NFL | AFC South and AFC East preview and predictions
Houston Texans: (Offence 65.17, Defence 74.15, Overall 69.66)Strengths: Let’s hope for the first time since Jadeveon Clowney was drafted that he and JJ Watt can play together for a full season, so we can get to see just how powerful to two of them are. Less well known on that defensive front seven are DJ Reader and Whitney Mercilus. The addition of Tyrann Mathieu at safety could be that added element that is needed to take this defence to the next step. On offence, DeAndre Hopkins has incredible hands, and if Watson is success, he might finally have the monster statistical year which he is so capable of having. Bill O'Brien will be under pressure to make the leap into the AFC’s elite teams. He has guided teams to the play-off in the past, with Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler, so if Watson is as exciting as last year, we might finally see what O'Brien can do with a good team. Weaknesses: This is more of a wild-card than a weakness because Deshaun Watson is one of the most difficult QBs to project in the league. When he played last year he was incredible, you could not take your eyes off the field, and the team put up massive scores, with 33 against the Patriots, 38 against the Seahawks, and a whopper 57 against the Titans. So what’s the issue with a Watson lead offence? According to PFF he threw up more interceptable balls last year than any other QB, while his rushing ability and light physical frame mean his career could be cut short, like we’ve seen with RG3 and Micheal Vick in the past. He is also coming off an ACL injury so perhaps this will be a ceiling on his physical ability. Again, these possible issues could also be the team’s biggest strength if things break right. The team’s biggest weakness is still the offensive line. Julie’n Davenport at left tackle protects like turn style and this should be more of a worry for the Texans If they want to protect Watson. Prediction: If all things click this could be the most complete team in the AFC, but it’s hard to know how good Watson will be. I’m going to predict that it does all click, and that they make the play-offs. If this does happen, they could be a dark horse in a very open AFC. 10-6.
Indianapolis Colts: (Offence 70.39, Defence 64.91, Overall 67.65)Strengths: Andrew Luck is back healthy which could kick start this team back into action. Luck will also have a new Head Coach (and offensive mastermind) in Frank Reich. If Reich’s time in Philly is anything to go by, this could be an excellent partnership. This offence could also impress. TY Hilton and Jack Doyle are good receivers, while Marlon Mack has shown potential at running back. The O-line is still nothing special, but it is better than it has been in other years. Weaknesses: This might be the worst defence in football. Jabaal Shreard can play, and then there’s a whole pile of crap. Pierre Desir and Nate Hairston at corner back... how can a GM actually go into a season with that as his CB pairing? The Texans, Patriots, and Steelers could put up 50 points against them on a weekly basis. Even if the offence performs well, they will have to at least score 30+ points a week to have a chance of winning. Prediction: Andrew Luck is back, but he should be angry that his team is not good enough to compete at this level. 4-12.
Jacksonville Jaguars: (Offence 68.4, Defence 74.84, Overall 71.62)Strengths: Sacksonville, as this team were nicknamed last year, gave the Patriots quite the scare as they were one good half off football away from making it to the Super Bowl. If the Colts want to know what a corner back pairing should look like, they should look no further than Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye. Jacksonville has wanted to make itself look like Seattle for about five years now, and they may have done it. With players like Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, Telvin Smith, and Calais Campbell, they can seriously get after the QB, and have earned their nickname on the field. Weaknesses: If the Jaguars want to look at what a franchise QB looks like, they should look to the Colts in Andrew Luck, or very possibly Deshawn Watson for the Texans. Blake Bortals played well last year against the Steelers and Patriots, but too often this team plays like he is wearing stabilizers. They cannot do this if they want to take the next step, and if their epic defence takes a backwards step, this team may regress a lot from what we saw last year. They have lost Alan Robinson and Alan Hurns at receiver, and average receivers plus Blake Bortals does not make for primetime viewing. Leonard Fournette has proven himself to be a good player at running back, but still not worthy of his sky high draft pick. Prediction: Defence is harder to replicate year on year compared to offence. I’m being harsh but some teams must miss out on the play-offs. 7-9.
Tennessee Titans: (Offence 71.5, Defence 71.86, Overall 71.55Strengths: Unlike the Colts, Jaguars, and Texans, the Titans look like they are the only team in this division which will have consistent play from their offence and defence on a week to week level. I like the aggressive nature of changing Mike Milarkey as head Coach for Mike Vrabel. It’s really hard to know how good Vrabel will be, but it was very clear that the Titans were way off challenging when the Patriots destroyed them in the divisional round. This team has very few household names, but a good offensive line, followed by Derrick Henry running the ball hard, mixed in with some play-action and RPOs from Mariota, and I think this offence could have some fire in its belly. On defence, the addition of Malcolm Butler from the Patriots should strengthen up the backend, while Brian Orakpo, Jurell Casey, and Daquan Jones make for a strong pass rush. Weaknesses: This is a very average receiving core, with Delanie Walker being the highlight of an overall dull group. Even when this team won a play-off game last year they were far from inspiring. This team is really lacking an identity, the Jags have created ‘Sacksonville’, and the Texans have numerous explosive players, but the Titans have yet to give us anything to really get excited about. Prediction: I think this side is going back to the play-offs and I think Mariota can make the next step to being considered a top ten QB. 10-6.
