New England Patriots
Dion Lewis makes the Pro Bowl.
After a 2015 campaign cut short due to a devastating knee injury, Dion Lewis will be given every opportunity to
resume his role as the featured back in the running and passing game. With Tom Brady missing the first month of the season, Jimmy Garoppolo will indeed be searching for his security blanket — with all the weapons Bill Belichick has stockpiled, Garopollo should have his pick of the litter. Dump off passes to his quick, stealthy running back will likely to be easy and help build confidence in the young signal-caller.
Expect Lewis to play a very big role in the offense this year. With all that the Patriots spread out with at the line of scrimmage, defenses cannot hunker down on everyone. With Lewis’s speed and elusiveness — coming out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, he could be the guy who finds the openings in New England’s short passing attack.
Seven wins, max.
Expectations haven’t been this high in upstate New York for a long time. Head coach Rex Ryan proclaimed his team
“the winners of the offseason”; and the Bills did do a lot to restructure their defense — drafting potential standouts DE Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland, hiring Rex’s brother Rob to head up the defense, bringing on former Ryan player Ed Reed as an assistant, and letting go of disgruntled DE Mario Williams. So in short, yes, the defense will be much improved and should end up as a top 5 defense this season.
The offense, however, is a different story. Star wide receiver Sammy Watkins is coming off a spring and summer that required foot surgery. All reports point to the wideout healing in plenty of time and not being hampered by any lingering effects; but foot surgeries for receivers are like knee surgeries to running backs. Watkins is a stud and has all-world talent, but if he is in any way impacted by the result of the surgery and cannot perform to his standard, the Bills offense will suffer.
Buffalo’s backfield will need to have a great season in order for the Bills to meet the expectations and make a playoff run. Karlos Williams filled in and looked very strong as LeSean McCoy’s replacement last season. He is young and will need to prove he can do it again, and for a full year; McCoy will need to prove some things himself — the first being that he can stay healthy. Although productive when healthy, McCoy has missed significant time in 4 of his 7 seasons in the league.
New York Jets
Tough schedule early on will have Jets trying to play catch-up in the win column all year.
You try not to make game-by-game predictions because it’s all based on last season and what’s most recent in your memory. But there’s no mistaking it — the Jets have a difficult opening 6 games, where they are on the road 4 times against the Bills, Chiefs, Steelers, and Cardinals. Their two home games in the stretch aren’t much easier: Cincinnati and Seattle. The schedule eases a bit after that, but a 2-4 or 1-5 start may be too big of a hole to dig out from.
With Brady missing the first 4 games in New England, it’s critical for any team in the division — including the Jets — who expects to contend to get out to a fast start and attempt to put some early distance between themselves and the perennial division champs. And watching Buffalo improve on the defensive side of the ball and Miami doing the same, the Jets aren’t going to find any easy divisional games this year.
Jay Ajayi will resemble a young Matt Forte in Adam Gase’s offense.
The Dolphin defense is designed to get after opposing quarterbacks. Don’t expect that to change — Cameron Wake is back healthy, Ndamakong Suh is still able to play at a high level, and the addition of Mario Williams could inject even more “umf” into the line. But head coach Adam Gase was brought on the help make the offensive pieces realize their potential, beginning with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Gase’s offense should allow Tannehill to see growth and improvement this season — Gase has a very good track record. What it should also do is showcase the talents of running back Jay Ajayi. Look for Ajayi to be a significant weapon out of the backfield, as a runner and as a pass catcher. His play alone could be the deciding factor when it comes down to if this Dolphins team is playoff-bound in January.