2013 AFC East: Four Questions, Four Analysts
There’s not long to go now before the meaningful action begins with the start of the 2013 NFL campaign. To give you an idea of what our team is thinking heading into the season we’re asking four of them four questions, for every division.
It’s our Four Analysts, Four Questions season preview.
The analysts we’ve got offering answers are Khaled Elsayed, Sam Monson, Steve Palazzolo and Ben Stockwell — let’s see what they’re looking forward to heading into the year.
We open with the AFC East:
1. Which player from this division do you see having a breakout year?
Khaled: It’s a big — no, huge — ‘if’, but if Chris Ivory can spend more time on the field than banged up then watch that man go. There are few backs in the league that can just run through tackles and if you don’t believe me look at our Signature Stats. He only had 42 touches last year but turned them into an Elusive Rating of 146.2 (which would have been the highest in the league). It’s a small sample size but go back over the years and research what he makes happen with his yards after contact and missed tackles forced.
Sam: Many people think he broke out as a rookie, but I don’t think he quite made it that far, despite improving as the year went on. Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore definitely flashed last year, but was on the wrong side of being too physical far too often. In the end, teams throwing at him had a passer rating of 91.0 in 2012. This is the season he takes a step forward and proves what we saw in glimpses last year. Last season we saw the player Gilmore could become, this is the year he breaks out and becomes that player.
Steve: After bursting onto the scene early in his rookie season, Chandler Jones was slowed by injury in the middle of 2012 and appears primed to join the ranks of the league’s top defensive ends. His +10.3 grade and 43 pressures were a good start and he’s been living in opposing backfields so far during the preseason. The Patriots have already started to experiment with moving Jones around the defensive front, so look for them to find favorable matchups for him on a weekly basis. Jones has the length to make plays against the run and the pass rush repertoire to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. He should be one of the best all-around defensive ends in the league by the end of the year.
Ben: After a fast start to last season for Cordy Glenn (+6.4 for his first three games), injury robbed him of around a month and he was inconsistent coming back. Coming into the season healthy and in good form through preseason (allowed no pressure in his first 80 snaps), I think Glenn is ready to catapult himself into what is a growing group of quality young left tackles.
2. The Over/ Under for wins are: Buffalo 6.5, Miami 8, New England 11 and New York 6.5. Which team would you put your theoretical $100 on?
Khaled: Bad teams tend to win less than six games and I don’t think the Bills are shaping up to be a bad team. The offense they’re implementing looks pretty risk averse and about getting the ball quickly into the hands of their playmakers. Presuming they keep C.J. Spiller healthy that’s real good news, and they’ve got talent on defense — even if they maybe didn’t use it right last year. I’ll take the Over on Buffalo.
Sam: I think Tom Brady is in decline. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s going to suddenly become Mark Sanchez or anything, but I don’t think he’s as good as he once was, and capable of overcoming everybody else’s shortcomings as we’ve seen for years. For the first time in a decade I think Tom Brady needs a bit of help from those around him, and heading into the season he seems to have less of it than he has for a while. Danny Amendola can theoretically replace Wes Welker but I have reservations about his durability. Don’t forget that the receiving corps outside of him is questionable and long on inexperience. The Patriots won’t crumble or anything, but I’d bet my $100 on them finishing Under 11 wins for once.
Steve: I have to take the Under on the Jets’ 6.5 wins, but it’s not because I don’t like what they did this offseason. They’re primed for a rebuilding year, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After years of trying to build like a big-market baseball team, they avoided making a big splash in free agency and focused on the draft. That’s the winning strategy in the NFL, so at least they’re moving in the right direction. I just don’t see enough talent in the right places on the roster for them to improve upon last year’s record.
Ben: I would be reasonably tempted to take the Dolphins at under eight wins as I just don’t think that their improvements are going to play out in Year 1. However, I think the Bills at Over 6.5 wins is simply too good to pass up. There will inevitably be teething problems on defense moving from one of the league’s most lethargic to one far more creative and attacking but that should create chances. The early glimpses of the offense looks like it could offer the ideal tempo for C.J. Spiller to play at and have other skill position players join the party as opposing defenses wear down.
