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Jay Castro’s AFC East Preview

DISCLAIMER: Do not exhaust your bank account, mortgage your home, or sell your children over my prophecies; if they were that accurate, I’d keep them to myself while the money rolls in. Besides, the Fantasy Football Gods enjoy tormenting you…so please, merely enjoy my rants, and consider them somewhat entertaining, kind of as you might Bubbles and Bunny from the Nudie Bar…

2012 afc east preview

 

  1. New England Patriots: 13-3
  2. Buffalo Bills: 10-6
  3. New York Jets: 8-8
  4. Miami Dolphins: 4-12

 

New England Patriots: Skill Positions: QB: Tom Brady, WR: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Julian Edelman, RB: Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, TE: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Notable DEF/ST: Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich

If you haven’t heard by now, prominent sportswriter Pete Prisco from CBS Sports has taken the bold step of predicting that the Patriots will again finish the season 16-0. When asked about it by a colleague, he responded with “point out a game they’re expected to lose.” Considering that they finished the 2011 season with the league’s 31st ranked defense, that’s quite a long limb he’s stepped out on.

However, there’s no doubt that New England’s schedule is remarkably favorable for a team that just finished the season with the NFL’s best record and a Super Bowl appearance. For starters, Bill and the Beli-Cheaters draw the four NFC West clubs this year; only San Fran is strong enough on paper to mount a serious challenge (although I can see Seattle’s secondary, if healthy, sparking an upset at home in week 6 if they can get just enough offense and their 12th Man going). They start off against Tennessee, and get Jacksonville and Indy after their week 9 bye (yes, the Pats have their regular season split into two perfect halves). And then, there’s the rest of the AFC East. But 16-0?

I’m saying no. Not when they have to go to Baltimore in week 3 and face the team that was perhaps a wide-left away from taking their place against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. Not when their still-suspect secondary gets tested against old nemesis Peyton Manning and his new Denver toys in week 5. Not when facing the improved Bills and still-dangerous Jets. There are about six or seven games on the schedule they can lose. The rest? In the bag, baby.

And you already know why. Tom Brady, if healthy, will dish out the ball like the potatoes and gravy on Thanksgiving (which, ironically, has them playing the Jets at MetLife that evening). He’s got six veteran receivers to choose from as of this writing, plus his two pass-catching tight ends, and whatever assortment of running backs, offensive linemen, and kitchen sinks Belichick feels like tossing out on a given play. Gillette Stadium is gonna look like a pinball machine when these guys get done, and the scores will reflect that. On both sides of the ball.

I do give New England credit for remaining totally unpredictable…seriously, did anyone expect them to trade up during the draft? Not trading picks this time, okay–considering how much help their defense needed, I figured they had to take somebody in the first round this year. But trade up? And not once, but twice? Kudos to the Patriots for going balls to the wall and abandoning their usual picks-for-more-picks strategy. And their efforts were rewarded with a pair of intimidating pass rushers (Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower) who should work well in the 4-3 they will be using. The secondary is still as questionable as one of Belichick’s injury reports.

So no, I don’t feel we are looking at another challenge to the ’73 Dolphins (even Prisco didn’t predict perfection; he has New England losing another perfect season in the Super Bowl to the Packers). But we are looking at a very good team that will go far in the playoffs again if all the pieces remain intact, and as we’ve seen in the past, maybe if they aren’t.

Buffalo Bills: Skill Positions: QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Vince Young WR: Steve Johnson, David Nelson, RB: Fred Jackson, C. J. Spiller TE: Scott Chandler, Notable DEF/ST: Mario Williams, George Wilson, Nick Barnett, Mark Anderson

Okay, you’re thinking one of two things here…either I’ve lost my damn mind (I lost that long ago, so you’re a bit late), or I’m taking the trendiest of picks this year to another level. Call it what you will (I call this my boldest pick yet)–the Buffalo Bills will make the playoffs.

