2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New England Patriots

The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are up next on our previews of all 32 NFL teams, continuing on our way through the AFC East which, of course, the Pats won last season.

The Patriots have had about as interesting of an offseason as a defending Super Bowl champion can have, with the Deflategate controversy dominated the last six months — and it’s still not completely settled, with QB Tom Brady still going through his appeal of his four-game suspension. If the suspension is upheld, Brady will play his first game in Week 6 — the Patriots have their bye in Week 4 — in a rematch of the AFC Championship game against the Colts.

Although Brady had a slow start this season, he ended up with a respectable 4,109 passing yards and 33 touchdowns — which would be good by most quarterbacks’ standards, but those were his worst stats since 2010. QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who is likely to start any games Brady misses due to his suspension, saw limited playing time in his rookie season. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. TE Rob Gronkowski led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, with 1,124 and 12, respectively. WR Julian Edelman caught the most passes on the team — 92 — with 972 receiving yards and four touchdowns. No running back really stood out last season, with RB Jonas Gray gaining the most rushing yards, 412, despite starting just three games; he also had five rushing touchdowns. The Patriots had a strong defense in 2014, finishing eighth in the league.

With Brady potentially missing four games if his suspension is upheld, Garoppolo will have to perform for the first quarter of the season to have the team competitive in the division for when Brady returns to the lineup. He’ll have a tough time with the limited number of snaps he has taken in the league, although he had good numbers in college at Eastern Illinois. Having Gronkowski, and his athletic ability, to throw to should make things easier for Garoppolo. The team signed veteran WR Reggie Wayne earlier this week, offering a veteran presence who can provide leadership for the receiving core.

The first four games on the Patriots’ schedule are going to be key for the team so what teams await them in the first quarter of the season? They start at home with their opening night game against the Steelers — who will be without starting RB Le’Veon Bell, who will be serving a suspension — followed by a road game at the Bills, home game against the Jaguars and a road game at the Cowboys in Week 5 following the aforementioned Week 4 bye. If Brady misses those four games, I think the Patriots will go 2-2 in that stretch, beating the Bills and Jags. The Colts then await in a Week 6 game on the road in primetime. Week 12 sees the Patriots battle the Broncos in Denver in another primetime game. The Patriots finish their season with a road game at the Dolphins. If Brady misses the first four games, I think this is an 11- or 12-win team; if he misses fewer than four games, it may get the team an extra win. Either way, I think the Patriots are still the best team in the division and will likely win it once again — although it should be more competitive than it has been in recent years as the Dolphins and Bills have improved their rosters during the offseason.

Source: http://www.patriots.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Miami Dolphins

 

The  is up next in Our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue as we move on to the next team in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins, who finished in third place in the division last season.

The Dolphins finished last season with an 8-8 record, the second straight year they ended up with a .500 record. They haven’t had a winning record since 2008 so they made some acquisitions in the offseason to try to improve the team. The most notable of the acquisitions is DT Ndamukong Suh, who signed a long-term contract in free agency.

QB Ryan Tannehill has improved in each of his three seasons in the league, eclipsing the 4,000 passing yard mark for the first time last season — with 4,045 — and threw a career-best 27 touchdown passes. RB Lamar Miller led the running attack with 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns. WR Jarvis Landry had the most receptions on the team, with 84 to go along with 758 receiving yards and five touchdowns. The defense was pretty much middle-of-the-pack, ranking 20th in the league.

Tannehill is going to get some more help on the offense this season. The team traded for WR Kenny Stills from the Saints, who had 931 receiving yards on 63 receptions in just seven starts last season. With a full workload as Miami’s No. 2 receiver this season behind Landry, those numbers could go up rather significantly this year. The team also signed veteran WR Greg Jennings, who should prove to be a viable third option for Tannehill to throw to. On the defense, the signing of Suh should cause problems for opposing offenses. With the Lions last season, he had 8.5 sacks, which would have been the second-highest total on the Dolphins.

The Dolphins schedule opens with a couple of winnable road games, at the Redskins and Jaguars in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively. Things get tougher later in the season with three straight road games in Weeks 8-10 against the Patriots, Bills and Eagles, followed by a home game with the Cowboys. If the Dolphins are in a hunt for a playoff spot late in the season, they’re not going to get any help with their Week 16 and 17 matchups, home games with the Colts and Patriots. With QB Tom Brady potentially missing the first four games of the season for New England, the Dolphins have their best chance in a while to win the division. I think they’re the second best team in the division and could end up winning nine or 10 games this season. I don’t think that’ll be enough to make the playoffs, though.

