2016 AFC Preview w/ Win Totals

Win totals used are from FootballLocks.com

AFC

East

Patriots OVER 10.5
11-5 1st in AFC East

The Brady suspension doesn’t turn me off on the Pats as much as some would think it should. They have only lost the division twice in the Brady era. Once in 2002 after they had one their first Superb Owl, and the year Brady tore his ACL, that’s it. 4 games without Brady seems like something the Patriots can survive, especially with continual lackluster play from division rivals. I think Jimmy G splits the four games he starts and Brady can win at least 9 out of the remaining 12 to get to at least 11 wins.

Dolphins UNDER 7
5-11 4th in AFC East

The Dolphins plan to get better from the 6-10 finish they had last year was to bring in a bunch of castoff players from equally middling teams. They traded FOR Byron Maxwell(who got torched all last year on the Eagles) and Kiko Alonso while signing Mario Williams. They ended up stealing Laremy Tunsil in the draft because the gas mask “scared teams off”, and then they signed Arian Foster in training camp. This really is going to be it for Ryan Tannehill. If he doesn’t have an exceptional season I would imagine Gase would want to bring in own “QB of the future”. I’m of the opinion that Tannehill just isn’t that good and the Dolphins will repeat the woes of last year. They came out strong after Dan Campbell was named interim coach by beating the Titans and Texans by a combined score of 82-36. After that they were 3-3 and proceeded to go 3-7 down the stretch. They beat the Eagles by a point, the IRavens from last year by 2 and New England in the final week by 10. They were outscored as a team by 8.9 points a game during that stretch and the Dolphins averaged a measly 16.3 points a game for the remaining 10 games of the season. The Dolphins gave up the 2nd most attempts to opponents last year. All teams in the top 10 of rushing attempts allowed last year finished below .500, which is where the Dolphins will be again this year.

Bills PUSH 8
8-8 3rd in AFC East

This kinda feels right for the Bills. They finished 8-8 last year too and I think they are a .500 level team. The defense was league average last year and I expect similar things from them this year. Rookie’s Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland are hurt to start the season(Ragland will miss the year with a torn ACL) and I don’t know where the improvements will come on defense. The offensive line has to play bettter to so Tyrod Taylor can stay healthy to continue to developing into the promising player he showed he can be last season. The Bills have some talent, but definitely not as much as New England and the Jets right now. I think they will be a better offensive team than a defensive team this year. Taylor, Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy are all difference makers on that side of the ball. I think they are a year away from making the playoffs to tell you the truth. They need to add a few pieces and get more stability from their offense before they become a playoff team.

Jets OVER 7.5
9-7 2nd in AFC East

If Geno Smith would have been the starter I would have had to think about this for a second. With Ryan Fitzpatrick back under contract before the start of the season however, the OVER seems like a no brainer. Even if you think that they weren’t as good as they showed last year when they won 10 games, the Jets proved that they will be a tough beat with their current talent. Fitzpatrick was able to utilize Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to great effect last year to make the Jets 11th in points per game last year, tied for 8th in passing TD’s and 13th in passing yards. They replaced Chris Ivory with Matt Forte while retaining Bilal Powell. They plan to use Khiry Robinson as the physical runner among their RB’s. The defense could use more of an outside pass rush to complement what is the most talented front line in the NFL led by Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and newly acquired nose tackle Steven McClendon.

West

Broncos UNDER 9
8-8 2nd in AFC West

In some ways the Broncos are the most challenging team to get a feel for. I was of the opinion that their offense looked better under Brock Osweiler last year but we all remember that he got pulled for Peyton who played well enough for the Broncos to win the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl hangover coupled with the loss of both those quarterbacks adds an element of instability that the Broncos haven’t had since acquiring Peyton Manning in 2012. Paxton Lynch was drafted, Mark Sanchez was traded for and apparently Trevor Simien is a thing to replace Manning/Osweiler. They can’t get worse at QB than what they did last year though. The Broncos threw the most interceptions of any offense last year and finished 28th in passing TD’s in 2015. The defense may take a step back with the losses of Danny Trevaethon and Malik Jackson to FA and an ailing DeMarcus Ware coming into camp but they should still be a top 10 defense next year. I just wonder how much intensity will remain from a team that just won the Super Bowl. Can Gary Kubiak keep his team focused and have them keep performing at a high level the way that Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy and Bill Belichick have in recent years?

