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2014 NFL season preview: AFC East

8-25

We’re ten days, that’s right TEN, away from the NFL regular season getting underway. The preseason has teased us a bit but now that the more important of the four games have been played, the roster cuts begin and teams will look officially ready for the season. I waited as long as I could to preview each division mostly because of injuries. Just look at what’s happened to Sam Bradford (torn ACL), Cam Newton (fractured rib), Wes Welker (concussion) and many other players around the league. And the NFL hasn’t even played a game yet! The show must go on and so will we. I’ll be doing a division each day, switching from conference to conference, while leaving the toughest divisions to decide for the last few days.

New England Patriots: As it has been for the past decade-plus, the division starts and ends with the Patriots. As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are there then it’s just assumed that they will win over 10 games and take the division title. The Jets challenged them for a few years (sometimes successfully) but this isn’t one of the years. The Patriots are healthy, getting back Rob Gronkowski and key players on their defense. The acquisition of Darrell Revis vastly improves what was an abysmal secondary last season. So what’s going to determine their season? Well, Brady’s weapons and their health. Last year Gronkowski went down early and the offense was so different. That and how effective they will be at running. Despite what problems may occur, I don’t seem them giving up the division.

Miami Dolphins: If the Patriots were to concede the division to another team, which team steps up to take it from them? I have a feeling that it’s going to be the Dolphins. All the signs are there. Miami did a nice job signing players in the offseason that fit their needs. Better players on both sides of the line and more weapons at play-making positions. But it’s all going to come down to Ryan Tannehill. The young QB, with the hottest wife in the league, has been getting plenty of buzz as one of biggest breakout stars of the season. I’m a bit hesitant to agree because he’s never been able to stay upright and his deep passes aren’t too crisp. Fixing the o-line and improving the receiving core will help both of those things immediately. Miami will be better this season but challenging New England for the division is a bit of a stretch.

New York Jets: The Jets. Even when they’re not good, they’re still getting plenty of attention because of their bizarre way of doing, well, everything. The circus doesn’t stop this season with the signing of Michael Vick and Chris Johnson. Those two names immediately create discussion but what about the rest of the Jets team? Geno Smith is named the starter for week 1 but how will the rest of the offense step it up? I mean, it’s not like offense can be worse than last season, right? Eric Decker should be a nice go-to target but i’m worried about their secondary and their inability to create turnovers. Coaching is always a question with Rex Ryan around. All signs point to a mediocre/.500 team and I think that’s exactly when they’re headed. Maybe even a bit worse.

Buffalo Bills: Of all the teams with playoff-less droughts, the Bills might be the most disappointing of them all. They’re one of about three teams that are predicted to “make the leap” year after year, but they always come up short on their goals. Last year was the first year of the EJ Manuel era and while he showed a bit of promise to start the season, the injury bug didn’t want to let him do. The Bills are gambling by selecting WR Sammy Watkins so high in the draft (ie. ATL with Julio Jones) so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Yes, the pieces are there as they are most years but how will everything pan out? The potential of the entire franchise being sold will loom over everything and it won’t have a positive result. Potential not fulfilled turns into disappointment. Bills bring up the rear of the division.

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Browns rally past Dolphins; what to look for in Sunday’s games

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How about those Cleveland Browns? I knew that the AFC North would be up for grabs this season but I could have never predicted that it would be the Browns on top after the 5th week. Well, the 5th week just started but with the Ravens in Miami and the Bengals getting the Patriots this weekend, Cleveland could remain in sole possession of first place in their division. Things look good after the fact but when starting QB Brian Hoyer went down early in the game, it looked like another failed season of false hopes for the Browns. Enter Brandon Weeden, after losing his starting job he came in and helped rally the Browns over the Bills. The Bills also had to deal with quarterback issues as rookie starter EJ Manuel went down, essentially stalling the Bills offense and having to rely to heavily on running backs Jackson and Spiller. Now i’m actually reading that Brian Hoyer is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL. Terrible news for Browns fans as their schedule toughens up in the next few weeks. We’ll just have to wait and see how Weeden does going forward after showing flashes of good QB play and some not-so-great play. Last night’s game was interesting, especially as the Browns rallied but it still wasn’t quality football. Are we going to see a great Thursday night game this entire season? I’m looking at the schedule and maybe Benglans at Dolphins on Halloween but the sure game would be Saints at Falcons all the way in week 12 of the season. Grim.