Source: http://www.miamidolphins.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Buffalo Bills

The AFC East is up next in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, beginning with the Buffalo Bills, who finished in second place in the division last season.

Despite the fact that the Bills finished last season 9-7 — their first winning record since 1999 — they made a couple of big moves in the offseason to shake things up with the team. First, they replaced head coach Doug Marrone with former Jets head coach Rex Ryan. They also made a trade with the Eagles to acquire RB LeSean McCoy to replace RB C.J. Spiller, who signed with the Saints in free agency. With Patriots QB Tom Brady potentially suspended for the first four games of the season, the division may be more winnable than it has been in about a decade, but do the Bills have enough talent to take advantage?

The Bills didn’t get great performances out of the quarterback position last season. QB Kyle Orton started 12 games, throwing for 3,018 yards and 18 touchdowns. QB EJ Manuel got the start in the other four games, averaging just 167.6 yards per game — 838 yards total — and throwing five touchdowns. WRs Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods each caught 65 balls; Watkins had 982 yards and six touchdowns while Woods had 699 yards and five scores. RB Fred Jackson led the running game in nine starts, running for 525 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a team-leading 66 receptions, with 501 receiving yards. It was the defense, which ranked fourth in the league, that helped keep the team in the game and get nine wins.

The quarterback situation is a bit of a mess in the preseason, with three guys competing for the starting job. Veteran QB Matt Cassel, who the Bills signed as a free agent, looks to have a leg-up on the competition. Manuel appears to be the other candidate to get the starting job, but QB Tyrod Taylor is also competing for it in camp. McCoy injured his hamstring during camp, but the Bills have said they’re “cautiously optimistic” he’ll be ready to go for Week 1, which would put Jackson into a backup role. Another free-agent signing the team made this offseason isWR Percy Harvin who, when healthy, can provide a spark for the offense.

The schedule doesn’t look to be too kind to the Bills for the first two games. They open the season with two home games, against the Colts and Patriots. New England may be without Brady, if his four-game suspension is held up, or reduced to no fewer than two games, in the courts. If Brady’s not playing, the game obviously becomes more winnable for Buffalo. The schedule eases up a bit after that, including a Week 7 game against the Jaguars in London. McCoy faces his former team when the Bills visit the Eagles in Week 14, and the season ends with back-to-back home games against the Cowboys and Jets in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. The offense should be improved with McCoy, but who knows what the Bills will get out of their quarterbacks. It’ll be up to the defense to again make up for the offensive deficiencies, but will it be enough for the Bills to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999? I’m not sure it is. I think the Bills will win eight or nine games again this year, which probably won’t be good enough to make the playoffs.

Source: http://www.buffalobills.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Green Bay Packers — UPDATE

Update (8/24): With the news that WR Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason game with the Steelers on Sunday and will miss the entire regular season, that changes the Packers’ situation. It’ll mean more work for WR Randall Cobb who is more than capable of stepping in as the No. 1 receiver in Nelson’s absence. What does that mean for the receivers lower on the depth chart? Second-year WR Davante Adams will likely get the chance to fill that spot on the roster. In 11 starts last season, he caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns. So while a Cobb-Adams tandem is a step or two down from Nelson-Cobb, it still could be one of the better receiving duos in the league of Adams can live up to the expectations people have for him as he enters his second year in the league. After all, there’s a reason why the Packers took him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

Even with the Nelson injury, I still think the Packers are the best team in the division and should easily win it. The playoffs may be tougher for them, though, missing Nelson. Thankfully for the Packers, Rodgers is one of the quarterbacks who seems to make any of his receivers better.

Original Post (8/15):
We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2015 season with the Green Bay Packers, the next team in the  NFC North, who are coming off a first-place finish in the division and NFC Conference Championship appearance last season.

When you have QB Aaron Rodgers leading your team onto the field each week, you’re in good shape — a fact that the Packers have come to know over the last several years.The Packers have made the playoffs six straight seasons and look to be perennial contenders as long as Rodgers plays at the level that he has since taking over as the team’s starter in 2008.