3. Which rookie are you most looking forward to seeing in regular season action?
Khaled: I don’t think I’ll get to see Jeff Tuel in the regular season so I’ll just have to settle for Marquise Goodwin. Guys like him only need a sniff of an opportunity and they make game-changing plays. I’m not expecting big numbers, but I am expecting some real exciting moments.
Sam: I’m looking forward to seeing more of undrafted rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins from New England. He looks like the guy to have established chemistry early with Brady, and though he has dropped some passes, I think he could be in for a big season by rookie standards. He could be required to if the Patriots are to avoid the sub-11-win prediction I put on them in the previous answer.
Steve: Given his versatility, I want to see how Dion Jordan fits into the Dolphins’ scheme. It’s likely that they’ll just try to use his pass rushing ability to start, but Jordan held his own in coverage at Oregon and could provide some flexibility in that area. Many draft analysts were hoping to see Jordan in a Von Miller-type role playing SAM linebacker in base before moving to defensive end in sub packages. Whether used as a movable chess piece or simply relegated to a pass rushing role, the Dolphins need Jordan to at least provide an adequate pass rush opposite DE Cameron Wake.
Ben: Is it just morbid curiosity or car crash television? Maybe, but after the bizarre way in which his pre-draft process played out and all the rumor and counter rumor I’m eager to see Geno Smith on an NFL field. We’ll have to get through the usual carnival sideshow nonsense around the Jets as they inevitably dump Mark Sanchez, but once that’s settled (and I’m assuming it will be sooner rather than later) I want to see what Smith’s got. Is he the first-round talent that many saw or was he just a product of West Virginia’s fun-and-gun offense?
4. Who will make the playoffs and can they win it all?
Khaled: This is still the Patriots‘ division. I want to say otherwise to sound insightful but while they may have lost some talent, they’ve still got a talent-maker leading the way. It’s not like the Patriots weren’t successful moving the ball before Welker and Moss came along, and with a defense that continues to get better they’ll cruise home. What’s more, having learned from the lessons of their failures the past two years, they’re the team from the AFC to beat. Joining them? The Buffalo Bills are my team to watch. I say it every year about them and one year I’m bound to be right.
Sam: I suppose if I’m predicting a New England downfall I might as well go the whole way. Can this be the year they don’t win the AFC East? Given the decline I see possible with them it could well be, but it would require a complementary step forward from one of the three other sides to take that crown, they won’t abdicate it all on their own. Of the three other pretenders Miami seems the most ready to take that step forward, though I am excited by the influx of new coaching in Buffalo. I’ll stick my neck out with a prediction that I’m far from sold on: Miami takes the division by scraping a 10-6 record and holding tie breakers over the Patriots. Can they win it all? Not unless Ryan Tannehill becomes Aaron Rodgers while we’re all asleep.
Steve: Despite the tumultuous offseason, as long as Tom Brady is at the helm, the Patriots are a lock for the playoffs. They have as good a shot as any team in the AFC as the conference is lacking a clear-cut favorite. The key in New England will be the defense that features a number of talented young players that are entering their prime. If they start to gel, they’ll make up for any potential speed bumps the offense may encounter with their huge turnover at the skill positions. As for the rest of the division, the Bills could have a shot if QB E.J. Manuel lives up to his first-round hype earlier than expected. The Dolphins made a lot of offseason noise, and their season may depend on the success of young players such as QB Ryan Tannehill, OT Jonathan Martin, and Jordan. If they all develop, Miami should be the second best team in the division.
Ben: In spite of what has been a turbulent offseason the New England Patriots are still the class of this division. They will win it by at least two clear wins and be in with a shout of claiming a bye week depending upon any other teams that emerge with a high double digit win total. I think the Patriots will need homefield advantage to progress to the Super Bowl. As for every team reaching the playoffs, you’ve got to be in it to win it and the Patriots should at least have a ticket for the raffle. The Bills and Dolphins to my mind are relying upon a weak year from the AFC where nine wins could be in with a shout of the sixth seed. Unfortunately for both teams, I just don’t see that happening.