New England Patriots: (Offense 76.33, Defence 66.19, Overall 71.26)Strengths: Belichick, Brady, Gronk. The best coach, QB and tight end in the history of the game. It’s hard to know exactly what type of offence the Patriots will run now that they have lost Brandon Cooks. Their receiving core looks dreadfully thin at the moment, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if first round pick Sony Michel plays a big role in the attack. Belichick is the master of exposing opposition weaknesses. The reason he is so good at finding hidden gems is because he always stresses to know what a player can do instead of what he can’t, and then sees if he can find a use for him in his system. He also makes some head scratching moves, which almost always seem to work out. Two years ago he got rid of Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones (Jones has been great while Collins has been awful) and they still won the Super Bowl. Last year, he benched Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, which did possibly cost them points, and then traded him to the Titans. But whether it has been Randy Moss, Wes Welker, or Brandin Cooks, the team never seems to lose a step. Why that is very hard to know. Weaknesses: Defensively this is not a very impressive unit. They have some good players like Donta Hightower, Trey Flowers, and Devin McCourtey, but they are also carrying some real passengers like Eric Rowe and Kyle Van Noy. They will most likely continue their bend don’t break strategy, which gives up easy yards at times, but can make up for it with turnovers and stout defending in the red zone. Prediction: The Patriots permanently seem to be playing easy mode on Madden. Once again, their division rivals are dreadful and they should stroll to another division title. I think their defence may not be good enough for them to win another Super Bowl this year, but if there’s one team you can never write off, this is it. They seem to get to the AFC championship game every year, so it’s hard to see how they won’t get there again. 11-4.
Miami Dolphins: (Offence 68.07, Defence 66.33, Overall 67.2)Strengths: Ryan Tannehill has shown flashes of his ability in the past, and head coach Adam Gase has got more wins from this team then I would have expected. If (and this is a huge if) Robert Quinn can return to his form from three years ago, then him and Cameron Wake might make a decent pass rush. Weaknesses: This team is just straight up bad in general. Maybe the worst roster in the NFL, but the Jets and Bills will rival them in that department. Average QB, no above average receivers, bad offensive line, most likely no pass rush, and a below average secondary. Prediction: I would have predicted less victories for this team but for the lack of quality elsewhere in terms of AFC East teams. 5-11.
New York Jets: (Offence 67.49, Defence 65.87, Overall 66.68)Strengths: Rookie QB Sam Darnold could be the answer to New York’s history of terrible QB play. He has all the raw talent, with a strong arm and good accuracy. To be fair, this side has a front four in Jenkins, Williams, Anderson, and Martin that plays hard every down and keeps them competitive. Weaknesses: This squad may be even worse than the Dolphins on paper. Their secondary is a disaster waiting to happen on every play. Darnold really hasn’t much to work with his receivers. Robby Anderson will be his go to guy, and I doubt more than 5% of football fans know who he is. Prediction: A bit like the Panthers after they drafted Cam Newton, it doesn’t essentially matter how many games the Jets win this year, it’s all about whether Darnold looks good or bad, and then you can construct the rest of the roster around him, and challenge down the road. They a bad team last year and still remained competitive, so I think Todd Bowles will keep this team playing hard and get some wins. 5-11.
Buffalo Bills: (Offence: 67.4, Defence 68.8, Overall 68.1)Strengths: You can basically just read what I said about the Jets and apply it to the Bills. It’s all about whether rookie QB Josh Allen shows promise or not. Tre’Davious White is a very good corner back on an otherwise very poor defence. Lesean McCoy, Kelvin Benjamin, and Charles Clay will give Allen some talent to work with once he hits the field, which will probably be around game week four. Weaknesses: Every player on this offensive line is below average, which could be an absolute disaster for their young QB. This defence is not very good on paper, but most of the same players played pretty well last year when they went to the play-offs. Prediction: This team just has too many below average starters to win very many games. But like the Jets, it’s all about whether Josh Allen is the man or not. 5-11. Play-off predictions: AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers AFC East: New England Patriots AFC West: San Diago Chargers AFC South: Tennessee Titans Wild Card: Houston Texans Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs Richard Corbally