Buffalo Bills 2017 Season Preview

Since a 9-7 finish in the 2014 season, the Bills have gotten a game worse in each of the following seasons. This year Rex Ryan is out and Sean McDermott is in, which means a new scheme and a new culture in Buffalo.

Last year: 7-9

Subtractions: WR Sammy Watkins, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Ronald Darby, K Dan Carpenter

Additions: WR Jordan Matthews, FB Patrick DiMarco, FB Mike Tolbert, K Stephen Hauschka

Notable Rookies: CB TreDavious White, WR Zay Jones, OL Dion Dawkins

Analysis: There was a lot of turnover for the Buffalo Bills this offseason. Blustery Rex Ryan and his hybrid defensive scheme are replaced by stoic Sean McDermott and his Jim Johnson-influenced 4-3 defense. Sammy Watkins, who was the team’s most talented if not the most productive wide receiver, is headed west to the Los Angeles Rams. He’ll be replaced by Jordan Matthews, who they got from the Eagles along with a 3rd round draft pick in exchange for cornerback Ronald Darby. Their other starting corner from last year, Stephon Gilmore, signed with the Patriots this offseason. Those are some significant downgrades at key positions. Coach McDermott is a defensive-minded coach and he’s got a lot to work with on that side of the ball.  New Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison will work to polish Tyrod Taylor’s pocket passing while instituting his own outside zone run scheme. Incumbent running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy will be running a lot out of the I-formation this season, as the team signed not one but two fullbacks. This team has averaged eight wins over the last three seasons and with a new coach you can expect more of the same. For the Bills though, this season is more about building for the future. This offseason’s trades have situated the Bills with two picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, offering Coach McDermott a golden opportunity to shape the team in his image.

Miami Dolphins 2017 Season Preview

The Dolphins were a playoff team last year, if only for one game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending injury in week 14 prevented a longer postseason run. This year it looks like Tannehill will be out for the whole season and head coach Adam Gase has coaxed Jay Cutler out of retirement for one final campaign.

Last year: 10-6

Subtractions: LT Branden Albert

Additions: QB Jay Cutler, TE Julius Thomas, TE Anthony Fasano

Notable Rookies: DE Charles Harris, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Cordrea Tankersly

Analysis:

Tannehill was having a career year when his season ended last year but Tannehill reinjured his knee early in training camp so we won’t get to see what his followup season would have looked like. Instead it’s big-armed Jay Cutler, who was out of football and ready to go into broadcasting until Gase came calling. To be fair one of Cutler’s best years in Chicago came with Gase as his offensive coordinator. Around Cutler virtually all of last year’s team is intact, but will that continuity be enough to win football games? Miami resigned Kenny Stills in the offseason, keeping together a wicked receiving corps that also features Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. Returning running back Jay Ajayi is electrifying but inconsistent. He had three games last year with 200+ rushing yards but twelve games with less than 80. On paper it looks like tight end Julius Thomas could end up being a steal; one of Coach Gase’s favorite offensive formations features three bunched wide receivers and a tight end, and Thomas is more talented than any option Gase had there last season. Miami’s already-dynamic defensive line will be helped along by the team’s top draft pick Charles Harris as he fights for playing time. The Dolphins have a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball and while it remains to be seen whether they can top the Pats for the AFC East title, they stand a great chance at winning a wild card spot.

New York Jets 2017 Season Preview

They head great expectations after finishing the 2015-16 season at 10-6, but last season was a lean one for Mean Green. In a year where they’re unlikely to make the playoffs they’re hoping for younger players to distinguish themselves as play-makers, and they don’t mind the high draft pick they’ll get if it isn’t pretty.

