At long last, we’ve reached the finish line in this special Out Of Bounds four-parter preview of the upcoming NFL season. By the conclusion of this article, your mind will have been filled with insights and analysis about every team in the league. It’s been fun the past four weeks and come this time next year, I hope to be doing it all over again. Without further ado, here’s what’s in store for the two divisions I have yet to discuss.
The New England Patriots essentially ran away with the AFC East last season. They were 13-3 before advancing to the Super Bowl and, of course, losing to the G-Men. While the Patriots were the undisputed kings of the division, the Jets finished five games back and the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills were 6-10. What can you expect to see this year?
Well, unless Tom Brady takes a shot to the knee from Bernard Pollard the same way he did in 2008, the Patriots are going to win the AFC East in a landslide. They possess a slew of talented receivers, a solid o-line, and two extremely dynamic tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Couple that with an improving, young defense, and you’ve got your division winners. A dozen or so wins could very well happen.
Unlike ESPN and various other outlets, I refuse to spend much time talking about the New York Jets. Sorry, but they’re a middle-of-the-road team. When your second-string QB is your second best playmaker on the offensive side of the ball, you’ve got problems. Big problems. Santonio Holmes is a beleaguered diva, Mark Sanchez is an average quarterback who turns the ball over too much, and Tim Tebow is going to cause more commotion than he should. Fans are going to expect greatness out of the Sanchize even though he has no help on offense and when he implodes, Jets fans are going to demand his head. Seven wins at best.
Buffalo is an intriguing team because they’ve made some moves to try and improve, most notably with the potential $100 million contract given to Mario Williams in the offseason. It won’t be enough to launch them into the playoffs, but they’ll definitely improve upon 2011’s six victories. Elsewhere, the Miami Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill to be their quarterback of the future, which is amusing considering he’s only played one full season at the position. I think it’s a bad move for Miami to invest such a high draft pick on a kid with little experience throwing the ball and six wins seems to be a best-case scenario.
While the Philadelphia Eagles were the so-called “dream team” last year, they started out the season pretty awful, as they were 4-8 at one point. But with four straight wins to end the season, they finished just one game behind the New York Giants. The Dallas Cowboys were 8-6 and controlled their destiny to make the playoffs but two straight losses to close 2011 thwarted their postseason plans. But this year appears to be a wide-open division race.
While the Giants had an extraordinary run, they just barely made the playoffs. At 9-7, nobody thought they had a chance to do what they did. But after winning Super Bowl XLVI, they lost some key players to free agency, as both Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs bolted to San Francisco. Manningham’s loss is going to be immensely felt now that teams can properly prepare for 2011 standout Victor Cruz and their number one WR, Hakeem Nicks. In this tough division, it’s hard to say they’ll win more games than last year but with that ferocious defense of theirs, anything is possible.
After watching Michael Vick get injured for most of his career, it’s worth noting that he’s already gotten injured—twice—in two preseason games. He runs more than a QB should, hangs on to the ball longer than necessary, and when you throw in the fact that his bones are made of glass, it seems likely that he’s going to get injured once again in the regular season. Philly has a loaded team but if/when Vick goes down they’ll be in serious trouble.
Speaking of injuries, the Dallas Cowboys better hire some more trainers to their medical staff. Jason Witten enters 2012 with a serious spleen injury, Dez Bryant is dealing with patella tendinitis, and Miles Austin is again sidelined with hamstring issues. Tony Romo has proven to be a top-10 quarterback but with a receiving corps held together by duct tape, it’s hard to bank on the Cowboys making a splash. They’re definitely talented, but again, in this stacked division, you don’t know what you’re going to get out of an injured team. I’d like to say I’m pulling for them, but I absolutely love seeing the loud-mouthed Jerry Jones eat his words.
And finally, while everyone is thinking Robert Griffin III is going to be Cam Newton 2.0, I think the comparison is extremely ludicrous. I don’t think, especially early in his career, that he’s going to accomplish much against stout defenses like the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys. Not looking for much out of Washington in 2012.
Besides RGIII, some fantasy players I’d avoid include WR Miles Austin, TE Jason Witten, RB Fred Jackson, and everybody on the Jets roster. I’d target RB LeSean McCoy (even at the number one draft slot), WR DeSean Jackson, RB D.J. Ware, and WR Brandon Lloyd.
Any thoughts on the upcoming season? What did you think of this special NFL preview? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)