Chargers UNDER 7
6-10 4th in AFC West

Their defense is really horrible. They were the 5th worst team in terms of DVOA last year, and just got ran on all over on defense. They gave up 4.8 yards per carry to opposing backs(3rd worst mark in the NFL), 2005 yards to opposing backs(good for 6th worst in the league) and gave up 17 rushing TD’s last year(good for 4th worst of any team last year). Their passing numbers on defense look respectable, finishing top 15 in passing yards and TD’s allowed on the year. However they allowed opponents the 5th best yards per attempt mark last year and finished in the bottom 10 of team sacks last year as well, which suggests that their passing totals from last year are a little inflated of how effectively and often opponents ran on them. For what it’s worth they were also a top 10 teams in terms of low variance defensively last year too so they just weren’t bad, they were consistently bad! Phillip Rivers will still do Phillip Rivers things with a bad to mediocre offensive line and limited/injured weapons around him. They just aren’t ready to be a team with serious aspirations until they fix their defense and get a running game though.

Raiders UNDER 8.5
8-8 2nd in AFC West

Everyone likes the Raiders right now, and what’s not to like? Derek Carr stepped up last year and along Amari Cooper, a resurgent Michael Crabtree and Latavius Murray turned the Raiders into a league average offense for the first time since 2011(17th in points per game at 22.3, 16th in passing yards per game at 242.4). The Raiders are promising but I don’t think they are ready to make as big of a jump as people think this year. This is still a division with two very good veteran QB’s in Phillip Rivers and Alex Smith. The Chiefs and Broncos defenses have been among the league’s best for the last few years and will still be tough tests for a team trying to get better. Their defense also still has room for growth, as they were outside the top 20 for points allowed per game, yards allowed per game and passing yards allowed per game. Khalil Mack should lead the charge for their defensive to get better as well this year. The Raiders are coming up and should keep getting better but a playoff push may have to wait till 2017.

Chiefs OVER 9.5
11-5 1st in AFC West

The Chiefs are set to take over the division with Broncos having realized their goal of winning a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. The SB hangover and consequent roster turnover leaves the Broncos with some re-grouping to do to be a contender again. The Chiefs were right on their heels last year. They started 1-5 and then turned it around and didn’t lose for another three months. During their 10 game win streak to close the regular season the Chiefs outscored opponents by 82 points, or 8.2 points a game. They were routing the teams they were playing, they were only involved in two games decided by a TD or less. The Chiefs also annihilated the Texans 38-0 in the wild card round before losing to the Patriots by just a TD. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think the Chiefs are a serious contender for another AFC playoff run.

 

North

Ravens UNDER 8.5
7-9 3rd in AFC North

The Ravens were the injured to hell team from last year, they had 22 players on IR! They lost Terrell Suggs for the year in the 1st game of the year and that was an unfortunate sign of things to come. They would lose Steve Smith to an ACL tear, Justin Forsett to a broken arm and Joe Flacco to an ACL tear. Breshard Perriman never suited up for the Ravens last year as well due to injury. Matt Schaub played for this team last year, Ryan Mallet played for this team last year. They somehow swept the Steelers without Flacco last year in what was the fantasy game from hell for everyone who owned Steelers players. Antonio Brown had a TD called back in this game and everything it was terrible. The Ravens only other win without Flacco was when the Browns were going to beat them by kicking a game winning FG as time expired. Of course the Browns Brownsed it up and got the FG blocked and recovered and returned for a TD as time expired on them instead. Oh and when Flacco was healthy they only beat San Diego, St. Louis and Pittsburgh in OT. This was the game where Michael Vick started in which the Steelers kicker missed not one but two 4th quarter FG’s from within 50 yards. In OT the Steelers were so traumatized by missing the FG’s earlier they elect not to kick and go for it on a 4th and 2 and turn the ball over on downs. That was the Ravens signature win last year. They aren’t going to be above .500 this year, they still have work to do in acquiring talent right now on both sides of the ball.

