NFL Season Outlook: AFC East
New England Patriots –
Ceiling: As every year, the Patriots could go all the way yet again. If Brady was out for more than four games I would temper my expectations a bit, but four games, even if the team goes 0-4 in that span (it won’t) will not be enough to keep the Pats out of the playoffs. Once they get in there, all bets are off.
Floor: I could see some freak occurrence where the Pats go 11-5 or 10-6 and maybe, maaaaaybe have to squeak into the playoffs as a six seed if the Jets get their act together and capitalize on it, but that would be a long shot. I’d say 12-4 is a much more real possibility.
Storyline: How pissed is Brady when he comes back? He didn’t even get suspended last year and lit the NFL on fire. Imagine how much he will feel he has to prove after sitting for four games. Can Garappolo keep the Pats afloat in the first four games (against the murderer’s row that includes both the Dolphins and Bills)?
Best Game on the Schedule: The Bengals and Steelers games in weeks five and six look like intriguing possible playoff matchups.
Worst Game on the Schedule: Week five at Cleveland. Brady’s first game back. Don’t be surprised if he hangs 60 on the Browns just out of spite.
2016-2017 finish: First in the East, Second Seed in the AFC Playoffs
New York Jets –
Ceiling: If all goes perfectly, which means all the new pieces contribute at a high level, Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t revert to the Ryan Fitzpatrick of Week 17 of last year, and the defense takes another step in the right direction, this could be a deep playoff run, maybe even to the AFC championship game. The defense could be that good, seriously. That’s a lot of “what ifs” though.
Floor: The Jets have a very tough schedule right out of the gate, and if they can’t weather that storm and come out of it with a couple wins, you may be looking at a 6-10, 7-9 team, if not less if they just give up when they realize they have nothing left to play for halfway through the season.
Storyline: Can the Jets improve upon a good campaign last year and make it back to the playoffs?
Best Game on the Schedule: Considering the fact that it could come down to a win and you’re in game in week 17 against the Bills, that has the makings of a classic.
Worst Game on the Schedule: Weeks seven through ten have the ability to right the ship for the Jets after a torrid opening stretch, but with games against heavy hitters like the Browns and Dolphins, it won’t be good football.
2016-2017 finish: Second in the East, final Wild Card spot in the AFC Playoffs
Buffalo Bills –
Ceiling: The schedule for the Bills is not easy either, and they have further to go to become a playoff caliber team than the Jets do. I can see maybe 8-8, but that would be with stealing a couple games from better teams and winning all of the games they are supposed to win (and when’s the last time they did that?
Floor: The bottom could fall out completely. If the players get in a funk and stop listening to Rex Ryan midway through the season, they could tank completely. A couple bad early losses to teams like the 49ers and Dolphins could serve to torpedo this whole season and have the Bills picking in the top five in next year’s draft.
Storyline: Where do we start? Rex Ryan is always a story, and if you add his brother Rob into the mix, it’ll just be that much more interesting. Can Tyrod Taylor be the answer to one of the longest-running quarterback questions in the NFL? Is LeSean McCoy even that good anymore? Will Sammy Watkins stay healthy? Can this defense show up for a game or two this year or has Rex lost his touch with that side of the ball?
Best Game on the Schedule: Week four at New England. The last game before Brady is back and a chance for the Bills to steal one. Rex will pull out all the stops for this one. Or, the last game of the season against the Jets. If the Bills have the possibility of a win and you’re in scenario with the Jets, or even a win and the Jets are out scenario, it should be a hell of a game.
Worst Game on the Schedule: There’s a rough stretch from weeks 8-13 where the Bills may not win a game, and in most, it may not even be close. So take your pick.
2016-2017 finish: Third in the East
Miami Dolphins –
Ceiling: 4-12, maybe 5-11 unless they get really lucky and catch a good team napping.
Floor: 2-14, easily. The Dolphins are not going to be that good this year, plain and simple.
Storyline: The same storyline with any first year coach, how long does it take the team to respond? Do they start out strong and falter once their inferior talent starts to show through. How many carries before Arian Foster is out for the season? How many gas masks will we see in the stands in honor of the Dolphins first round draft pick?
Best Game on the Schedule: This one is tough to pick, because I can’t see many good Dolphins games on this schedule, so how about week two at New England. No Tom Brady…can the Dolphins pull off the upset?
Worst Game on the Schedule: Browns @ Dolphins, week three. Yawn.
2016-2017 finish: Fourth in the East