So what did I miss?
The AFC East had quite the offseason. The Bills made a surprise move to grab a new head coach and are starting their 83rd rebuild in the last 10 years. (The Flutie Curse lives!) The Jets spent the last few months continuing their traveling circus. Miami was a major player in free agency, with several big signings, not at all looking like a desperate attempt to stay relevant in South Beach. And defending division champion New England watched as a portion of its roster went on a felony spree that includes murder, allegedly.
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It’s been a pretty wild few months for the teams in the East. But no matter what the lead-in, we know how this one is going to end: with the Patriots winning their 10th division title in the last 11 years and the rest of the idiots in the division running face-first into sliding glass doors.
Here is my AFC East predictions and betting odds:
New England Patriots Predictions
2012 Record: 12-4 (6-2 home, 6-2 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS, 11-5 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 1st offense (4th pass, 7th rush); 25th overall (29th pass, 9th rush)
2013 Odds: 6.5/1 to win SB, 3.5/1 to win AFC, 1/6.5 to win AFC East, 11.0 wins “over/under”
Offense: Over the past three years the Patriots have slowly been shifting the brunt of their attack into the middle of the field, utilizing their two tight ends and stellar slot men, and they have been unstoppable while doing so. But now their super slot receiver, Wes Welker, is gone. (Although I think Danny Amendola is a perfect replacement – if he stays healthy.) Rob Gronkowski, whose college career was a bust because of injuries, is now breaking down physically. And Aaron Hernandez is in jail. (I know Bill Belichick has always preached execution, but maybe Hernandez took it a little too far?)
But will the Pats panic? Never.
Tom Brady is still at the controls. And as long as the offense is flowing through one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the Patriots will be effective. We know Brady is a hero. But, truthfully, he’s got his work cut out for him. Amendola is the only proven receiver on the roster. And eventually Brady needs someone that can make a play.
Defense: Slowly but surely the Patriots are rebuilding this defense. They fielded one of the worst units in football in 2010 and 2011 (I don’t care what the points against numbers were; those defenses were terrible and were exposed against good teams). But some young players have started to develop, and there is just enough veteran presence to keep this year’s D viable.
The big offseason addition – which received little attention with all the other issues going on in Foxboro – was the signing of Adrian Wilson. Wilson has been one of my favorite players for a decade, and he is one of the best safeties in football. Bill Belichick is hoping Wilson can have the same impact that Rodney Harrison had when he was plucked from San Diego in 2003.
The Patriots have put together a very solid starting 11, especially if their young linebackers progress. But New England lacks depth in the front seven, and they don’t have a true double-digit sack threat. Also, they lack the grit, toughness and veteran savvy that the Pats defenses had during their Super Bowl title years.
Skinny: Statistically, New England has been overachieving for years. Their injury luck. Or their turnover margin. Or their favorable yard per point numbers on offense and defense. Every fall the Patriots enter the season with the numbers screaming for a regression from them.
And every season they win. And win a lot.
The reasons are simple. As long as Brady and Belichick are at the head of this organization, and as long as the incompetents in their division still surround the Patriots, then they are going to the playoffs and will be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
But they can’t win the Super Bowl unless their defense gets much, much better. And offensively they need to find some skill players that can perform at a high level. Because the Patriots may walk through the Jets and the Bills and the Dolphins. But eventually New England will run into someone that can play. And the past several seasons the Patriots haven’t exactly been up to the task.
Miami Dolphins Predictions
2012 Record: 7-9 (5-3 home, 2-6 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 8-8 ATS, 5-11 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 27nd offense (26th pass, 17th rush); 21st defense (27th pass, 13th rush)
2013 Odds: 35/1 to win SB, 25/1 to win AFC, 4/1 to win AFC East, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: I can’t help but notice that Joe Philbin’s receiving corps in Miami is starting to take an eerily similar shape to what he had in Green Bay. Mike Wallace is the new Greg Jennings. Brian Hartline is the new Jordy Nelson. Brandon Gibson has skills and a build (but not experience) similar to Donald Driver. And though Armon Binns is a different style receiver than James Jones, Binns could have a similar impact as a difference-maker.
Miami let Jake Long leave via free agency, which is a blow to what had been an underrated offensive line. But Miami was able to snag rock-solid Tyson Clabo from Atlanta, so they should be OK at the point of attack.