Last year: 5-11

Subtractions: LB David Harris, WR Eric Decker, CB Darrelle Revis, C Nick Mangold, K Nick Folk

Additions: CB Morris Claiborne, K Chandler Catanzaro

Notable rookies: S Jamal Adams, S Marcus Maye, WR ArDavius Stewart, WR Chad Hansen, TE Jordan Leggett

Analysis:

After the team over-performed in head coach Todd Bowles’ first year on the job you could call 2016 a sophomore slump. Incumbent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick came back down to Earth hard and brought the entire team with him. The silver lining in this: the New York Jets rebuild has begun in earnest. They took tens of millions of dollars in contract money off the books by cutting expensive veterans, they had a frugal free agency period and they’ve named Josh McCown their opening day starting quarterback.  Both of their starting safeties are likely to be rookies. This isn’t to rip on the Jets, even if it’s true that this is simply not a good football team. However, as bad teams go some are trending downward, some are treading water and some are trending upward. The Jets have been a bad team for a long time but it looks as though they’re finally heading in the right direction. This year will serve as an incubator for young QBs Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, and if neither stands out the team stands to have a pretty high draft pick at which to pick a “quarterback of the future.” A dearth of pricey veterans means more snaps for young players and more opportunity to evaluate them. Coach Bowles is tasked with keeping control of the locker room while the team in the tank, but will he be the man to coach this team when it emerges from the tank?

New England Patriots 2017 Season Preview

Photo by: Keith Allison

They breezed through Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension, came out swinging on the other side and won their second Super Bowl in three years. This year if anything they’re better, and they’re looking to make it three out of four.

Last year: 14-2

Subtractions: TE Martellus Bennett, RB LeGarette Blount, CB Logan Ryan, DE Chris Long

Additions: WR Brandin Cooks, CB Stephen Gilmore, LB David Harris, RB Mike Gillislee, RB Rex Burkhead, TE Dwayne Allen

Notable Rookies: DE Derek Rivers, OT Antonio Garcia, OT Conor McDermott

Analysis:

During the current Patriots dynasty they’ve rarely been the team to “win the offseason,” instead relying on Bill Belichick’s remarkable ability to spin other teams’ fringe players into gold. This year however has been an outlier: there’s a strong case to be made that they had the best off-season of any NFL team. While most Super Bowl champs take a hit due to expiring contracts and depleted cap room, the Patriots added one of the top corner backs on the market (Gilmore) on a massive contract and acquired on of the top young receivers in the game (Cooks) in a trade with the Saints. They replace battering ram running back LeGarrette Blount with a pair of buy-low backs (Gillislee and Burkhead) who under Belichik’s tutelage will probably turn into Jim Brown and Marshall Faulk. That’s hyperbole of course, but by now we’ve all seen what the Man in the Cutoff Sweatshirt is capable of. All-time great Tom Brady returns at quarterback for his age 40 season with some new toys but it’s fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Only two 40-year-old signal callers have ever posted a season QB rating over 76: Brett Favre in ’09 and Warren Moon in ’97. Is that why the franchise was suddenly so aggressive this offseason, or is Belichick planning to retire soon and he’s not telling any of us? Either way, it’s hard to pick against the Pats to win the AFC East.

Houston Texans 2017 Season Preview

Their quarterback position was a revolving door of mediocrity, yet their combination of defensive prowess and dumb luck propelled them to a winning record. This season they’re losing some talent on defense but there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon at quarterback.

Last season: 9-7

Subtractions: DT Vince Wilfork, DE Antonio Smith, LB John Simon, CB A.J. Bouye, S Quintin Demps

Additions: None of the significance. Seriously.

Notable Rookies: QB DeShaun Watson, DT Carlos Watkins

Analysis: Houston won games last year on the strength of their defense and not their quarterback play. While defensive stars like Jadaveon Clowney and Brian Cushing remain and J.J. Watt comes back from injury, the team lost its top cornerback in A.J. Bouye, who signed with Jacksonville. Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller are a solid tandem, and the team leans heavily on tight ends C.J. Fiederowicz and Ryan Griffin who both notched 50 or more catches last season. While coach Bill O’Brien has insisted journeyman Tom Savage is his starting quarterback, the team spent its first round pick on DeShaun Watson whose high ceiling, one could argue, makes him a better choice to start. Last year’s record is stronger on paper than it was in real life. In games decided by one score, the Texans were 8-2, suggesting they’re prime candidates for regression. The team didn’t sign any major free agents, acquiring no players for more than $3-million. If Tom Savage is your 16-game starter expect a season of mediocrity. If Watson wins out, the win-ceiling gets higher but the floor gets lower too.

Tennessee Titans 2017 Season Preview

The rebuild is going well in Nashville. Quarterback Marcus Mariota played up to his second overall pick pedigree in his second pro season. The question this year is whether he can do it again.

