The 2019 off-season is sluggishly crawling towards the finish line. We are now in the Mandatory Minicamp portion which means the Pre-Season is on the horizon. I expect the Pre-Season games to be rather boring as I believe more teams will follow Rams coach, Sean McVay’s lead of sitting out the majority of starters throughout the August stretch. Last year, we saw players: Derrius Guice, Jason Verrett, Isaiah Wynn among others fall victim to the injury bug and miss their entire season in 2018.
I’m going to do an NFL preview and break each division down, team by team. I’ll make my best attempt to choose a break out candidate, a best case scenario, and where I think the team will end up at the end of the 2020 NFL season. We will work through the AFC first, and move our way west.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2019 Season: 11-5; Super Bowl Champions
The New England Patriots not only continued their dominance over the AFC East but the entire NFL. Since Tom Brady took the reigns over for Drew Bledsoe in the 2001 season, they’ve won 6 Super Bowls, and have been the top dog in the AFC East 16 times (out of 18). They started off relatively slowly in 2018 and the conversations of “Is this the end” entered, yet were obviously misplaced.
Offensively, the Patriots are bringing back their entire starting lineup (excluding Josh Gordon) with one gaping big hole, Rob Gronkowski. Gronk has been a consistent pass catcher since he was drafted in 2010. His size matched with his impressive hands and route running ability made him a near impossible matchup. His unique skill set provided the Patriots with the capability to throw out different formations or even to use Gronk out wide. Time will tell to see how they plan on replacing his production. I would expect a mixture of Ben Watson (post suspension), and also bigger receivers like newcomer Dontrelle Inman and first round draft choice N’Keal Harry. The Patriots will still lean heavily on their Hall of Fame QB, Tom Brady along with their offensive line led by the best O-Line coach in the NFL, Dante Scarnecchia. Something I’m going to keep a close eye on is the running back situation. The selection of Damien Harris in round 3 may prove to be more than just insurance for Sony Michel’s past knee issues.
Defensively, the Patriots were middle of the road during the regular season and were 16th in Defensive DVOA. I’d argue, the two biggest breakouts from last season were Kyle Van Noy went from Draft Bust in Detroit, to Consistent Starter level production and Trey Flowers who recently earned himself a $90 Million deal over 5 years with the aforementioned Lions. To combat the loss of Flowers, the Patriots brought in Michael Bennett to a short-term team friendly deal and drafted Clay Matthews doppelgänger, Chase Winovich. However, the secondary is the strength of this defense. With the McCourty brothers, Patrick Chung, and Stephon Gilmore all returning, I doubt that changes.
Break-Out Candidate: N’Keal Harry- this is a risky one; We know the Patriots are prone to take their time in developing receiving threats. Despite that, with the loss of Gronkowski, the lingering injury to Demaryius Thomas, the suspension to Ben Watson, and no real down field playmaker besides Julian Edelman, I think Harry can explode out of the gate.
Best Case Scenario: Super Bowl Champs– I think this is obvious, best case scenario is essentially what happened last season: Brady stays healthy, the offensive line and run game look great, defense continues to stifle opponents during the post season and Belichick & Brady’s relationship gets through another season without implosion.
Prediction: Patriots win the AFC East, but lose to the Chargers- I don’t think the Patriots will have much difficulty winning the division again. The other three teams are still deciphering how to correctly build a roster, however I do believe two will take a step forward.
2019 Season: 7-9; Missed Playoffs
The Miami Dolphins were a team in flux last season. It was difficult to tell if they were attempting to “win-now” or were focusing on rebuilding for the future. Most football fans would (rightfully) argue that the roster going into the 2019 season wasn’t nearly good enough to compete with the Patriots or other AFC stalwarts. However, adding veterans like Robert Quinn, Frank Gore, Josh Sitton, Danny Amendola, and Akeem Spence demonstrated that Adam Gase and the Front Office believed these veterans could make a substantial difference in improving the roster short term. They were wrong. Instead it got Adam Gase fired, Ryan Tannehill traded, and the Dolphins in Jeff Fisher land.
