Previews & Predictions for the 2016 NFL Season: AFC & NFC East

The NFL season starts in less than a week and I have already taken a look at the North and South divisions in both the AFC and the NFC. And although my predictions will probably look a little different after the devastating injury to Vikings’ QB Teddy Bridgewater, it is time to move on to the East divisions.

AFC East

The New England Patriots are the perennial favorites in the division and will be until someone can topple them. Coach Bill Belichick led the Patriots to a 12-4 season last year and I hoping to repeat that success and continue their dominance in the division. But he will have to do so without QB Tom Brady for the first four games of the season. Due to Brady’s suspension, backup Jimmy Garoppolo will be looked upon to get the Patriots through four games and hopefully come out of those games with at least a 2-2 record. Whoever is out there throwing the ball will be helped by a slew of talented receivers that include Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and newcomers Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett. And with a defense lead by Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, Malcolm Butler, Dont’a Hightower, and the newly acquired Barkevious Mingo, the Patriots are primed for another season at the top of the AFC East. And let us not forget that they have one of the best kickers in the league in Stephen Gostkowski for when games get close!

Now that the Jets have finally signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and are not going to start Geno Smith or another unproven youngster, I will put them in the number two spot in the division. After a 10-6 season in coach Todd Bowles first season, New York is looking to have another great season and I think they will, although maybe not quite as good. Fitzpatrick is good enough to get the job done for the Jets if he can stay healthy and not turn the ball over. He has a tandem of receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker that will certainly make his job easier and newcomers Khiry Robinson and Matt Forte can help the QB from the backfield. But the Jets biggest strength may be their defense. With a big, stout line and cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine, New York’s defense should give opponents a tough time running the ball and trying to air it out.

I thought the Buffalo Bills overachieved in 2015 under Rex Ryan and with QB Tyrod Taylor. Although they managed just a .500 record, I saw that as impressive for them. And although Taylor returns with RB LeSean McCoy and WR Sammy Watkins, the Bills also lost a few pieces on offense that may hurt them. Chris Hogan was a very reliable receiver that always seemed to make a big catch when needed and he is now with the Patriots. And RB Karlos Williams carried a big load for the Bills last season but was recently released after he was initially suspended for the first four games. They will need others to step up, but I will have to see it happen first to believe in them. And Watkins has to stay healthy and take his game to the next level. On the defensive side, injuries are already taking a toll. Add in a four game suspension to NT Marcell Dareus and Buffalo is starting the season with a shaky defense that may hurt their season early.

Nothing about the Miami Dolphins makes me think that they will finish anywhere but last in the AFC East. The Dolphins finished 6-10 in 2015 with two different coaches. New coach Adam Gase now leads the Dolphins into 2016, in a stadium that has changed names, yet again. But the one thing that didn’t change much is the name on the rosters. QB Ryan Tannehill has still yet to impress many and prove that he deserves to be a starter in the NFL. They lost RB Lamar Miller to Houston but added former Texans’ running back Arian Foster. Foster will be a nice addition for Miami, if he can stay healthy. The receivers are led by Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker and they hope that Kenny Stills can improve as well. And the Dolphins have a great TE in Jordan Cameron. But the question is still if Tannehill can get the ball to them for an entire season. And their defense is led by a group of players that have some talent, but disappear too much throughout the season to give the Dolphins a chance. Their biggest signing last year, Ndamukong Suh, was a prime example of that. This shaky defense and an uncertain offense will lead the Dolphins right back to the bottom of the division.
NFC East

Despite having a new head coach in Ben McAdoo, I think the Giants will take over the top spot in a pretty weak division. The Giants finished 2015 with a 6-10 record and underachieved in what turned out to be coach Tom Coughlin’s final season. But the core of the team returns and should be hungry to improve upon last year. QB Eli Manning is one of the best in the league and will surely help the team improve as long as he throws less interceptions. The running game will be by committee with Shane Vereen, Rashard Jennings, and Orleans Darkwa taking most of the load with others chipping in as well. All they have to do is take some pressure off of the passing game so that Manning could target receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and the returning Victor Cruz and tight ends Larry Donnell and Will Tye. Their defense won’t be spectacular and won’t be one of the best, but I think it will be good enough to give New York a chance at topping the division and making the postseason once again.

The Redskins took advantage of a very weak division last year and won the NFC East with a 9-7 record before losing in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Coach Jay Gruden did a good job with what he had, but I think the Redskins take a step back in 2016. While the QB controversy is gone with Robert Griffin III now in Cleveland, the team is solely relying on Kirk Cousins. He had a good season last year, but the biggest question is whether that was an anomoly or if he is the real deal. He has good help in RB Matt Jones and receivers Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson. But the best parts of their offense might be their tight ends. Jordan Reed had a great season in 2015 and is also joined by Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and newcomer Vernon Davis. I believe that Washington will be relying on their defense again though to keep games close and I am not sure that their defense is as good as last year. The Redskins will still probably have a good season, but will take a step back and will not make the postseason again because of stronger teams in other divisions in the NFC.

The Dallas Cowboys are headed for another hugely disappointing season in 2016. After a 4-12 season in 2015, the Cowboys were hoping for a return to the top in 2016. But that all came to a stop when Tony Romo got injured in the preseason. Real shocker, huh? The Cowboys backfield will now be led by rookie QB Dak Prescott and rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott. The two rookies, with WR Dez Bryant, are the only hope for the Cowboys offense. Sure, they have a great offensive line, but if they can’t move the ball, they can’t win games. And if another injury hits them, their luck will get even worse. And with a defense that is riddled with injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys look to be in for a long season.

The only team that may be worse than the Cowboys in the NFC East is the Philadelphia Eagles. With a 7-9 record in 2015 under head coach Chip Kelly and interim coach Pat Shurmur, the Eagles are now led by first time head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson, a former journeyman quarterback, now leads the Eagles into the future with second overall pick Carson Wentz as the team’s future QB. But first, the job is Sam Bradford’s to lose. Why Bradford is getting another chance is crazy to me, but that decision is why I got the Eagles last in the division. Well, that along with a complete lack of a running game and very few reliable receivers. They are relying on unproven and often-injured running backs to move the ball. Their best back is Darren Sproles and, while good, he isn’t a traditional running back. Their best receivers are Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, and Dorial Green-Beckham. All of these guys are very young and still not solid threats. Matthews is the best of the bunch and if he covered by the best cornerbacks all year, the other two guys must emerge as threats for the Eagles to have a chance. But then again, someone has to get the ball to them, which brings up the quarterback position once again. And while Philadelphia’s defense has some playmakers, they may not have enough to make up the deficits that their lack of offense will put them in. It is looking to be a long season in Philly and if Wentz turns out to be a busy in the end, it could be a very long time until the Eagles are a threat in the NFC East.
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.