NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
GET: CB Bradley Fletcher, LB Brandon Spikes, OLB Jabaal Sheard, RB Travaris Cadet, WR Brandon Gibson, TE Scott Chandler, LB Dekoda Watson, CB Robert McClain
LOSE: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, DT Vince Wilfork, CB Alfonzo Dennard, RB Shane Vereen, RB Stevan Ridley, CB Kyle Arrington, OLB Akeem Ayers, G Dan Connolly
RE-SIGNS: S Devin McCourty, DE Rob Ninkovich, K Stephen Gostkowski, S Patrick Chung, WR Danny Amendola, DE Alan Branch
DRAFT: 1st round: DT Malcom Brown, Texas 2nd round: S Jordan Richards, Stanford 3rd round: DE Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma 4th round: G Tre Jackson, Florida State C Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech 5th round: LS Joe Cardona 6th round: OLB Matt Wells, Mississippi State TE AJ Derby, Arkansas 7th round: CB Darryl Roberts, Marshall DE Xzavier Dickson, Alabama
SUMMARY: Coming off yet another Super Bowl championship, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick come back to the drawing board to try to lead the New England Patriots to a fifth title. However, the mountain that these two gridiron wizards will have to climb is much higher than it has been in the past.
The offseason for the Patriots was not a good one. Starting corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner both departed, as did running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, along with defensive stronghold Vince Wilfork and corners Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington. Those are just some of the more prominent ones. As a start, the Patriots grabbed CB Bradley Fletcher from Philadelphia, a questionable addition given the corner’s struggles lately but I digress. The Patriots added OLB Jabaal Sheard, which should be a welcome addition to the front seven. The front office also secured deals with DE Rob Ninkovich, S Devin McCourty and K Stephen Gostkowski.
Because of the loss of Revis and Browner, the Pats secondary depth chart looks like a black hole is slowly consuming any talent on the back end not named Devin McCourty, which is a huge problem for a team that is looking to defend their Super Bowl title. However, it is worth noting that with Darrelle Revis, arguably the best corner in the game, and Brandon Browner, who isn’t too shabby himself, and McCourty, who is easily a top-three safety, the Patriots still managed to be a below-average 17th against the pass last year. That’s right, with two top-tier corners and an elite safety, the Patriots secondary was middle-of-the-pack. That is both embarrassing and hopeful for Patriots fans. It means the unit can’t get much worse and that clearly the need for such talent wasn’t a must for the franchise. The team can have an effective secondary with average middlemen filling the holes. Should it still be a concern? Absolutely. Would I be losing my mind over it? No.
It’s also worth noting the Patriots’ awful run game. The leading rusher for the Pats last year was Jonas Gray with 412 yards. That’s laughably pathetic and yet makes it all the more remarkable that a one-dimensional team won the Super Bowl, which brings us to the bright side of the coin.
Only a quarterback as splendid and inspiring as Tom Brady could dissect the best defense in professional football on the biggest stage with so few opportunities and so much pressure. With yet another top-ten season, Tom Brady will look to captain the Patriots’ aerial threat with last season’s top tight end Rob Gronkowski and the always dependable Julian Edelman.
The front seven is one of the best in the league, with Chandler Jones and Ninkovich on the ends. If the linebackers stay healthy, you have Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower. That’s a scary trio to look at when you take the field.
When Brady leads this team, the Patriots find a way to get it done. Brady should enjoy tearing apart the weak defenses of the NFC East and AFC South this season in what I think is a welcoming schedule for the champs, and while an established running game would be nice, I don’t see it as a necessity for success. The Patriots are the Patriots and when two of your competing quarterbacks in the division are undetermined, well, that only makes your job a whole lot easier.
Honestly, the AFC East’s inability to create a football team is part of the reason the Patriots are so dominant. Will the Dolphins give them a run for their money again, as they have for the last two years? Yes. Will they surpass them? No. You don’t mess with the champs and I don’t see the Pats losing their division title.
With that said, I don’t see them going too far in the playoffs. I’d be amazed and astonished if Brady dismantles defenses like Fischer Price toy sets and is able to counteract the poor play of his defense that is sure to happen at one point or another. I have no confidence in Bradley Fletcher as a starting corner, let alone a playoff one, and Devin McCourty, as great as he is, can’t cover the whole field by himself. The Patriots had a great draft, focusing on defensive line assets, but I’m surprised they didn’t draft a corner early to aid this limited crew. It was more of a need and the most pressing one. Regardless, don’t underestimate Brady and Belichick. I’m confident they still have some tricks up their sleeve and I wouldn’t be surprised if they hoodwinked us all one last time.