With the firing of Adam Gase, the Dolphins poached Defensive Coordinator, Brian Flores from their rival, the Patriots, and have made Flores the new Head Coach. The ‘Phins appear to be taking on a new direction and have started the rebuilding process as soon as Flores walked in the door. They traded 2012 first round pick, Ryan Tannehill away for a 7th round pick and a 2020 4th and then moved a 2nd round pick and a 2020 6th round pick for Josh Rosen. Rosen was a first round pick the year prior, but sandwiched between terrible play calling and the worst offensive line in the NFL he had no chance. These were two smart trades for a team like Miami to make. They know they can’t compete with the Patriots this upcoming year or probably the next season either. The Dolphins also realized that Ryan Tannehill wasn’t the guy to put the franchise on. Despite taking on some hefty dead cap in the 2019 season, this frees up plenty of space in the 2020 offseason, and they were still able to land a Quarterback that could lead the franchise in the future.
Looking at this Dolphins roster, it isn’t winning many games, and that’s fine. This year is about developing talent and hopefully determining whether Rosen can be that future QB that Miami has been looking for since Dan Marino (unless you count Jay Fielder, I do not). Defensively, I’m excited to see what the 13th pick, Christian Wilkins can do at 3-tech. The secondary is probably the strength on this roster, but that’s just because of two players: Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Howard was incredible last season and had the lowest passer rating allowed of any Cornerback in the NFL, warranting a new contract. Fitzpatrick’s coverage ability gives the Dolphins the flexibility to put him on running backs, tight ends, or in the slot.
Break-Out Candidate: Raekwon McMillan– I almost put Devante Parker, but we’ve been hearing about how great his training camps have been for years, and I’m no longer falling for it. McMillan was super stout in the run last season, ranking in PFF’s 6th at inside linebacker. However, his coverage has been an issue. If he can put both together McMillan will make Kiko Alonso expendable (he should already be because he’s…bad).
Best Case Scenario: Josh Rosen proves he’s the real deal and is worth an extension in a year or two. Brian Flores can revamp the defense and the locker room and continue to build around their secondary. But also, best-case would be a high pick as well. Grabbing another top talent in the first few picks of the draft or even trading the pick for more opportunities to snag several skilled players could jump start the rebuild.
Prediction: Bottom 5 team in the NFL- Even if Rosen shows flashes, there will no doubt be bumps in the road. The defense leaves a little to be desired, and the offense has many flaws.
2019 Season: 6-10; Missed Playoffs
The Buffalo Bills were honestly a little better than I expected. When they drafted Josh Allen with their 7th overall pick in 2018, I laughed. He didn’t impress me much in college besides a strong arm and mobile feet, and to my credit, he proved me correct in many games (he had 74 passing yards in week 1 and lost 47-3). However, he did impress me at times and seemed to develop a rapport with deep threat Robert Foster.
Last year the Bills brought in Sean McDermott as their head coach and over the season, he gradually turned the defense into one to be feared. From Week 10 and on, the Bills only gave up an average of 19 points a game which would be 4th best in the NFL. I don’t expect a big drop off in the 2019 season either. Long-time Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams has retired, however he is being replaced by the highly athletic Ed Oliver who many expected to be a top 3 pick going into the 2018 college year. Oliver isn’t the only dangerous lineman on the Bills. Jerry Hughes has been stellar since being traded to the Bills from the Indianapolis Colts. Pro Football Focus gave Jerry Hughes a grade of 88.8 which was in the top 10 for all edge defenders in the NFL. According to PFF, Hughes had the second highest pass rushing grade in the entire NFL. He definitely earned his extension. It’ll be exciting to see if Lorenzo Alexander can continue where he left off last year despite being in his mid 30’s. Micah Hyde and Jordon Poyer proved to be a solid safety pairing and Tre’Davious White has turned himself into a lock down Cornerback. The other corner spot is most likely manned by Kevin Johnson who was let go by the Houston Texans due to injury issues, money and poor performances. However, he’s young and there’s still a chance for him to reach the potential the Texans saw when they drafted him in the first round back in 2015.
Besides Josh Allen, offensively, the Bills were a mess most of the season. However, they did work to upgrade this side of the ball. They brought in Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, and Ty Nsekhe in Free Agency. They also drafted Cody Ford, who most people thought would be a first round pick in the 2019 draft. These four newcomers with Dion Dawkins should prove to be a solid line in front of Josh Allen. Skill players wise, the Bills added John Brown from Baltimore, Cole Beasley from Dallas, and Frank Gore from Miami. I love the John Brown fit with Josh Allen. We saw Robert Foster do well with Allen because of his burner speed and how he fits with the ‘down the field’ throwing style that Allen loves to play in, John Brown will be no different. The Bills also acquired Tight Ends Tyler Kroft and Dawson Knox. I’m not sure if the roles they’ll play will be substantial, but I do like them over Charles Clay (who they’re replacing).