That leaves Ryan Tannehill as the unit’s obvious X-Factor. I was in the herd of people trashing Tannehill’s selection, No. 8 overall, in last year’s draft. But as a rookie he was fearless throwing the ball in the middle of the field and showed some moxie. He has a cannon arm, but he needs to work on his accuracy.
I don’t know that many people realize what a crutch Reggie Bush was for this offense last year. His departure to Detroit leaves a significant void in the backfield. Miami desperately needs a consistent running game to take the pressure off Tannehill. It is not a coincidence that the quarterback play improved late in the season when Miami’s percentage of running plays peaked.
Miami’s offense hasn’t been in the Top 20 in points or yards for the last three years. And they haven’t had a Top 10 offense since 1995. They are laying the foundation. But if Miami wants to threaten the Patriots they will need to see some results.
Defense: Miami’s defense has been in the Top 10 in scoring in each of the last two seasons and three of the past five years. This group is perpetually underrated, especially when you consider what little help they get from their offense.
Miami revamped its back seven in the offseason. Gone are veteran linebackers Karlos Dansbry and Kevin Burnett. Thumpers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler have replaced them. The Fins traded Vontae Davis prior to last season and then cut ties with Sean Smith this offseason, replacing them with oft-injured Brett and rookie Jamar Taylor are the next best corners.
This is a supremely athletic defensive group. They have a rock-solid line, hard-hitting linebackers, and plenty of pass rush. Underrated safeties Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons lead the secondary. But Miami is soft at the corners. Solid play from that group would ensure another Top-10 unit. But injuries or ineffectively could sabotage this side of the ball.
Skinny: The Dolphins are becoming a “buzz” team. A big part of that is the fact that the Jets are bottoming out and the Bills are rebuilding (again). The Patriots look vulnerable. So the pieces are in place for Miami to make a move. But will they?
I am a Philbin fan. My top takeaway from watching Miami on “Hard Knocks” last year is that he is going to be an excellent NFL coach. Miami may still be a year away (although a lot of key players are in contract years). But that all depends on how much progress Tannehill makes. If the QB takes a big step forward in Year 2 then Miami could be a surprise 9-7. This team has talent. Philbin needs to get them rowing at the same cadence.
The Dolphins schedule is front-loaded. They could definitely start out 1-4 and 2-3. But things soften up after an early bye week with four of their next six games at home. If Miami is going to be a true sleeper this year we’ll find out in October. But if they are under .500 when the leaves fall then this will be another brick in the 10-year rebuild of this franchise.
New York Jets Predictions
2012 Record: 6-10 (3-5 home, 3-5 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS; 7-9 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 30th offense (30th pass, 12th rush); 8th defense (2nd pass, 26th rush)
2013 Odds: 65/1 to win SB, 25/1 to win AFC, 25/1 to win AFC East, 6.5 wins O/U
Offense: As long as Mark Sanchez remains the quarterback, this offense is going to suck. Sanchez is not an NFL-caliber quarterback. That was clear several years ago, but for some absurd reason the Jets have stuck with the clown.
Sanchez will now try to adapt to Marty Morninweg’s West Coast offense. But Sanchez is so inaccurate and such a poor decision-maker that I don’t see it being a good fit. Mornhinweg has hidden the faults of bad quarterbacks before during his time in Philadelphia. We will see what he can do with The Sanchize.
The Jets brought in bowling ball Chris Ivory and alleged felon Mike Goodson to revive the running game. The offensive line, a major strength in recent seasons, lost both starting guards. But they should be fine there. The receivers are an issue, though, as Santonio Holmes isn’t healthy heading into camp, and Stephen Hill is still extremely raw.
Mornhinweg has done more with less during his time in Philadelphia. But the problem with the Jets hasn’t been scheme, it’s been Sanchez. Rookie Geno Smith can’t be ready to contribute. But fan and media outcry may drive the Jets to make a move and get the rookie quarterback some burn.
Defense: The Jets lost DC Mike Pettine during the offseason. But I expect Ryan to have a hands-on approach with this unit this year. Like with the offense, the problem on this side of the ball is a talent deficit.
New York’s front seven is the weak link on defense, particularly their linebackers. They haven’t been able to generate consistent pressure, and they have been pushed around in run defense. They need their young line to keep improving, and they need some major progress from the backers. Ryan’s system falls apart without pressure. And last year New York couldn’t generate any.
