The 2016-2017 NFL season is set to kick off in Denver in nine days with the Broncos taking on the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.
The guys at Tailgate Talk are going to breakdown all eight divisions in projected order of finish.
First up is the AFC East.
New England Patriots
2015 record: 12-4 (first in AFC East; lost to Broncos, 20-18, in AFC championship).
Key acquisitions: Martellus Bennett, TE; Chris Long, DE; Terrance Knighton, DT; Nate Washington, WR; Chris Hogan, WR; Cyrus Jones, CB.
Key keepers: Nate Ebner, S.
Key losses: Chandler Jones, DT; Jerod Mayo, LB; Brandon LaFell, WR
W2W4: For 13 of the last 15 seasons — including the last seven — the New England Patriots have won the division. It should be no different this year. Yes, the Patriots are without Tom Brady for the first four games, but Jimmy Garroppolo, a second round draft pick out of Eastern Illinois, will be just fine under the Bill Belichick system. Fortunately for the team, it’s easiest stretch of games are within the division in those first four weeks, including home games against Miami and Buffalo. The Patriots went out and bolstered its defense by signing Chris Long and Terrance Knighton and drafting Cyrus Jones 60th overall. Anything less than a deep playoff run — having appeared in the last five AFC championship games — would be a major disappointment.
2015 record: 8-8 (third in AFC East).
Key acquisitions: Zach Brown, LB; David Hawthorne, LB; Shaq Lawson, DE; Reggie Ragland, LB.
Key keepers: Richie Incognito, G; Cordy Glenn, OT.
Key losses: Chris Hogan, WR.
W2W4: Rex Ryan is known for being a defensive guru in his time as coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens and coach of the New York Jets, but it was his offense that helped the Bills finish .500 last year. The franchise addressed its need for help on the defensive side by signing underrated linebackers Zach Brown and David Hawthorne. They also drafted Shaq Lawson from Clemson and Reggie Ragland (injured for the season) that will pay big dividends, and quickly, in the Ryan brother’s system.
New York Jets
2015 record: 10-6 (second in the AFC East)
Key acquisitions: Matt Forte, RB; Steve McLendon, OT; Kellen Davis, TE; Christian Hackenberg, QB; Jordan Jenkins, LB.
Key keepers: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB.
Key losses: Chris Ivory, RB; Damon Harris, OT.
W2W4: The Jets could smell the playoffs last season. All they had to do was win a week 17 game against a Bills team that had nothing to lose. Ryan Fitzpatrick had other ideas, throwing an interception on each of the Jets final three drives, including one in the endzone with the Jets driving early in the fourth quarter. The Jets do return much of last year’s core, and add Matt Forte from Chicago after 1,000-yard rusher Chris Ivory left town for the up-and-coming Jacksonville Jaguars. The biggest question will be if they can stay on the field and continue the success they had last year. I expect them to take a step back.
2015 record: 6-10 (fourth in AFC East)
Key acquisitions: Byron Maxwell, CB; Mario Williams, DE; Kiko Alonso, LB; Laremy Tunsil, OT; Xavien Howard, CB.
Key keepers: None.
Key losses: Oliver Vernon, DE; Brent Grimes, CB; Lamar Miller, RB.
W2W4: This year could surely be a make or break for fifth year starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The QB has the makeup of the most elite at the NFL level, but seemingly hasn’t been able to put everything together. The franchise went out and made some bold moves, both in free agency and in the draft in an attempt to get out of the basement of the East. Only time will tell if they will pay off or if it will end up like one of my high school chemistry projects — not good.