The time has finally come - FOOTBALL IS BACK! Well, sort of. It is only the preseason, but it's better than nothing! Especially when your baseball team is long dead in the division (thanks Twins). The NFL season is in the infant stages, but there are already so many questions surrounding the league. How are teams and players going to handle the National Anthem situation? Would the NFL actually suspend someone for kneeling? Which rookie quarterback is going to start first? Can the Eagles repeat? Are the Browns going to win a game this year? So many questions that need answers. Over the next few weeks, I hope to answer some of these burning questions. I think that's enough foreplay - let's get to it! Today, we'll take a look at the AFC East.
The AFC East may as well be called the AFC Patriots. The Pats have won the division 9-straight years and have gone 42-12 against the rest of the division over that span. New England has also brought home a few Lombardi Trophies too. Will their reign of terror in the East end this year? Likely not. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are roaming the sidelines - this is the Patriots division. That doesn't mean there won't be some intrigue in the East though...
5) When will Sam Darnold start for the Jets? It's inevitable that the 3rd overall pick out of USC will get his chance to start at some point this year. The Jets are entering 2018 with 39-year old Josh McCown as the starter and Darnold battling with Teddy Bridgewater for the backup role. Make no mistake - the Jets drafted Darnold with the intention of playing him this season. Rookie quarterbacks are being thrust into the spotlight much earlier these days and with the Jets likely not playing for a playoff spot - Darnold will get the call sooner rather than later. If the Jets stumble out of the gates - their week 3 match up against the Browns may be the perfect chance for Darnold to start.
4) Is Ryan Tannehill ready to go for the Dolphins? Ryan Tannehill's 2017 season was over before it began. Early in training camp - he went down with a left knee injury and missed the entire season. That prompted the Dolphins to sign Jay Cutler and that went as well as expected. Smokin' Jay threw some touchdowns (19), some interceptions (14) and plenty of pouty faces to his offensive line. Before December of 2016 - Tannehill had played in 77-straight games. He then missed the final three games of the 2016 season with a knee injury and all of last year. Tannehill said in training camp that his knee is fully healthy and without issue. If that is the case - it's a big year for the 7th year QB. Tannehill has never taken a postseason snap and the Dolphins may look elsewhere if he can't lead them to the playoffs this year.
3) Can the Bills get back to the playoffs this year? The year was 1999 - Doug Flutie was throwing darts to Andre Reed and Wade Phillips was calling the shots. Before last year, that was the last time the Bills made the playoffs. When the Bills clinched a wildcard spot in 2017 - it snapped the longest playoff drought in pro-American sports. They've now handed that off to the Seattle Mariners. A lot changed for the Bills over the offseason. They swapped out veteran QB Tyrod Taylor for the unproven AJ McCarron and rookie Josh Allen. The offensive line is in flux with long-time center Eric Wood retiring and Pro-Bowl guard Richie Incognitio leaving, but they also added talent. The blazing fast Corey Coleman (4.37) will team up with Kelvin Benjamin to boost a very lacking wide receiver core. It's all going to come down to quarterback play though for the Bills. McCarron has yet to prove he can wins games and Allen is still learning how to play in the NFL. The Bills are likely the 2nd best team in the East, but that doesn't guarantee a playoff spot.
2) Will the Patriots play for another Super Bowl? Asking if the Pats are going to win the division is too easy. Of course they are. New England isn't playing for division titles though, they want rings. Tom Brady may say he can play til he's 50 (and maybe he can) but Belichick knows the Brady window is closing. Julian Edelman may be out the first four games, but Eric Decker will fill that role perfectly. I can go for days on how the Patriots aren't the most athletic or talented team in the NFL, but as long TB12 is healthy and Gronk plays most of the season - this team will be in the mix for another Lombardi Trophy.
1) How many AFC East teams will make the playoffs? One. While other teams in the AFC got better this offseason - the East, as a whole, did not. Outside of the Patriots, no other team screams playoffs. The Jets are still building for the future. The Dolphins lost their top receiver (Jarvis Landry) and are banking on a quarterback that has never made the playoffs and is coming off major knee surgery. The Bills were able to snap their 17-year playoff drought in 2017, but took a step back at QB and lost half their o-line. It's the Patriots division to lose and it's a very safe bet that they won't.
What are your burning questions for this division? Let me know!
Tuesday - AFC West