The Jets also traded stud corner Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay. This has been reported as a stake in the heart of the defense. But I don’t think so at all. New York signed solid safety Dawan Landry, who worked with Ryan in Baltimore, and he should help shore up the back line. Also, the Jets played half the season without Revis and didn’t implode. I don’t think he’ll be missed as much as other people suggest.
Skinny: What a clown car of suck. This should be the final performance of the Ryan-Sanchez spectacle, and Ryan could be a potential mid-season firing. The Jets cleaned house in the front office this offseason, and that leaves the coach and quarterback next up for the gallows. I don’t think that Ryan is a poor coach. But Sanchez is a pathetic quarterback. And Ryan’s blind loyalty to such a loser signal caller has been his undoing.
New York has to be ready to play in Week 1. They have a brutal first-half schedule, and either Ryan or Sanchez may be out by Thanksgiving. In a seven-game stretch they face Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Baltimore. They also have two short weeks, thanks to undeserved primetime games, in the first six of the season. Things soften up late in the year, but will this team be mentally checked out by then?
Ryan’s feistiness and his defense-first, grind-it-out style should make the Jets a decent underdog bet this year. They aren’t as bad as they seem. But they aren’t very good, either. I don’t see them beating many of the better teams on the schedule. There will be no 11th hour reprieve. And things have a chance to spiral horribly out of control here if they don’t start fast.
Buffalo Bills Predictions
2012 Record: 6-10 (4-4 home, 2-6 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 19th offense (25th pass, 6th rush); 22th defense (10th pass, 31st rush)
2013 Odds: 125/1 to win SB, 50/1 to win AFC, 15/1 to win AFC East, 6.5 wins O/U
Offense: The same franchise that talked itself into Ryan Fitzpatrick as Savior is now casting its lot with Kevin “Happy Feet” Kolb. I think we all know how that’s going to end. The Bills also wasted a draft pick reaching to grab E.J. Manuel, so I wouldn’t count on help coming any time soon.
Doug Marrone and new offensive coordinator Nate Hackett have their work cut out for them. But this attack still has some prime talent at the skill positions to work with. Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller are game-breakers, and Fred Jackson is legit (when he’s healthy). The goal for the offense should be simple: get the ball in that trio’s hands as much as possible.
Buffalo’s yards per play were a respectable 5.6 last year, good enough for No. 13. But that didn’t translate to consistent scoring. Kick out a brutal 45-3 loss at San Francisco in Week 5 and the Bills averaged 28 points per game prior to their Week 8 bye. However, they managed just 18.3 per game from weeks 9-17.
Marrone was relatively conservative on attack when he was at Syracuse. But he was conservative in a different way than former coach Chan Gailey was. I expect a healthy dose of the running game in Buffalo. And with Kolb under center, that’s the only chance this team has.
Defense: The Bills haven’t finished better than No. 26 in the NFL in scoring defense in each of the last three years, and this team has simply been manhandled at the point of attack.
They are overhauling the entire system under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, formerly of the Jets. Buffalo is shifting to a 3-4 base, which means that even more pressure is going to be placed on highly-touted defensive linemen Marcel Dareus, Kyle Williams and DE/LB Mario Williams.
The Bills have a lot of issues to work out with the new defense. Linebacker has been a major weakness the past few seasons, and now the Bills are being asked to put even more of them on the field. We can’t be sure how the front seven will respond to its new responsibilities. And Buffalo desperately needs high draft picks Steve Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin to have big seasons (especially if Jarius Byrd holds out or misses time).
I don’t expect things to go smoothly for this defense in the beginning of the campaign. But the Bills needed to make some changes, and they should be better in the long term.
Skinny: The perpetually rebuilding Bills are starting from scratch. Again. The have a new coach, a new quarterback, and new systems on both sides of the ball. That’s enough to give their idiotically optimistic fan base continued hope. Last year this team was being touted as a potential playoff sleeper. That’s not the case this year. The schedule is manageable, with four of the first six at home, but there isn’t enough talent on the roster to expect more than a seven- or eight-win ceiling.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football seasons and over the last nine months his clients have earned nearly $10,000 in profit with his football selections. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. Also, you can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!) by clicking here for more info.
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