Rodgers’ 4,381 passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns helped the Packers finish the season with the best offense in the league. It certainly helps that Rodgers has good receivers to throw the ball to; WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb caught 98 and 91 passes, respectively, last season for a combined 2,806 yards and 25 touchdowns — both finishing the season in the top 10 among wide receivers. RB Eddie Lacy also put up good numbers last season — though down a little from his rookie year in 2013 — with 1,139 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns — ninth best in the league. Lacy also added 427 yards and four scores through the air on 42 receptions. While the offense was the best in the NFL last season, the defense was middle-of-the-pack, ranking 14th in the league.

What is there to say about the Green Bay offense other than it’s one of the best around? If the offensive core can stay healthy and avoid injury, you can pretty much pencil the team in for double-digit wins, as last season’s 12-4 record shows. The defense is the biggest area of concern for the Packers, especially now that they’ll be without longtime LB A.J. Hawk, who signed with the Bengals in the offseason. Thankfully for the defense, the team can put points on the board so an average defense is easier to overcome for Green Bay than it would be for other teams.

Looking ahead at the schedule for 2015, the don’t have it easy in the first couple weeks of the season. It starts in week one with a road game against the division rival Bears in one of the sport’s fiercest rivalries, then the Packers host the Seahawks — who beat them in last season’s Conference Championship game — in week two.Other games of note include a visit to the Broncos — another team known for its strong offense — for a prime-time showdown in week eight and a Thanksgiving night matchup with the Bears in Green Bay to finish the season series between the teams. After Thanksgiving week, it doesn’t get easier as the Packers travel to Detroit for a prime-time game against the Lions, then host the Cowboys in week 14. The Packers are once again the best team in the division — though with QB Teddy Bridgewater now having a season of experience and RB Adrian Peterson back after his seasonlong suspension, I expect the Vikings to have a good season this year — and, as I mentioned earlier, are likely going to win at least 10 games again this season, which should be enough to earn one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC, if not win the division.

Sources: http://www.packers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We reach the halfway point of our previews of all 32 NFL teams as we conclude our look at the NFC South with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished a distant last place in the division last season.

The Bucs got the first pick in this year’s draft thanks to an NFL-worst 2-14 record last season. With that pick, they selected Florida State QB Jameis Winston, who they hope will lead the team for years to come. The team likely won’t see a big bump in record from Winston this season as they have a way to go before becoming competitive in the division.

The Bucs were in need of a good young quarterback because they didn’t get much out of their quarterbacks last season. QB Josh McCown got the bulk of the work, starting 11 games and throwing for 2,206 yards and 11 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. QB Mike Glennon started the other five games, netting 1,417 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Despite the below-average quarterback play, WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans each had more than 1,000 receiving yards; Evans had 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns while Jackson had 1,002 yards with two touchdowns. The Bucs didn’t get much production out of their running backs. RB Doug Martin led the team with just 494 yards and two touchdowns in 11 starts; RB Bobby Rainey had 406 yards and one touchdown in his five starts. In all the team ranked a dismal 29th in the league in rushing offense. As far as the defense, that was slightly better, finishing the season as the 25th best in the league.

Winston should provide a better performance under center than what the team got last season, but you never know how good a quarterback will be in his rookie season. He certainly has receivers, with Jackson and Evans, who can help him out, but his lack of a running game will put more pressure on him as defenses are likely to focus on him more. Martin is still listed as the starting running back on the team’s depth chart, but second-year RB Charles Sims is expected to be the backup heading into the season. Sims averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in limited work last season so I don’t think he can provide the spark that the team needs in the running game. They could get some much-needed offense out of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had 21 receptions for 221 yards in just nine games in his rookie season in 2014. If he can break out this season, that would provide another weapon for Winston to throw to.

The first half of the schedule doesn’t feature many opponents who made the playoffs last year, but the second half is where the Bucs face teams that are expected to be good this season. From Weeks 9-12, they have back-to-back home games against the Giants and Cowboys, then get consecutive road games at the Eagles and Colts — a stretch in which the Bucs could easily go 0-4. Despite a relatively soft schedule outside of that four-week stretch, I don’t see the Bucs winning more than about four or five games — at most — with the team they have. I’d expect another last-place finish in the NFC South this season.

Source: http://www.buccaneers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

saints

2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New Orleans Saints

Continuing with the NFC South in our previews of all 32 NFL teams, up next are the New Orleans Saints, who came in second place in the division last season.

