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Friday, July 13, 2012

2012 NFL Preview: AFC East

Today I peruse the AFC East as we countdown towards training camp.  This division wasn't all that interesting as both the Jets and Bills were subpar down the stretch in 2011.  Is anybody ready to step up and challenge the big, bad Patriots?  It's doubtful, but a closer look does reveal some potential betting value here.

New England Patriots

2012 NFL Preview: AFC East New England Patriots2011 Review: Last year it was another typical season for the Patriots.  They ranked near the top in every meaningful offensive category and rolled through everybody until they reached the Super Bowl. What the entire world already knows is they had the worst secondary in NFL history and couldn't sack the QB. 

2012 Offseason: Brandon Lloyd is the front page addition on offense and with good reason. He proved last season that he wasn't a one-year wonder. Running back is a question now that Green-Ellis is gone, but Ridley and Vereen should be just fine given how this offense rolls.  Woodhead and Addai will be mixed in situationally.

The big question is their O-line. Light retired and the jury is out on Mankins and Waters. This leaves Solder, Gallery, Koppen, and Connolly to work things out. 

Defense is the obvious concern here. Jones was taken in round 1 to help the pass-rush and Hightower to help the linebackers. Once again the Patriots addressed the secondary in the 2nd round by drafting Tavon Wilson. Draft "experts" thought this was a questionable move, but New England usually get the benefit of the doubt with their personnel moves.  Belichick certaintly has versatile options, but will it work?  It's unusual how god-awful this unit was in recent times.  We'll get a sneak peak at how all these pieces fit during the preseason.

Looking ahead: The New England Patriots season win total opened at 12 and you won't find a consensus either way concerning which direction to bet.  Early indications are that they have an easy schedule and consistency in the win column hasn't been a problem whenever Brady has been healthy.  On the downside, teams that come off 14 win seasons usually regress to the mean in the follow-up campaign.  There is also little margin for error if they hope to win 12+ in 2012.  Personally I don't see any value with their season win total or their division winner odds.  This is a franchise that is consistently overpriced and continues to be one of the most difficult teams to handicap.

New York Jets

2012 NFL Preview: AFC East New York Jets2011 Review: Statistically speaking, the NYJ weren't that bad in 2011. Their defense was once again good, their special teams made a difference, and they had a good red zone efficiency. 

The problem? Mark frickin' Sanchez. If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time you'll know that I don't like this kids abilities. I thought it was a mistake to hitch their wagon to this guy from the start and it's an even worse mistake sticking with him now.  All they needed was a half-decent QB and NY could have made some noise last year. Most people say QB's often get too much of the blame, but in this case it's well deserved.

2012 Offseason: Can I get through this write-up without talking about Tebow? It's nothing personal, but this guy can't play quarterback. I really don't care what he does in the 4th quarter or how many games he wins, because it's not going to last. Bringing him in was a good shot across the bow at Sanchez, but anyone who thinks this was a good personnel move is deluding themselves. This is nothing more than Brad Smith 2.0.

Stephen Hill is an interesting name to keep an eye on at WR.  He might be a nice compliment for Holmes. I just don't know whether it will matter given the QB situation.  

On defense, the best addition was LaRon Landry, but he needs to finally stay healthy. Yeremiah Bell only solidifies the problems at safety that they had last year.  Taking DE Coples in round 1 comes with questions, but NY can afford to develop him comfortably. 

Looking ahead: I hate to simply this, but when your top two quarterbacks are Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, I'm not going to be betting on you to win the division or exceed your season win total.  Can they return to a dominant rushing/defensive team and challenge for a playoff spot?  Possibly, but I wouldn't bank on it.  I think they are priced right at O/U 8.5 wins, but I'll have a better idea of whether they are fade material after I analyze the schedules.

Buffalo Bills

2012 NFL Preview: AFC East Buffalo Bills2011 Review: The Bills are perhaps the most intriguing team in this division. Last year Vegas opened them up with a low season win total and they responded with an early season winning streak. Fitzpatrick gave them respectability in the air and their O-line took a nice step forward. What hurt them was a 1-5 record in the division, a 1-7 mark on the road, and subpar play in the big moments. They ranked near the botton in red zone/third down on both sides of the ball. 

2012 Offseason: Buffalo made a big splash landing Mario Williams from free agency. This gives them one of the best defensive lines in the NFL with Dareus, Williams, and the addition of Anderson.

The secondary should be a fun experiment as 1st round pick Stephon Gilmore and 2nd year man Aaron Williams will compete with McGee for starting minutes. Having a lethal D-line will certainly help their cause. 

On offense Buffalo would be in great shape is someone could step up and help Johnson and Nelson at WR.  Spiller hasn't impressed and will be stuck behind Fred Jackson. Cordy Glenn is getting great reviews and should come in and boost an already good O-line.

It will be an added plus if Vince Young doesn't talk about a "Dream Team".

Looking ahead: The Bills are getting some hype after landing Williams and the expected development of their young stars, but the glaring question surrounds Fitzpatrick.  I thought this guy was garbage heading into last year and now he has to prove 2011 was no fluke.  His hefty contract could help or hurt the answer.  Most of the pieces are in place, now it will come down to execution.

Vegas opened them up at 7 season win totals and consistent money has moved the line to 7.5 with heavy juice on the over.  On paper it's hard to argue with this, but big questions still remain.  Are they ready for the next step?  They aren't ready to win the division, but I do think they can beat NY for runner-up honors. 

Miami Dolphins

2012 NFL Preview: AFC East Miami Dolphins2011 Review: Key stats about last year's version of Miami--> 0-4 against tough teams, 2-6 on the road, no passing offense/defense to speak of, and bad turnover differential. Yet despite all this they went 9-7 ATS.  Losing 5 of 6 games by 3 or less points made them a profitable team in 2011. 

2012 Offseason: Usually teams that lose so many close games come into the following year a bit undervalued, but is this the case?

Re-signing Soliai was a good move in what was an otherwise detrimental offseason for the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Marshall might have personal challenges off the field, but on it he is a beast.  Now the question is who is going to catch balls? Chad Ochocinco...err Johnson?

Or better yet, who is going to throw them? Matt Moore is hard to watch, David Garrard is a backup, and Ryan Tannehill is a project. Joe Philbin has already said he won't decide before the third preseason game. If I had to bet, I'd put my money on Garrard until further notice.   

Perhaps the toughest test for this Miami offense is how they adjust to the new West Coast offense. We saw it implemented very effectively last year in a post-lockout offseason, so I'll be keeping a close eye on how they do in the preseason and opening weeks of the season. 

Lamar Miller could prove to be a draft-day steal if he can overcome his shoulder issues. Jonathan Martin sounds like a good fit on the O-line--something even more critically important given their QB issues.  

On defense, things are fine up front, but they'll need a much better effort from their young secondary.  Losing Bell and Allen created even more questions in this group. 

Looking ahead: The Dolphins opened up with a 7.5 season win total and now you must lay heavy juice if you like the under.  On the surface, the under appears like a no-brainer and I agree their number opened a little high.  On paper things don't look good, but with a whole new coaching staff, young blood, and a healthy Jake Long, there is reason for long-term optimism.

Up Next: AFC South
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