How?, you ask. The receiving corps is terrible outside of Stevie Johnson. The run defense has been one of the NFL’s worst for a while now. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a winning quarterback. Dude…it’s the freaking Bills. They haven’t been there since…well…since…

Since the Music City Miracle of 2000…but let’s forget about what Lorenzo Neal and Frank Wycheck and Kevin Dyson did to them right now. For starters, the Bills have one of the game’s more intimidating dual-rusher tandems in Fred Jackson and C. J. Spiller. Although Jackson is coming off a major injury and is on the wrong side of 30, he was one of the league’s top three rushers until checking out in week 10 of last season. And Spiller picked up pretty much where Jackson left off; if you look at their combined numbers while starting, we’re talking about 1,400 rushing yards, over 60 catches and 600 receiving yards, and eleven combined touchdowns—enough for likely MVP consideration if it were one guy. Steve Johnson has proved himself a premier vertical threat who can even get separation on the likes of Darelle Revis, and David Nelson had a nice little breakout year. This is not a squad lacking for playmakers.

However, the big question on offense is about the man giving them the ball. For now, that would be Ryan Fitzpatrick, who received a huge contract extension just before the team hit the skids last year. Fitzpatrick might be the most book-smart player in the game (his alma mater was Harvard, after all), but his abilities were questioned once they dropped eight of their last nine after a 5-2 start. It was later revealed that he played that entire stretch with a set of broken ribs (not very Harvard-like, if you ask me) but that didn’t stop the Bills from adding Vince Young to the roster. We all know what Young can do when the bats in his head remain in their belfry, so disregard Fitzpatrick’s higher intelligence/contract extension/fantasy football ranking for a second–the man is on a very short leash, and a rough start will have Bills fans chanting for Young.

But the biggest improvements will come from their defense. They pried Mario Williams away from the Texans by signing him to the largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history, and are adding him to a newly-installed 4-3 unit that already boasts promising Marcell Dareus and standout Kyle Wiliams in the middle and veteran pass rusher Mark Anderson bringing heat on the right side. By all accounts, rookie corner Stephon Gilmore has been turning heads in training camp. Linebacker Nick Barnett was 11th in the league in tackles.

So, you’re still not convinced? Well, you have every right not to be…after Kevin Dyson took that ball into the end zone on January 8, 2000, fond Bills memories have been few. And they probably won’t look any better initially when tough division matchups and a week 5 visit to San Francisco rings their bell. But if they can weather some early storms, there are seven winnable games for them to close the season with. Could they go on a seven game winning streak? I’ll call it the Wing City Miracle if they do.

New York J-E-T-S: Skill Positions: QB: Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow WR: Santonio Holmes, RB: Shonn Greene TE: Dustin Keller, Notable DEF/ST: Darrelle Revis, Bart Scott, Antonio Cromartie, LaRon Landry, Notable BigMouths: Rex Ryan, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott

So, let me get this straight…you have a quarterback who had a shaky year trying to command this offense while your vaunted running game fell to pieces. You remind the world that he’s your guy, even skipping a (long) shot at Peyton Manning and signing your guy to a three-year, buku-bucks extension, and to help your guy out you go and get…competition. Oy vey, Jets.

I can’t imagine why they would mess with this fragile quarterback’s psyche while welcoming the other aboard the Titanic. But Mark, my words—Tim 3:16 will be the Jets starting quarterback by the end of this season. Fuck mechanics. Throw all of the numbers out the window. Cast logic into the fiery pit of Hell. Tim Tebow was born with the intangibles that make a great leader, while Mark Sanchez was not. The universe is listening, folks.

So, which of the three I’s will it take for the Tebowing to start? Injury? Ineffectiveness? Issues off the field? This awkward bowling ball of a quarterback’s destiny is to take Tony Sparano’s Wildcat playbook and set the NFL back eighty years. And he’s going to look horrible on some days, but he probably won’t look any worse than Brett Favre did with a ripped bicep.

