2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: AFC East (Hanson)
With teams in the middle of training camp, the 2013 NFL season will be here before we know it.
In fact, we are only four days away from the first preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins this upcoming Sunday in Canton, OH.
Therefore, it makes sense that we begin to look into our crystal balls and predict how things will play out in the upcoming season.
In the past, I would go through all 256 games and assign a probability of each team winning the game and then add up those numbers to arrive at team's final records. Although I still went through all 256 games, I picked a winner and loser — not based on probabilities — to arrive at each team's record.
Here are my predictions for the AFC East with final-year records:
1. New England Patriots: 11-5
To say that it's been an interesting offseason for the Patriots is to put it mildly.
Not only has there been plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball, five surgeries over the past nine months for tight end Rob Gronkowski means that it's unlikely that he will be ready for Week 1. With Tom Brady still steering the ship, however, the Patriots should continue to own one of the league's elite offenses.
Finishing second in the NFL last year in rushing attempts (519), the Patriots will continue to rely heavily on their rushing attack featuring the 1-2 punch of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. If new slot receiver Danny Amendola stays healthy and Gronkowski doesn't miss more than a month, their offense may not drop off too much, if at all, from last year.
Despite finishing in the bottom quartile in total defense last year, the Patriots were tied for ninth in scoring defense (20.7 points allowed per game) and were one of six teams with 20-plus intercepted passes.
Since Brady became the team's starter in 2001, the Patriots have had a winning record every year. In addition, they have double-digit wins in 10 consecutive seasons and in 11 of the past 12 seasons. While the gap between first and second place is narrowing, the Patriots will keep both of those streaks alive.
2. Miami Dolphins: 9-7
After a 1-3 start with a first-year head coach and rookie quarterback, the Dolphins posted a .500 record in the final three-quarters of the season. For the Dolphins to take that next step forward, they will rely on continued improvement from Ryan Tannehill.
To that point, the Dolphins have bolstered the top of their wide receiving corps by signing Mike Wallace in free agency to give them the vertical threat they had lacked. With Reggie Bush now in Detroit, the team will rely on Lamar Miller, one of the league's fastest running backs, to pick up the slack.
On defense, the Dolphins allowed 60 plays of 20-plus yards last year, which was tied for fourth most in the NFL. They will need to cut down on big plays. The Dolphins used a number of their early picks on bolstering their pass rush (Dion Jordan, third-overall pick) and secondary (Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, second and third rounds).
If Tannehill makes big strides in 2013 as offensive coordinator Mike Sherman expects, it's possible that the Dolphins challenge for the division and/or a playoff spot. At this point, I have them missing the playoffs by one win.
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3. Buffalo Bills: 4-12
With a new regime in town, the Bills will start a new quarterback as well. The question remains as to whether that will be veteran Kevin Kolb or rookie E.J. Manuel. Based on early reports, it appears that Kolb is likely to begin the season as the starter; Manuel is likely to end it as the team's starter.
On offense, the Bills have one of the league's most explosive running backs in C.J. Spiller, who had a breakout season in 2012. Spiller had more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage and averaged 6.01 yards per carry last season and he should see an expanded workload in 2013.
The team's website wonders whether Spiller could be the league's next 2,000-yard rusher in the team's new up-tempo offense.
One of the areas in which the Bills will need to improve is stopping the opposition from running the ball. While they ranked 10th in pass defense, only the Saints allowed more rushing yards per game than the Bills in 2012.
Manuel may be the answer at quarterback for the future, but the Bills will feel their share of bumps and bruises this season as they make the transition into a new era.
4. New York Jets: 3-13
Rex Ryan made a comment that he won't be around to draft Jadeveon Clowney in 2014 and it's possible that the Jets, not Ryan, will have the opportunity to make that selection.
No quarterback has committed more turnovers over the past two seasons than Mark Sanchez, but it's unclear who will open as the team's starter with second-round pick Geno Smith looking more impressive in camp than Sanchez. If The Sanchize opens the season as the starter, it's likely that he doesn't finish that way.
For the Jets to be successful, they will employ a ground-and-pound attack with Chris Ivory, who was acquired and extended this offseason, to try to control the clock and help to minimize turnovers. Ivory could be in store for a huge season provided he stays healthy.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jets have struggled to get to the quarterback. Last season, they had only 30 sacks — only five teams had fewer.
Thoughts on my projected standings/records for the division? How would you change the records?
Over the next six weeks leading up to the NFL season, all of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.
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