Last season: 9-7

Subtractions: CB Jason McCourty

Additions: CB Logan Ryan, WR Eric Decker, S Jonathan Cyprien, DT Sylvester Williams

Notable Rookies: WR Corey Davis, CB Adoree Jackson, TE Jonnu Smith

Analysis: A leg injury ended Mariota’s 2016 season on Christmas Eve, but for much of the season he’d been playing as well as any signal caller in the league, an impressive feat when you consider the team’s limited weapons in the passing game. The club addressed this need in the offseason, picking up Eric Decker after he was cut by the Jets and spending a first round pick on Eastern Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis. This influx of talent should take pressure off of returning WRs Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe. Tennessee had an extremely productive running game with a resurgent DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry sharing the workload. Both running backs look for continued success this year. The offensive line was among the league’s best and like Mariota they’re hoping to prove last year’s performance was their true talent level and not a fluke. On the defensive side of the ball veterans Ryan, Cyprien and Williams shore up a solid if unspectacular unit. Limited roster turnover, a mix of old and young talent and a rising star at quarterback have the Tennessee Titans trending upward and after eight years of missing the playoffs, this could be the year that streak ends.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2017 Season Preview

In a year where many picked the Jags to take a step forward, they took two steps back. In 2017 Blake Bortles looks to rebound and prove he can be Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback.

Last season: 3-13

Subtractions: Head Coach Gus Bradley, RB Denard Robinson, TE Julius Thomas, OT Kevin Beachem, G Luke Joeckel, DT Jared Odrick, CB Prince Amukamara

Additions: CB A.J. Bouye, DE Calais Campbell, S Barry Church, TE Mychal Rivera, Head Coach Doug Marrone

Notable Rookies: RB Leonard Fournette, OL Cam Robinson, WR Dede Westbrook, DE Dawuane Smoot, LB Blair Brown

Analysis:

Last year was supposed to be Blake Bortles’ coming out party when he would cement himself as an above average quarterback on a below average team, the poor man’s Derek Carr. Instead, Bortles’ turnover numbers increased and it set the entire team back. In an effort to take pressure off of their erratic quarterback the Jags drafted jackhammer running back Leonard Fournette in the hopes his college production will translate to the pros. If Fournette is successful that means fewer passing attempts and hopefully fewer turnovers. Rookies Robinson and Westbrook help the team’s offensive outlook, at the very least raise the level of competition in practice. On paper, their defense looks good, but that’s been the case in the past and it hasn’t served the Jaguars well. They spent some late-round draft picks on the defense and has set the bar low last year it’s likely they’ll improve in that phase of the game. If Bortles can limit his turnovers there’s plenty of talent on this team to compete in this division, but if his play doesn’t improve it’ll be another year in the bottom third of the league and possibly Bortles’ last year in Jacksonville.

Indianapolis Colts 2017 Season Preview

An exciting offense was undone by a dreadful defense, the Colts finished at .500 last year but lost franchise quarterback Andrew Luck to injury at the end of the season. This year fans have to hope a revamped defense is enough to put Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano over the top in a winnable division.

Last season: 8-8

Subtractions: TE Dwayne Allen, DE Erik Walden, LB Robert Mathis, DE Trent Cole, S Mike Adams

Additions: DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Jabaal Sheard, LB John Simon, LB Sean Spence, General Manager Chris Ballard

Notable Rookies: S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson, DL Grover Stewart, DE Tarell Basham

Analysis:

Any team with Andrew Luck as its starting quarterback has a puncher’s chance to win on Sunday, and with a deep threat like T.Y. Hilton they’ve got the potential to be much better than that. The problem for the Colts in the Andrew Luck Era has been on the defensive side of the ball. Last year they finished 30th in total defense. This offseason the defense underwent a sweeping makeover, replacing several veterans on the wrong side of 30 with younger, cheaper replacements. On offense, 34-year-old Frank Gore is entering his final year under contract with Indy. When he first signed the deal I panned it saying he was too old, but he’s kept right on chugging along, running his way up to eighth all-time rushing. If he has another 1000-yard season it would vault him up to fifth all-time. Luck appears to have recovered from shoulder surgery and he’ll work behind a line that showed improvement in the second half last year. T.Y. Hilton headlines a talented-but-shallow receiving corps. Will a revamped defense be enough to get this team into the playoffs? And if not, does Chuck Pagano get to keep his job?