As for fantasy, Brady, Edelman, Gronk and the Patriots’ D/ST are all great picks. Avoid anyone involved with the running game.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 11-5
Week 1: vs. PIT Week 2: @BUF Week 3: vs. JAC Week 4: BYE Week 5: @DAL Week 6: @IND Week 7: vs. NYJ Week 8: vs. MIA Week 9: vs. WAS Week 10: @NYG Week 11: vs. BUF Week 12: @DEN Week 13: vs. PHI Week 14: @HOU Week 15: vs. TEN Week 16: @NYJ Week 17: @MIA
NEW YORK JETS
GET: CB Antonio Cromartie, Darrelle Revis, CB Buster Skrine, WR Brandon Marshall, S Marcus Gilchrist, LB Jamari Lattimore, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, LB Erin Henderson, OT James Brewer, G James Carpenter, RB Stevan Ridley
LOSE: S Dawan Landry, CB Kyle Wilson, WR Greg Salas, QB Michael Vick, FB John Conner, WR Percy Harvin
RE-SIGNS: OL Willie Colon, LB David Harris, DE Leger Douzable,
DRAFT: 1st round: DE Leonard Williams, USC 2nd round: WR Devin Smith, Ohio State OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville 4th round: QB Bryce Petty, Baylor 5th round: G Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M 7th round: DT Deon Simon, Northwestern State
SUMMARY: I hate the New York Jets, but what an offseason they had. Easily the best offseason in the NFL this summer, the New York Jets are a completely different ball club. Brandon Marshall, if he’s healthy from his rib injury last year, is a huge addition. The offensive line is more than capable with Ferguson, Mangold and Colon. It’s on the defensive side of the ball that my eyes nearly jump out of my head. Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison on the defensive line. Just nasty. David Harris is an above-average linebacker and the secondary is brand new. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie have both returned to the Big Apple as has Cleveland star Buster Skrine. Todd Bowles is like a kid in the candy store.
This secondary could be great without a pass rush but with the pass rush the Jets are sure to put up? They could be elite, a one-year rags-to-riches story. I hate the Jets, but if they could pull that off, you’d have to respect that.
Geno Smith’s absence will probably be a plus for the team since Ryan Fitzpatrick is a far more accomplished quarterback, but it’s still a question mark for this team. I have the Jets in the two spot right now because if they are who I think they are, they can pass up the Dolphins, grab a wild-card spot, and make a postseason run.
Chris Ivory and the Jets defense are both hot picks this year.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 9-7
Week 1: vs. CLE Week 2: @IND Week 3: vs. PHI Week 4: @MIA Week 5: BYE Week 6: vs. WAS Week 7: @NE Week 8: @OAK Week 9: vs. JAC Week 10: vs. BUF Week 11: @HOU Week 12: vs. MIA Week 13: @NYG Week 14: vs. TEN Week 15: @DAL Week 16: vs. NE Week 17: @BUF
GET: DT Ndamukong Suh, TE Jordan Cameron, WR Kenny Stills, CB Brice McCain, WR Greg Jennings, OLB Spencer Paysinger, OT Jeffrey Linkenbach
LOSE: DT Randy Starks, DT Jared Odrick, WR Mike Wallace, TE Charles Clay, RB Knowshon Moreno, LB Dannell Ellerbe, C Samson Satele, G Shelley Smith, WR Brian Hartline, WR Brandon Gibson, CB Cortland Finnegan, LB Philip Wheeler
RE-SIGN: QB Ryan Tannehill, OL Mike Pouncey, S Louis Delmas, OL Jason Fox, QB Matt Moore
DRAFT: 1st round: WR DeVante Parker, Louisville 2nd round: DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma 4th round: G Jamil Douglas, Arizona State 5th round: CB Bobby McCain, Memphis RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State S Ced Thompson, Minnesota WR Tony Lippett, Michigan State
SUMMARY: Tannehill had a career year in 2014, finishing with the league’s fifth-highest completion percentage (66.4) and just outside the top ten in passing yards with 4,045.
Lamar Miller, who was a question mark the last two years, also had a career year in ’14, rushing for 1,099 and averaging 5.1 yards a clip, the second-highest among running backs behind Justin Forsett’s 5.4.
At receiver, the Fins upgraded, trading away Mike Wallace’s overbloated contract and releasing the aging Brian Hartline. They traded for the explosive Kenny Stills to start at the one spot and Greg Jennings and Jarvis Landry on the outside and in the slot, respectively. Rishard Matthews as a fourth receiver is more than satisfactory and they’re all set there.
