Future bets on who will win the Super Bowl focus on teams with short odds and significant long shots. Neither is a particularly attractive option. Betting on the Patriots won’t net a huge profit, and throwing a Hail Mary on the Titans is fun but likely to lose. Meanwhile, betting on division champs offers less upside, but far more opportunity and a higher percentage to cash. Today we conclude our division previews with the AFC East. (Make sure to check out our previews of the NFC West, South, North, East, and AFC West, North, and South.)
Clearly I wasn’t paying attention in English class when Ms. Anderson went over dramatic story arcs because this is an anticlimax if ever there was one. Calling the AFC East a “race” is like calling a 40-meter dash between John Ross and Dontari Poe a “race.” There’s always a chance Ross pulls his hamstring out of the block and has to crawl across the finish line. But, otherwise, he could run the whole thing backwards and blindfolded and still win.
Which team is Ross in this analogy? The one that’s taken the division crown in eight straight seasons. They’re a virtual lock to make it nine, not just because they improved their Super Bowl-winning roster, but also because the biggest threat in the East comes from a team led by Jay Cutler.
Let’s go through the formalities, though, and figure out whether there’s any real value left on betting the Pats.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl in the most dramatic of ways, then signed corner Stephon Gilmore, traded for wideout Brandin Cooks, dealt for tight end Dwayne Allen, and acquired defensive end Kony Ealy. New England also signed running back Mike Gillislee, and re-signed linebacker Dont’a Hightower. All those additions (more than) negate the departures of Logan Ryan, LeGarrette Blount, and Martellus Bennett. Blount led the league in rushing TDs last year (18), but Gillislee was the fourth-ranked running back per Football Outsiders, ten spots ahead of Blount.
The Pats are coming off a season that saw them finish third in the league in scoring offense and first in scoring defense. They’ve only gotten better. So long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are running the show, life is good in New England.
Under the guidance of first-year coach Adam Gase, the Fins went to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008. Sure they were outscored by 17 points during the regular season, and the Steelers smoked them in the playoffs, but the season was a success by almost any metric, especially given that starting QB Ryan Tannehill missed the last three games of the year.
Miami will have to deal with Tannehill’s absence again after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the summer. Bringing Jay Cutler out of his very short retirement results in an effective push at the position. Neither pivot is capable of carrying a team on his own. Cutler can make more throws than Tannehill, but is also more prone to mental errors and turnovers. The main reason for Cutler optimism is that his best season as a pro came with Gase as his OC in Chicago.
Miami arguably improved its roster on the whole in the offseason. The team re-signed wide receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch, and extended safety Reshad Jones and linebacker Kiko Alonso. They dealt for tight end Julius Thomas and defensive lineman William Hayes, and signed linebacker Lawrence Timmons. They also used five of seven draft picks on defense, including defensive end Charles Harris in the first round.
While t loss of offensive tackle Branden Albert will hurt — he was very good when healthy — as will the departure of surprisingly effective safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, the offseason was a win overall. Enough to challenge New England? No. But encouraging nontheless.
The Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999. The Rex Ryan experiment ended after less than two years as the divisive coach was dismissed before the Bills finished out last year 7-9. Ryan never lived up to his defensive-minded reputation in Buffalo, taking over a team that led the league in sacks in 2014 (54) and was fourth in scoring defense (18.1 PPG), and immediately “guiding” it to a steep decline:,registering just 60 sacks in the next two years combined and giving up 23.0 PPG.
New coach Sean McDermott (formerly the Panthers DC) also comes to Buffalo with a rep as a defensive-minded coach, but he’ll be taking over a team that has fewer defensive weapons than Ryan was working with. The mid-pack unit from last year is now without Stephone Gilmore and Ronald Darby in the secondary, and will need first-round corner Tre’Davious White to step in right away, which is always a tough ask of a rookie CB.
On offense, McDermott will struggle to put together a multidimensional attack. The Bills were the top rushing team in the NFL last year and among the worst in passing. After trading their most dangerous (though oft-injured) weapon in Sammy Watkins, losing fellow receiver Robert Woods to the Rams, and seeing Anquan Boldin retire before playing a game for the team, the passing game is going to be bottom-tier once again. On the bright side, LeSean McCoy is still one of the best running backs in the NFL and QB Tyrod Taylor can be a game-changer with his feet.
All in all, it’s clear Buffalo is looking to the future. Their offseason moves signal a culture change, especially the Watkins trade. We’ll see in a couple years whether their plan to build through the draft pays off. As for this year, they’re no better than a .500 team.
What a difference a year makes. Hopes were exceedingly high for the Jets after coach Todd Bowles went 10-6 in 2015, his first year at the helm, narrowly missing the playoffs. The Jets regressed to 5-11 last year as QB Ryan Fitzpatrick imploded and the aging defense couldn’t win them games. Now the franchise is in full-blown rebuild mode — parting with Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker, among others, in the offseason — and most fans will be actively rooting against them every week. Why? Because their QB options are between Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg, and the 2018 draft is a good one for signal-callers.
The Jets’ roster is devoid of talent at almost every level, save the defensive front. Even if one of the safety’s New York picked in the first two rounds (Jamal Adams or Marcus Maye) is the next coming of Ed Reed, that will merely be a nice omen for the future. This year is a complete write-off.
The Patriots are going to win the division, again, unless Tom Brady goes down .. and Jimmy Garoppolo goes down … and Bill Belichick goes down (hoodie suffocation?). Laying 4/35 is crazy, but is there a better bet? No, because no other team has a reasonable chance. The best advice here may just be stay away.
Photo credit: md.faisalzaman [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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