Chicago Bears 2017 Season Preview

The Chicago Bears may have a plan internally, but to the outside world their offseason came across as a whirlwind of dysfunction. Early in March, the Bears inked longtime Tampa Bay back-up Mike Glennon to a three year/$45 million contract in hopes that he could become the next Kirk Cousins or Tyrod Taylor: a career long back-up that flourished when he finally become the guy. Details of the contract were surprising, however, as only the first season is fully guaranteed, meaning it, in essence, could be just a single year prove-it contract, earning Glennon over $18 million. On draft day, though, the situation took on a dramatic twist when Chicago traded up to select heralded UNC quarterback Mitchell Trubisky number two overall. It’s clear the club views the kid as their signal caller of the future, but it makes for an interesting soap opera, particularly if Glennon plays well.

2016 Record: 3-13

Notable Additions: QB Mike Glennon, CB Prince Amukamara, WR Markus Wheaton, TE Dion Sims, WR Kendall Wright, S Quintin Demps

Notable Subtractions: WR Alshon Jeffery, QB Brian Hoyer, DL Cornelius Washington, WR Eddie Royal, DB Tracy Porter, QB Jay Cutler

Notable Rookies: QB Mitchell Trubisky, TE Adam Shaheen, S Eddie Jackson, RB Tarik Cohen

Analysis:

The majority of attention at Soldier Field this season will be directed at the Bears’ quarterback situation, which has all the makings of a true Hollywood worthy suspense feature. Free-agent addition Mike Glennon has waited years for this opportunity, and if he is able to play well and impress, the plot will thicken further. Hypothetically, if the veteran outperforms expectations and has Chicago playing meaningful games into December, how can the team really justify letting him walk at the conclusion of the campaign? But in that scenario, if they pick up his option and commit to him for another two seasons, where does that leave Mitchell Trubisky? If Glennon struggles it would almost be easier for the Bears, as they could easily bench him in favor of the rookie. In doing so, they would literally be admitting to an $18 million mistake, which is something teams tend to be hesitant to do. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll want to pay attention to the quarterback drama, as otherwise, the Bears are not all that exciting.

Minnesota Vikings 2017 Season Preview

Photo by: Keith Allison

The Minnesota Vikings entered camp last year as the defending NFC North champions, and for a team with playoff aspirations, losing their starting quarterback for the season during training camp could have been a crippling blow. The Vikings though pulled a quick about face, acquiring Sam Bradford from the Eagles to replace the injured Teddy Bridgewater, and the move worked, at least early on, as Minnesota won each of their first five contests. Unfortunately, they went just 3-8 the rest of the way, as their dynamic defense just couldn’t make enough stops to hide the offense’s deficiency. The Vikings tried to import some playmakers this offseason, and with Bridgewater’s timetable still not totally known, Bradford will again be leading the charge.

2016 Record: 8-8

Notable Additions: WR Michael Floyd, RB Latavius Murray, RT Mike Remmers, QB Case Keenum, DE Datone Jones, OT Riley Reiff

Notable Subtractions: RB Adrian Peterson, LT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson,  OT Andre Smith

Notable Rookies: RB Dalvin Cook, C Pat Elflein, DT Jaleel Johnson

Analysis:

With Teddy Bridewater’s status still completely up in the air Minnesota will have to put a lot of trust in Sam Bradford, and while the former number one overall pick did set an NFL record for completion percentage last season, an overwhelming majority of his completions came on short dump offs, and he was never really a threat to make a game changing throw downfield. In an effort to help their second year quarterback, the Vikings will attempt to rediscover their running game of old, as with the oft injured Adrian Peterson now in New Orleans, the team spent a lot of their resources to import Latavius Murray (F/A Oakland) and Dalvin Cook (2nd round pick) in an effort to improve their ball carrying talent, and added two tackles in Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff who bring elite run blocking skill sets to the table. Defensively Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and company should continue to harass opposing quarterbacks, while Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith highlight one of the game’s top secondaries. Losing elite kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson will hurt Minnesota’s ability to win the field position battle, and at the end of the day while this team does have talent, expecting them to be a playoff team may be asking too much.