Not so grim are Sunday’s game because what do you know, there are lots of great games to watch. Why is that? Because the Vikings, Steelers, Bucs and Redskins (2 wins combined) ALL have their bye week. The early slate of games is about as good as we’re going to see all season. Saints at Bears, Patriots at Bengals, Lions at Packers, Chiefs at Titans and Seahawks at Colts. The Seattle-Indy game is going to show a lot about both teams, especially after the Seahawks barely edged out the Texans and the Colts have had back-to-back blow out victories. Detroit had a big win over the Bears last week but they’re going into Green Bay against a Packers team that’s fighting for their season’s life and had an extra week to prepare. Could be a big statement win for Aaron Rodgers and co. Unfortunately because of playoff baseball, we’ll only have two late games. But hey, more people watching the Broncos blow out the Cowboys makes the rest of the country happy, right? I’ll be in the stands during that game so it’s pretty much guaranteed loss for my Cowboys. It’s not all good on Sunday because the Jaguars will be playing the Rams, Eagles at Giants and Panthers at Cardinals so just avoid those games. At least we end with the Texans at the 49ers.

That’s not the last game though. Again, because of playoff baseball we have a game that starts at 11:35 (ET) on a Sunday night! How crazy is that? Great news for sports bars all around the country, bad news for people on the East coast who care about the Chargers or Raiders and have to work early on Monday morning. As always, enjoy the games everyone.

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Bills take down Dolphins and looking to week 11 in the NFL

It’s becoming apparent that games on Thursday nights aren’t working out very well for the NFL this season. Before the regular season began, I thought it was going to be a great idea. More football is always a good thing, right? Doesn’t seem like it. Teams are tired, still fighting off injuries and not prepared to play two NFL games in five days. I know the Dolphins and the Bills aren’t exactly among the elite teams in the league but there’s clearly something when it takes until halfway through the third quarter for either of these teams to score a touchdown on offense. The Bills don’t have a good defense. In fact, i’d probably rank them among the five worst in the league but last night they looked like they belong with the Bears and the Texans defenses. Or how about I just admit that I was wrong and the Dolphins just aren’t that good. Either way, the Bills’ defense was able to pretty Miami the entire night to force turnovers and eventually take the victory 19-14. The Bills were able to force turnovers (one returned for a TD) and didn’t allow the Miami offense to get into any rhythm which is most likely going to turn into a success. The Dolphins actually has a chance for the lead twice in the 4th quarter but those two opportunities turned into easy interceptions for the Buffalo defense. While these two teams probably won’t be participating in the post seasons, both do have an outside shot of making some noise.

Here are a few things to keep your eyes on this Sunday as the games are going on:

Every single AFC division winner could be decided this weekend: The Patriots can take advantage of the Buffalo victory over Miami, beating a Colts team to be 3 games up in the division with a very favorable schedule. Consequently, if the Patriots do win, the Colts will have lost their 4th game. The Texans could very much take advantage of that while they face a bad Jaguars team in Houston. Out west, the Chargers and Broncos face off for what will essentially be the division title. The Chargers must win this if they plan on making the postseason. Up north the Ravens-Steelers slug fest will be going on but the Steelers are without their QB (their most important player) so the Ravens will definitely looking to take advantage of a depleted Pittsburgh team.

NFC teams trying to gain ground on the leader: The 49ers looked like they were going to run away with the west but all of a sudden they tie AND they’re missing their starting quarterback. Seattle is on their bye week but the 49ers have a very tough game on Sunday night against the Bears. Those same Chicago Bears are feeling the pressure of a red hot Packers team, particularly because Bears QB Jay Cutler is out of Monday’s game due to injury. Another team with a chance to gain some ground? That’s right, my Dallas Cowboys! After a big divisional win last weekend and the Giants on by this week, the Cowboys can take advantage of a bad Browns team in Cowboys Stadium but as most Cowboys fans know, nothing is for certain about this team.

This week my surprisingly close game pick will be the Raiders at home against the Saints (-5) mostly because I feel like people are a little too confident in the Saints now. Remember, their defense is still terrible and the Raiders offense has been looking better these past couple of weeks.

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