Welcome to the GZL AFC East Preview for the 2016 Season. The 2015 campaign saw the Patriots return to the top of the division in convincing fashion, going 9-7 with no other team providing any sort of challenge. There are three new starting Quarterbacks in the division and even a new General Manager. Let's dig into each team's offseason and look ahead to the 2016 season to see if we can determine which team will come out on top.
New England Patriots | GM Matt Spencer
Notable Players Acquired: QB Philip Rivers [Amnesty] | DE Trent Cole [Trade] | OT Jason Peters [Trade] | WR C.J. Washington [Draft] | CB Kyan McGrady [Draft]
Notable Players Departed: OLB DeMarcus Ware [FA] | DE Jared Allen [FA] | DE Robert Mathis | WR Torrey Smith | OT Leo Richards | CB Marcus McCauley
Transaction Overview: A playoff team with the still learning Ryan Mallett at Quarterback brings in a salty veteran in Rivers to see if he can bring this team back to a Super Bowl. Rivers brings a player the coaching staff can depend on to make plays and the Patriots will lean on him more than they have in the past with their younger Quarterbacks. GM Spencer had his eyes on the big bad receiver out of Arkansas CJ Washington in the draft, and he dealt away Torrey Smith to get him. Smith is the 4th leading receiver in yardage since he's been in the league and that production will be tough to replace for a rookie, regardless of how hyped he may be. Other significant losses include 3 of their nasty front 7 players from last season. Ware and Allen had productive years and Mathis returned to the Patriots and produced as well. On paper the losses look to outweigh the additions, but the addition of a great proven QB could be what the team needs to take the step to the next level.
Offensive Preview: All eyes will be on the Rivers to Washington connection and the progression of 2nd year receiver Caz Dudley (981 yards in 2015). LaMichael James is overlooked by many, but the Patriots continue to believe he's got the makings of a feature back. Many thought the Patriots would target a HB in the draft, but they did not and James will once again be out to disprove the detractors. The O-Line has got a bunch of veteran road graders and should be one of the better units in the league.
Defensive Preview: Similar to last offseason, the Patriots bring in an aging DE to provide the edge rush that they love. Cole should have just as much of a productive year as Mathis did last season. The growth and development of OLB Jarvis Jones, DTs Star Lotulelei and Sly Williams, and CB Braylan Bender will be interesting to watch. The only perceived weakness on the defensive side of the ball looks to be at ROLB, where the Patriots still have not addressed the loss of DeMarcus Ware. The team also finally added some athleticism in the Secondary with the drafting of CB Kyan McGrady.
Predictions: We hit the nail on the head with our 9-7 prediction for the Patriots last offseason. This year, with the addition of a Quarterback that can win games on his own, it looks to be another step forward for a franchise without a playoff win since the 2010 season.
Our prediction: 10-6
New York Jets | GM Greg Wendel
Notable Players Acquired: WR A.J. Green [Trade] | QB Jonathan Higgins [Draft] | OT A.C. Terrell [Draft] | OG Darrell Freeman [Draft]
Notable Players Departed: TE Dustin Keller | QB E.J. Manuel | MLB Ernest Munoz | WR Anthony Perez
Transaction Overview: Not many moves for the new man in charge for the New York Jets, but the moves that they did make made great headlines. First they swooped in with a mega-offer for the number 1 pick in the draft to land highly touted Quarterback Jonathan Higgins to replace E.J. Manuel. Higgins is highly polished coming out of Ole Miss and looks to be the next great thing at QB in the GZL. To supplement their young signal caller, GM Wendel swooped in on Atlanta and stole A.J. Green for a 2nd round pick and a couple of young, yet promising, Wide Receivers. There was much debate as to whether Atlanta was taken to the woodshed in the deal, but regardless, the Jets land a big time receiver who will do much damage to the lesser secondaries around the league. The Jets have accelerated their rebuilding timeline with these moves as Munoz and Perez were centerpieces to a longer rebuild laid out by the previous regime. Manuel was obviously not the type of QB that Wendel had in mind when he took over the job.
Offensive Preview: There will always be struggles with a rookie signal caller, but he’s got Ray Rice and A.J. Green to lean on so the learning curve might not be as steep as it has been for others. The offensive line still has a couple of cornerstone All-Pros in OT Ferguson and C Mangold. A couple of 2nd round rookies might make the opening day lineup, so that could cause some headaches in the blocking game, which could derail some progress made by Higgins. The offense has a big void at Tight End where the departure of Dustin Keller leaves them with zero athleticism at the position.[color]
[color=lawngreen]Defensive Preview: Former GM Corey Smith left behind the building blocks for a pretty good defense, but there wasn’t much work done to it this offseason. Amakamura is still a playmaker at CB and Baccari Rambo is one of the league’s most feared SS. Up front the combination of Robert Ayers, B.J. Raji, and Adrian Clayborn matches up with any other front line in the league. There’s a little weakness at LB and FS, and those positions should have been addressed this offseason.
Predictions: An 8-8 prediction last season was much too high, and so as the Jets turn to yet another young Quarterback, we’ll err on the side of caution and predict that the Jets stick around in rebuilding mode for one more year while Higgins gets his feet under him at the professional level.