The Saints had a disappointing season in 2014, finishing the year with a 7-9 record, four games worse than their division-winning 11-5 record in 2013. This offseason, they traded away a lot of their offensive production, sending TE Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks in exchange for C Max Unger, and WR Kenny Stills to the Dolphins for LB Dannell Ellerbe and a draft pick. Those trades take away important weapons for QB Drew Brees in the passing game.

Although Brees had a good year last season, he regressed from the numbers he put up the previous three seasons. He threw for 4,952 yards and 33 touchdowns — 889 of those yards and 10 touchdowns went to Graham. Stills led the team in receiving yards, with 931 yards and three touchdowns. WR Marques Colston had the best receiving stats of players still on the roster, catching 59 passes for 902 yards and five touchdowns. The running game was led by RB Mark Ingram, who had a career year with 964 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games, nine starts. The defense ranked 28th in the league last season.

Brees will have to find a new way to put up his usual big passing numbers with Graham and Stills gone. WR Brandin Cooks, who started seven games in his rookie season in 2014, will have to become a major part of the offense in his second season to make up for some of the lost production. The acquisition of Unger was likely intended to improve the offensive line to help the running game. Along those lines, the Saints signed RB C.J. Spiller to serve as the No. 2 back behind Ingram. Veteran TE Benjamin Watson is expected to get the starting nod at the position with Graham in Seattle. The team hopes the defense to improve this season with Ellerbe now in the fold.

What tough games await the Saints on the schedule? Weeks 4 and 5 see back-to-back NFC East battles at home against the Cowboys and visiting the Eagles, respectively.The Saints head to Indianapolis for a Week 7 game against the Colts. The season ends with a home game against the Jaguars in Week 16 and a road game against the Falcons in Week 17. I think the Saints traded away too much offense, though, and I’m not sure the team will be improved with the moves made. The good news for the Saints is they’re in a division that could be won with a 8-8 or 9-7 record. So although I don’t think they’ll get to double-digit wins this year, they can certainly still win the division if things fall in the right way — especially with the season-ending injury to Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin, hurting their chances of repeating as division champs.

Source: http://www.neworleanssaints.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

2nd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Carolina Panthers

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we move on to the next team in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers, who won the mediocre division last season.

All it took was a 7-8-1 record for the Panthers to win the NFC South last season in a rare instance of a sub-.500 team winning a division. That was a distinct drop-off from the team’s 12-4 record in 2013. The division seems to be wide open again this year, and the Saints — last year’s runners-up — traded away their best offensive player, which should help the Panthers’ chances of winning the division for a third straight season. The Panthers, though, suffered a major injury in the preseason, losing WR Kelvin Benjamin for the season to a torn ACL.

QB Cam Newton put up the worst stats of his career, although he played only 14 games, missing a couple due to injury. He threw for 3,127 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s also known for his running ability and gained 539 yards on the ground with five more touchdowns. In his rookie season, Benjamin caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. TE Greg Olsen put up similar numbers to Benjamin, with 84 catches for 1,008 yards — both career highs — and six touchdowns. RB Jonathan Stewart was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball for 809 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games, eight of them starts. Overall, the rushing attack ranked seventh best in the league, helped by Newton’s above-average numbers for a quarterback.

The big question heading into this season is how will the team fare without its leading receiver from last season. If Olsen can repeat the success he had in 2014, that will certainly help the passing game. The Panthers drafted WR Devin Funchess in the second round so they will have to rely on him this season and hope he has a strong rookie year similar to what Benjamin did last year. The Panthers seem to always have questions in the running game with injury-prone Stewart now atop the depth chart after the departure of RB DeAngelo Williams. RB Fozzy Whittaker, who was the third-string back last season is now the backup to Stewart.

Looking ahead to this year’s schedule, the Panthers begin with a couple of AFC South battles, at the Jaguars and hosting the Texans. Their toughest stretch looks to come in Weeks 6-9, a road game at the Seahawks, followed by home games against the Eagles, Colts and Packers. The Panthers finish the season with a couple of divisional battles, at the Falcons and hosting the Bucs. In most divisions, I wouldn’t give the Panthers much of a chance to compete for the division title. In the NFC South, however, they look like they could be the best team and, although they may not get to 10 wins, I think they’ll win the division again.

Source: http://www.panthers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com