But wait! For some reason, the Miami Dolphins need to use their first-round pick on a receiver! Why? Who knows?! Honestly, it was probably my least favorite pick in the draft, that or the Colts taking Phillip Dorsett. This team’s need for offensive line and linebacker is dire but they skipped both of these needs for yet another receiver. Koa Misi is struggling to hold the linebacking core together, illustrated by the team finishing 24th against the rush last year. The secondary is superb with Brent Grimes as their number one corner and Reshad Jones at safety. They were sixth against the pass last year.
If Tannehill and Miller are as successful as they were last year and Misi has an All-Pro season, the Fins will be looking at a division title. However, the offensive line still has questions and Misi is only one guy. With that said, a wild card spot is more than feasible. To do so, they’ll have to pass the Jets. If the Fins can’t, they’ll have to looked at the missed opportunity of last year when they choked down the stretch.
Tannehill and Miller are sure starters, Jarvis Landry should be one of the best slot receivers in the league this year and I’d take a gamble on Stills as a fifth receiver option purely for his deep threat ability. The Fins have a great defensive line, so investing in their defense wouldn’t be a bad pickup either.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 8-8
Week 1: @WAS Week 2: @JAC Week 3: vs. BUF Week 4: vs. NYJ Week 5: BYE Week 6: @TEN Week 7: vs. HOU Week 8: @NE Week 9: @BUF Week 10: @PHI Week 11: vs. DAL Week 12: @NYJ Week 13: vs. BAL Week 14: vs. NYG Week 15: @SD Week 16: vs. IND Week 17: vs. NE
GET: RB LeSean McCoy, QB Tyrod Taylor, TE Charles Clay, DE Alex Carrington, FB Jerome Felton, WR Percy Harvin, G Richie Incognito, QB Matt Cassel
LOSE: RB C.J. Spiller, LB Kiko Alonso, LB Brandon Spikes, LB Keith Rivers, S Da’Norris Searcy, QB Kyle Orton, TE Scott Chandler
RE-SIGNS: DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Jarius Wynn, WR Marcus Easley
DRAFT: 2nd round: CB Ronald Darby, Florida State 3rd round: G John Miller, Louisville 5th round: RB Karlos Williams, Florida State 6th round: OLB Tony Steward, Clemson TE Nick O’Leary, Florida State 7th round: WR Dez Lewis, Central Arkansas
SUMMARY: The Bills made the first big splash this offseason in one of the biggest trades in recent memory, trading one of the league’s best young linebackers, Kiko Alonso, to Philadelphia for one of the league’s best running backs, LeSean McCoy. For a few days, Philadelphia fans were fuming over the trade, wondering how many screws had gone loose in Chip Kelly’s head. However, after everyone calmed down and looked at the trade objectively, it was a good trade for both sides. Should the Eagles have gotten more for McCoy, say, a draft pick consideration? Yes, definitely, but the Eagles strengthening a weak defense and the Bills took their offense, that finished 26th in league last year, in a whole new direction. The Bills’ defense was stellar last year without Alonso, finishing third against the pass and 11th against the rush, far better than many expected. They finished 9-7 in the AFC East with Kyle Orton as their quarterback (Yes, Kyle Orton) and just missed the playoffs.
Here’s the thing though. Even with this defense, that is sure to be elite once again after leading the league with 54 sacks last year, I don’t see how the Bills can hold onto second place. The Bills run-blocking last year was ranked 31st by Pro Football Focus, with makes me wonder if bringing in McCoy was the right solution. Percy Harvin is a huge wild card, leaving no serious threat opposite Sammy Watkins. Tyrod Taylor will be starting at quarterback and I think few know what to expect from him. The defensive line for this team is top-three, easily, but they also have a lot of pressure on them also. This secondary, despite last year’s stats, is not top-five. Without that insane pass rush, this secondary would be torn limb from limb. If the Bills defensive line, which is starting to mimic that infamous one in Seattle, maintains the pressure from last year, the Bills could jump out of the cellar. However, it will be very difficult to skip past the Jets, who are a completely different team than they were last year, and the Dolphins, who I doubt will choke like they did last year.
The Bills are not a bad team. They have a ton of potential. The AFC East is just far more competitive than it has been in a long time.
For fantasy, the Bills D is a steal, but given the poor run-blocking from last year, despite some additions, I’m avoiding McCoy.
SCHEDULE PROJECTED RECORD: 7-9
Week 1: vs. IND Week 2: vs. NE Week 3: @MIA Week 4: vs. NYG Week 5: @TEN Week 6: vs. CIN Week 7: @JAC Week 8: BYE Week 9: vs. MIA Week 10: @NYJ Week 11: @NE Week 12: @KC Week 13: vs. HOU Week 14: @PHI Week 15: @WAS Week 16: vs. DAL Week 17: vs. NYJ