Our Prediction: 6-10
Miami Dolphins | GM Ben Harbinger
Notable Players Acquired: QB Russell Wilson [Trade] | DE Demetruce Pair [Trade] | CB Tyrone Booker [Draft] | FS Sergio Fields [Draft]
Notable Players Departed: LG Chris Snee [Traded] | FS Chris Clemons [Released] | CB Orlando Scandrick [Released]
Transaction Overview: Another insane draft in Miami as they bolster their secondary with two picks in the first round. Tyrone Booker was the best CB in the class and he fell right into Mr. Harbinger’s lap at the 3rd pick. Free Safety Sergio Fields is the most athletic safety in the game and will go sideline to sideline in a hurry. Russell Wilson also makes his return to South Beach after a season’s hiatus in New York and Tennessee. The Dolphins didn’t lose much impact either, with their only big loss being a veteran offensive lineman who come a dime a dozen. Scandrick and Clemons were both shown the door shortly after the team drafted their much better replacements.
Offensive Preview: Who will be the signal caller in Miami, the 5’11” Russell Wilson or the 6’7” Mike Glennon? Glennon was drafted 24th overall last season and threw 34 interceptions, if he’s given another shot at the starting job it could be another long season. If the team goes with Wilson though, I would predict much greater things from a young team stockpiled with future picks (4 1sts/2 2nds). The supporting cast for these young Quarterbacks is pretty good. Last year’s 1st round draft pick Le’Veon Bell struggled to a 3.5 YPC over his first season, but his ability is much greater and he should return to the mean. On the outside you’ve got two tall and athletic receivers to go up and battle for catches in Ricardo Lockette and Kevin Ogletree to go along with one of the best Tight End duos in the GZL, Jordan Cameron and Jacob Tamme.
Defensive Preview: A secondary with Darius Slay, Tyrone Booker, and Sergio Fields is quite the combination physically, though they are still young and make some mistakes on the field. It will be scary in a couple of seasons, but how much can these youngsters produce in the here and now? To go along with that great up and coming secondary is a pair of MLB that any team would love to have in Hugh Harmon and K.J. Wright, each with great size, athleticism, and field awareness. The front 3 of the defense is anchored by the ever-steady Jared Odrick.
Predictions: A team that seems will perpetually have a shit ton of high draft picks, eventually these guys are going to figure out the pro game and this will be a team to reckon with. I still think that they are a year or two out, regardless of who starts at QB, but Wilson starting could be worth a couple more wins than Glennon.
Our prediction (Wilson): 8-8.
Our prediction (Glennon): 6-10
Buffalo Bills | GM Daryl Breckheimer
Notable Players Acquired: QB Andrew Luck [Trade] | TE Vernon Davis [Trade] | DT Johnny Jolly [Amnesty] | K Sebastian Janikowski [FA] | MLB LaMarr Woodley [Trade] | SS Charles Godfrey [FA] | HB Riddick Owen [Draft] | CB Pete Williams [Draft]
Notable Players Departed: Robert Griffin III [Traded] | HB Darren McFadden [Amnestied] | WR Miles Austin [Traded] | FS Jairus Byrd [Traded] | MLB A.J. Hawk [Released]
Transaction Overview: Never one to be satisfied, Breck had one of the more active offseasons around the league. He traded away his starting QB, HB, and WR in the same offseason and replaced them with either better or younger (or both) players! Switching from the scrambling man to the architect should be worth a few wins in of itself. The loss of McFadden is offset by the drafting of the best RB available when they drafted Owen with the 6th pick. This is a team that is looking to get back to that 2014 level where they won the division as can be easily seen by their singing or trading for multiple veteran players who won’t make boneheaded plays that drive coaches crazy.
Offensive Preview: This will be an entirely new look offense in Buffalo. Gone are the days of RGIII not finding anyone open, taking a sack or scrambling for a yard and getting clobbered. In are the days of Andrew Luck intelligently scanning the defense pre-snap and knowing where his open man will be.
Gone are the days of bruising and punishing running by RunDMC. In are the days of Riddick Owen doing his best McFadden impression for the next 10 seasons. On the outside they still have the ever dangerous Dwayne Bowe and Robert Woods to go along with another veteran addition, Vernon Davis. The only weakness on the offensive side of the ball looks like the left side of the line. Opposite that group are a couple of young studs in Eric Fisher and Barrett Jones.
Defensive Preview: Mark Barron leads a secondary that still needs some work before becoming a unit that can shut down opposing Quarterbacks. MLB LaMarr Woodley was brought in from Tampa Bay to become the defensive leader for this team, a role he has taken on with pleasure as he winds down his career. Up front, the amnesty addition of Jonny Jolly was a steal as he’ll pair with Marcel Dareus to wreak havoc on the interior of opposing offensive lines.
Predictions: 10-6 prediction last season? Boy was I wrong. I think Breck made all the right moves this offseason and has his Bills primed and ready to challenge that defending AFC East champion New England Patriots.
Our prediction: 10-6