It’ll be up to Santonio Holmes to save his ass. Possibly the only receiver in the world relieved to see Tim Tebow under center, Holmes will have plenty of opportunities to look like a real hero by making acrobatic plays on poorly thrown passes once the more accurate Sanchize inevitably discovers the clipboard. The Jets don’t have a true second option among their wide receivers, but they won’t need one…Tebow probably won’t look past his first read before taking off for the first down marker. They don’t have a traditional running game either (Shonn Greene plain sucks), but Tebow’s got that covered too. This offense is begging for a Wildcat QB to run it, so why not just bench Sanchez now?

Not much needs saying defensively here…the Jet D is still in the NFL’s top five, and their secondary might be the best in the game; adding former Redskin standout LaRon Landry to that could make them unfair if he stays healthy. They have some monsters up front. And they love to employ that old Chicago Bear 46 defense, as do I whenever playing a Madden video game…when it’s effective, you can turn a good opposing QB into David Carr after just a couple of blitzes.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34). While Jesus Christ may have been speaking in the first person here, this accurately describes Tim Tebow’s situation. Mark Sanchez may have the prettier footwork and better throw, but he doesn’t have the Heavens on his side like that former Florida Gator hero who has so polarized NFL fans everywhere. And if he doesn’t man up and take charge soon, this crashing circus will no other recourse than to let Tebow scramble away the rest of their year.

Miami Dolphins: Skill Positions: QB: Ryan Tannehill, David Garrard, Matt Moore, WR: Davone Bess, Legedu Nannee RB: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Steve Slaton, TE: Anthony Fasano, Notable DEF/ST: Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, Richard Marshall

It’s hard to fathom, but the once-powerful Dolphins have gone through seventeen starting quarterbacks in the post-Marino era. Gracing (cough) that list are the journeymen (A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels), the washed-up guys (Daunte Culpepper, Gus Frerotte, Chad Pennington), and the never-had-its (Joey Harrington, John Beck). Other notable names include Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard, Trent Green, and Ray Lucas. None of them could successfully seize the reins and command this team. But this year, three more challengers will try.

So, who gets the job? Will it be the youngster Tannehill, the playoff veteran Garrard, or the incumbent Moore? Here’s my answer: Who gives a fuck? None of these guys are gonna be drafted to my fantasy team anyway.

The Dolphins will be terrible, and watching them on Hard Knocks won’t make them any better. They relegated themselves to mediocrity when they gifted Brandon Marshall to the Bears for two third round picks, leaving themselves with Davone Bess and Legedu Nannee to start. Bess is a possession receiver with nice hands, but hasn’t shown much big-play ability, while Nannee has shown dick during his previous five years in the league. Their running back corps boasts two league washouts bookending the disappointing youngster Daniel Thomas; my guess is that we’ve already seen the best of Reggie Bush. Fasano is a nice pass catching tight end. They have one of the better left tackles in the game in Jake Long, when healthy. None of it matters.

Defensively, the Dolphins were schizophrenic in 2011. While boasting the league’s 3rd best run D and allowing the 6th fewest points, they made like a tuna casserole and got cooked through the air. Signing former Panther and Cardinal ballhawk Richard Marshall could improve things a bit. Rookie DT Jared Odrick looks like a nice pass rusher for the future, but linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Cameron Wake must stay healthy for them to be competitive.

Although the rebuilding Dolphins have a cupcake schedule, I just can’t see them competing with other up-and-coming franchises right now. There are some favorable matchups with teams such as Oakland, Arizona, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Seattle(at home) and Jacksonville, but my guess is the favor will be with the opponents more often than not. I’ll say they take half of the above and perhaps beat the Jets or Bills at home, and leave it at that.

UPDATE 8/20/12: Ryan Tannehill has been officially named the Dolphins starting QB. Congratulations. Now get the kid a playmaking receiver not named Chad Johnson or Ochocinco.

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About Jason E. Castro
Jason E. Castro isn’t here to govern your Caribbean island, sell your convertible furniture or sing you a top 40 hit. He is a writer from New York City and you can find more of his work online at literary websites such as Danse Macabre or Mediavirus Magazine. And while you're at it, feel free to check out his full length novel, "Rowdies", or his on-line novella, "Cricket for Souls"; both are available from Amazon.

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