The Patriots are a team that’s in the midst of a slight rebuilding effort but it’s of their own doing. Their defense has been weakened by the release of their aging, yet still productive, defensive nucleus. I believe the Patriots will continue to feel the effects of these decisions as they attempt to develop their talent. However, with Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and a healthy Wes Welker they should be explosive enough to bury their defensive shortcomings with touchdowns. This won’t work versus every team on the Patriots schedule since they have one of the tougher out of division schedules in the league. New England has games versus Cincinnati, Baltimore, San Diego, Minnesota, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh that’ll certainly test their patchwork defense and likely get them into a lot of ‘last team with the ball wins’ type of games. The Patriots will have to score nearly 30 points per game in order to pick up double digit wins, since they were capable of a 26.7 average last year without Welker last year I suspect they’ll be up to the challenge. It’s possible the Patriots could have the same record they had last year but be a far better team, their schedule doesn’t give them much leniency. Last year they racked up wins versus Tampa Bay, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Denver…..this year it won’t be as easy. (10-6)
Waiver Wire Sleeper: Julian Edelman. He showed what he was capable of in Wes Welker’s absence last year, earning the title ‘Wes Welker Lite’. He’s not as shifty as Welker but he is still a more than capable target that has earned Tom Brady’s trust. If the Patriots choose to go easy on Welker, or if he suffers an injury setback, Edelman will be called on once again.
The one thing that annoys me about the Jets is the hype surrounding Mark Sanchez. Their defense carried them last year in spite of Sanchez’s 20 interceptions. Rex Ryan knows this and I hope he’s relaying this to his quarterback as well. If Sanchez buys into the hype and starts trying to force throws feeling he needs to win games the Jets will take steps backwards. Sanchez still has a lot to learn about the quarterback position, charisma is one thing but not throwing 20 interceptions is a more important thing. The only quarterbacks in the league to throw 20 or more interceptions were Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, and nobody is expecting their teams to be in the Super Bowl this year. Santonio Holmes serving a 4 game suspension will hurt this team since they’ll be forced to face Baltimore and New England without him. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson should be an effective enough rushing tandem to take some pressure off of Sanchez and let him focus on throwing less interceptions and more on managing the game. The Jets defense is too good to have Sanchez continuously sending them out on the field time and time again. However, if they try to make Sanchez play the Namath role they’ll be the NFL’s biggest disappointment. (10-6)
Player To Watch: Antonio Cromartie. Not just because he seems to impregnate any egg he walks past but because Revis’ return means teams will be forced to test Cromartie. He could end up with more interceptions then revis just based on number of opportunities.
The Miami Dolphins will reportedly scale back the use of their Wildcat formation which will be a mistake. The unpredictability of the Wildcat was the best thing going for them offensively last year. The Dolphins perfected the intricate blocking details to maximize its effectiveness in the NFL, it wasn’t until Ronnie Brown’s injury that things really fell apart. I suspect this decision was made due to the acquisition of Brandon Marshall. However, with teams now having to constantly monitor a Dolphins receiver for the first time in years this could be the most successful season for the Wildcat. However, if the Dolphins do minimize its usage, Marshall will still be able to provide explosiveness to their offense. If Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams stay healthy the Dolphins are a gritty team that could surprise a few and hang with some top teams late into games. A balanced attack with Marshall should help the Dolphins improve slightly on their 22 points per game, but, their defense looks shaky and could forefeit even more than the 24 points per game they gave up last year. (8-8)
Player To Watch: Brandon Marshall. There’s no denying Marshall’s talent, he’s a beast of a man who outmuscles opponents and is a nightmare for DB’s to tackle once he has the ball. Still, with the stable of quarterbacks the Dolphins have I’m sure Marshall will be frustrated a couple times this season. The type of season he’ll have is directly related to how he responds in these moments.
The Buffalo Bills will be the one team since the 49ers to digress since waving goodbye to Terrell Owens. He actually had a pretty good season last year and provided their offense with a bit of a desperately needed spark. Adding C.J. Spiller to a combination of T.O. and Lee Evans would’ve actually made the Bills an interesting team. Instead, they’re left with career 3rd, 2nd at best, wide receivers a stable of running backs that might not find much running room this season. Trent Edwards is the best quarterback they have but he still has a tendency to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. Defensively, Buffalo was average last year but since their schedule is much more difficult this year the Bills will regress. (4-12)
Player To Watch: C.J. Spiller. This guy is track star fast but is also a pretty well polished running back for a rookie. It will be interesting to see what he’ll be able to do in a game if Trent Edwards and Lee Evans can loosen the opposing defense. The Bills really have nothing to lose so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to make plays and I believe he will.