Break-Out Candidate: Tremaine Edmunds– Playing middle linebacker for a defense isn’t easy and it took Edmunds a while to understand the position and to lead the defense. His first 8 weeks were rough and he looked overmatched, but according to PFF Edmunds grade “jumped to 70.5 over the last eight games of the season.” They cited his coverage as a huge improvement. Edmunds just turned 21 in May, the Virginia Tech product has plenty of time to progress. If he can continue to follow up on his second half of last season, he’ll be the leader of that defense quicker than expected.
Best Case Scenario: I don’t think the Bills make the playoffs, however their best case scenario is if we see the defense that was played from weeks 10-17 and Josh Allen takes the next step forward. He’s able to make smarter choices with the ball and with the revamped offensive line around him, can make smarter choices with a bit more time in the pocket. Wild Card.
Prediction: No Playoffs- Josh Allen doesn’t improve much with his arm and will continue to use his legs to move the ball, the defense stays strong but falls off a bit from the second half.
NEW YORK JETS
2019 Season: 4-12; Missed Playoffs
The New York Jets started off relatively decent (low standards), winning 3 of Sam Darnold’s first 6 games. However, once Week 7 and the Minnesota Vikings arrived, the Jets went a 1-9 to finish off the year and landed them the 3rd spot in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Jets used their top pick on Quinnen Williams who is an absolute monster in the trenches to play beside Leonard Williams, and also added Jachai Polite and Blake Cashman among others to the defense.
The Jets have had lots of turnover in both in and out of their locker room. They fired Todd Bowles and signed former Dolphins Head Coach, Adam Gase. Gase is not only their Head Coach, but he is now their acting General Manager with the termination of Mike Maccagnan’s contract. The timing was puzzling for the latter, as Woody Johnson (Jets Owner) decided to wait until after the off season had ended and moves were made, but we don’t need to get into all that now.
Sam Darnold was drafted 3rd Overall in the 2018 draft, and is hoping for a breakout year as the Jets success more or less will hinge on Darnold’s ability to grow as a passer. The product out of Southern California has been almost too aggressive in the past and throwing into traffic. He was tied for second with the most Interceptions last year with 17, (behind Ben Roethlisberger) but only had half the amount of Touchdowns. While Maccagnan did many things wrong, he did try to bring in some skill positions to help Darnold improve. Le’Veon Bell’s arrival should help bring a consistent run game but also a threat through the air. Bell’s skipped 2018 season should help mitigate the wear and tear he’s felt in his career. The Receiving core will be interesting as the Jets added Jamison Crowder and a healthy Quincy Enunwa (yes I know he was on the team last year) to deep threat Robby Anderson. Lastly, the Jets traded for former All-Pro who had a down year with the Raiders, but I blame Tom Cable’s arrival in Oakland more for that than Osmele. However, I’m not sure why Maccagnan let Matt Paradis walk right out the door without a contract and a way to solidify the center position.
Besides Quinnen Williams, the Jets added former Baltimore Ravens Middle Linebacker (MLB) C.J. Mosley. The Jets basically threw money at Mosley, making him the highest paid MLB in the NFL, just edging out the All-Pro Luke Kuechly. Luckily, when you break down the contract, it’s easy to get out of after the 2021 season without putting the future of the team in jeopardy. The Jets are hoping for a bounce back season from Trumaine Johnson, who Maccagnan just brought over from Los Angeles the year prior. The best defensive player is easily Jamal Adams. The safety out of LSU is already top 5 at his position and is a joy to watch. He should be garnering more attention and is the leader of this defense.
Break-Out Candidate: Sam Darnold for the reasons stated above in this piece.
Best Case Scenario: The best case scenario here is Sam Darnold taking a giant leap this upcoming season and jumping into the top 10-15 of QB’s in the NFL. Is this an outrageous thought? No. Is it probable? No. But as I said previously, with added weapons, a year under his belt with a new coach/play-caller, it should be a bit easier for Darnold. Maybe a wildcard is theoretically possible, but the Jets aren’t getting past the Patriots unless Brady is done and Belichick calls it quits.
Prediction: No Playoffs- While I do see some improvement with Darnold and the offense in general, I don’t think it’ll be enough to get a playoff birth. I’m also not sold on Adam Gase and his leadership abilities worry me.
1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. New York Jets
4. Miami Dolphins