Steelers UNDER 10.5
10-6 2nd in AFC North

The Steelers have what seems like the NFL’s most exciting offense when they have all their guys playing together, but it’s been hard to keep them all on the field together. Le’Veon Bell is coming into this season off his knee injury last year and a possible 4 game suspension coming into training camp. Martavis Bryant is suspended for the whole year for violation’s of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 1.75 games missed per year over his career. Big Ben’s a tough player and seems to always be able to come back and play from/with injuries but when you consistently miss a game or two per year that’s going to cap your win total. Antonio Brown is GREAT. He’s the best all around player in the NFL right now. The Steelers emerged as a better defense than they have been in quite some time last year. They were a top 5 rush defense and 11th in points allowed per game. They got torched through the air last year though, giving up the 3rd most passing yards per game. If the Steelers defense can continue to be bend but not break and the offense can find stability while missing key guys like they did last year the Steelers should be fighting for a playoff spot next season.

Bengals OVER 9.5
13-3 1st in AFC North

I think the number is low because of how they bungled their playoff loss. The Bengals are bringing everyone on defense back except Leon Hall and they drafted another 1st round CB who won’t play for two years to replace him. The offense lost Sanu and Marvin Jones. Ok. I liked Sanu because he can throw and has had some fun gadget plays for the Bengals offense. Marvin Jones made some big plays but I don’t think he was such a big part of the offense he can’t be replaced. What’s more worrisome is that Tyler Eifert is likely to miss the start of the season, hopefully he comes back soon or else that could spell trouble. This is a team that lost their emerging QB in Andy Dalton last year and still closed out the division. Given that the Patriots are going to drop the #1 seed with the suspension of Tom Brady someone else needs to take it and I think the Bengals will. They have a quietly easy schedule this year as well. They get the NFC and AFC East as well as Houston(which isn’t an easy game for the Bengals) and Denver. They seriously need to win a playoff game this year, but I don’t have any doubts that they are going to get there again.

Browns UNDER 4.5
4-12 4th in AFC North

They are the 76ers of the NFL right now. They traded everything away for draft picks, future picks and tomorrow. They aren’t in a position to do anything other than develop all the young players they have brought in to the team. RG3, Terrelle Pryor and Josh Gordon make for interesting reclamation projects. I think Hue Jackson can provide an identity to this offense and make them a top half offense if everything works out. If he can make Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson do their best Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard impressions that they can have a good one two punch at RB. Hopefully Gary Barnidge continues to be a great diamond in the rough for them, because they don’t have any more proven receiving options after letting Travis Benjamin walk in FA. Like San Diego, their defense was consistently bad last year and isn’t going to make the jump this year. Hey, at least the Indians will give Cleveland something to root for before basketball season starts up again.

 

South

Colts UNDER 9.5
8-8 2nd in AFC North

I thought that when Andrew Luck went down last season the Colts would fold with him. That wasn’t exactly the case. They ended up finishing 8-8 and being in the division race up until the end. Going back and looking at the Colts season I have sooo many questions and not nearly enough answers. Andrew Luck went 2-5 as a starter for the team last year, meaning 40+ year old Matt Hassleback and the rest of the QB’s who played because Hassleback ALSO GOT INJURED went 6-3 last year. The Colts won four of their eight games within the division, two games against the NFC South(Falcons, Buccaneers) and beat Denver and Miami. They went 7-4 in games decided by a TD or less last year, scored less than 20 points in a game seven times last year and gave up 96 points in two weeks to the Steelers and Jaguars. The Colts won two more games than their expected pythagorean win total last year and weren’t ranked in the top half in Passing or Rushing yards or TD’s, points scored per game or points allowed per game or passing/rushing yards and TD’s allowed. Why am I higher on them than the next team on this list than? It’s simple, I still believe in Andrew Luck and I think he can turn it around enough to give them a potential playoff push.

