Amaro could become a great pickup for whichever QB ends up taking the reigns of this offense.
The secondary is raw; Dee Milliner really needs to wake up after being selected in the 1st round a couple years back out of Alabama. This years 1st round pick Calvin Pryor could end up starting at safety. The Jets need a steady pass rush to help this unit out.
Looking at the schedule, the Jets start off with an opportunity to pick up some wins. Oakland travels coast to coast week one and the Bears travel to the Meadowland in week three, after Chicago has to travel to play the 49ers. The Lions visit a week later, without the comfort of a dome. Looking at December, road trips to Tennessee and Minnesota don’t look too terrifying.
We are suckers for good line play, on both sides of the ball. If the Jets can get some decent QB play and some of their rookies can contribute immediately (they had 12 picks in the 2013 draft), this looks like a team that will be an absolute chore to play against. Amazingly, the Jets went 8-8 last year while having a turnover differential of -13. Fixing those turnover issues will pay huge dividends; Geno Smith was the main culprit with 21 INTs.
Gun to head: Over. Love the line play and potential of some of the young guys.
Our own free will: Heavy lean over. The extremely shaky QB situation is an issue. But the fact the number came in at 7 makes us think Vegas likes the upside here.
Next up, the NFC South. This division was established in 2002 and has never had a repeat champ. Sorry Carolina.
Las Vegas Win Totals:
New Orleans Saints 10.5 wins (-130/+110)
Atlanta Falcons 8.5 wins (+130/-150)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7 wins (-145/+125)
Carolina Panthers 7.5 wins (+140/-165)