Texans UNDER 8.5
8-8 3rd in AFC North

They are the hardest team for me to preview this year by far. I can’t tell if they are more the team that lost to the Falcons and Dolphins by a combined score of 47-92, the team that won seven of their last nine games while holding teams to 10 or less points in six of those games, or the team that lost 0-38 in the most humiliating fashion possible in the wild card round of the playoffs. They were FootballOutsiders least consistent defense last year to boot. The Texans have acquired a whole new offense this year to be better. They moved on from Arian Foster with Lamar Miller, they signed Brock Osweiler to be their franchise QB and they drafted Braxton Miller and Will Fuller to complement DeAndre Hopkins. If the J.J Watt back injury is at all serious, the defense will suffer significantly. I think they are going to struggle with the 1st place schedule they have this year. The AFC South drew the NFC North(which is probably the best division top down in the NFC) and the AFC West but the Texans get the pleasure of having to play the Patriots and Bengals as well this year. Despite everything the Texans have done I’m not really sold on them. Osweiler needs to play much better than the Hoyer, Weeden combo did last year to get the Texans back in the playoffs.

Jaguars OVER 7.5
10-6 1st in AFC South

I’m know it’s optimistic to buy the Jags but among the mediocrity of the AFC South I think they actually have the best shot to separate themselves from the pack. They proved last year that they can have an explosive offense led by the much improved Blake Bortles. The Jaguars were 10th in passing yards last year and tied for 3rd in passing TD’s last year. They struggled running the ball last year though. They were tied for 2nd to last in rushing TD’s, 6th worst in rushing yards, 2nd to last in rushing 1st downs and were 2nd to last in rushing attempts last year. The signing of Chris Ivory to pair with T.J Yeldon should significantly improve their rushing game. The offensive line has to play better for them to get this good. They gave up 51 sacks last year, the 4th most in the NFL, and that’s somehow a massive improvement from the 71 sacks they gave up in 2014! The defense also has some big steps to make as well. They drafted Jalen Ramsey(who subsequently got hurt), Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue and Dexter Fowler Jr.(their 1st round pick from last year, who red-shirted last year due to injury) to help bolster the defense, along with signing Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson. The secondary needs the most help. They gave up the 4th most passing yards last year, finished as the 6th worst team in the NFL in forcing interceptions, were top 10 worst in passing attempts allowed and completion percentage allowed. They were the 2nd worst passing defense in DVOA as well. Why buy the Jaguars then? I think the defense and running game can make the improvements they need to this year to get to around the middle of the pack, which would be a big improvement coming from the bottom. I also think that they have the best QB in the division, as of writing this. I am seriously worried about Andrew Luck’s health coming back into this season and Bortles is better than Mariota and Osweiler.

Titans OVER 5.5
6-10 4th in AFC East

They are clearly a team that’s rebuilding but Marcus Mariota showed some stuff last year that proves if he can stay healthy and keep progressing they won’t be an easy out. Mariota was 3-8 as a starter last year in games that he finished, and in all three of those wins the Titans averaged a whopping 40.5 points per game. Mariota went 2-4 in games decided by a TD or less last year. What does this mean? Well to me it means that the Titans will be a competent team with Mariota, but nowhere close to a good team, not until they fix their defense anyway. The Titans defense conceded 30+ points to opponents 7 times last year! They signed DeMarco Murray and drafted Derrick Henry to bolster their 25th ranked running attack this year, but they didn’t address the receiver position on offense. Also the Titans coach is the illustrious Mike Mularkey, who took over after being the interim coach last year. He went 2-7 as the interim coach making his record as a head coach in the NFL a whopping 18-39! Keep up the rebuilding process Tennessee and keep Mariota healthy so we can all see some great highlights from him.

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