Ryan Bradley previews the upcoming NFL season, beginning with the AFC East and North.
They say that, over time, mothers forget the bad parts about pregnancy and childbirth, and focus instead on the good things about having a baby. That way, biologically speaking at least, they are more inclined to breed again.
I wonder if the same biological impulse isn’t at work in the minds of sports fans. There’s a reason there are offseasons. Yes, as it drags on, we might continue to gripe about our team’s shortcomings from last season, but the agony we experienced when our teams failed (except for fans of whichever team won the championship) dissipate and we begin to feel a brand new hope for what might be. Even, that is, if our teams failed to fully address their biggest weaknesses via free agency or the draft. (I’m talking to my beloved Cowboys here). Despite all of which, in reality most of us are in for yet another season of anguish, frustration, and yelling at the TV.
And, on that note, I must ask, are you ready for the 2013 season of the NFL?
The Bills are in transition. They had a surprisingly good draft, even with the E.J. Manuel pick that surprised and baffled a lot of people. Still Manuel was starting to look solid in the preseason until he had to go in for a knee procedure. Kevin Kolb’s career is likely over and, if Manuel isn’t ready, the Bills will start the season with undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel at the helm. Tuel looked fantastic in preseason and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him experience some success. Another rookie who could have a big impact is Kiko Alonso, the inside linebacker drafted out of Oregon. Ducks are known for athleticism and the Bills defense definitely needs some of that.
Last year the Bills were 6-10. I expect them to improve, but not drastically.
Miami did a lot of rebuilding in the offseason, but I’m still doubtful they have what it takes to truly go where they want to go. Mike Wallace is overhyped and Ryan Tannehill is not an elite quarterback (at least not yet). In fact Matt Moore was Miami’s leading passer during the preseason. But, playing in a fairly weak division, the Dolphins will benefit from a pretty easy schedule. I believe the choice to draft Dion Jordan in the first round could be a great long term decision but he’s unlikely to be ready for the start of the season and the running game is a disaster waiting to happen.
The Dolphins were 7-9 last year and thanks to their schedule they’ll flip that in 2013. It won’t be enough, though, to take down the once mighty (and now sorta shaky) Patriots. Though, as usual, they’ll likely look their best when playing the Patriots.
New England Patriots
Once upon a time, there would, at the start of the season, be no doubt the Patriots would top the AFC East. And those days weren’t all that long ago. Thanks to Bellichick and Brady this team will always be in the hunt, but the clear dominance they once wielded over the AFC East seems to be fading. As usual they had an intriguing draft, the kind that makes me think Bellichick might be the Billy Beane of the NFL; he sees untapped potential in players that others don’t. As for the receiving corps, it would be nice to say it’s been revamped, but the realistic way to describe it is as inexperienced. And it’s hard to predict whether they’ll have a solid running game. Honestly, the Patriots are a team that’s dwindling toward mortality and the front office doesn’t seem to be doing much to keep that from happening.
In 2012 the Patriots won the division at 12-4. I don’t think there’s any question they’ll win it again, but with more like a 10-6 record. However, I’ll give Brady and Bellichick the respect they’ve earned and bump them an extra win.
New York Jets
I’m not sure there was any team at the end of last season that needed to be stripped down and sold for parts more than the Jets. Still, they kept Mark Sanchez, who is the worst starting QB in the NFL, and the coach who harbors some inexplicable attachment to him.
Rex Ryan says he’s a great coach, but it’s obvious to everyone but him, Sanchez, and the Jets front office, that he’s not. A great coach knows when to throw in the towel with an integral piece of a team that’s not working out (Sanchez). The internal chaos of the locker room has never died down during Ryan’s tenure, either. That might be due to some coaching issues. In the offseason they lost Darelle Revis, drafted Geno Smith, and continued to throw Greg McElroy under the bus.
If the Jets start anyone other than Sanchez (even a ball boy), they’ll remain a mediocre team, but I truly believe that, if Ryan sticks with Sanchez, they could be one of the worst teams in the league.
Projection: 3-13 with Sanchez, 5-11 with anyone else.
The Ravens had a most unpredictable season last year, but, regardless of how they got there, they are reigning Super Bowl champs. They have a solid QB in Joe Flacco, and one of the NFL’s best head coaches in John Harbaugh. Their offseason, however, featured retirements (Ray Lewis) and marquee departures (Ed Reed). And their draft was fairly boring.
The Ravens went to the Super Bowl after a 10-6 season, and that’s as good a guess as any of where they’ll end up this year. Just don’t expect another Super Bowl appearance.
The Bengals have been a team of promise so many times, and perennially so since Andy Dalton took the reigns, but they’ve never quite lived up to the expectations. However, they got Dalton a new weapon this year with their first pick in the draft, Tyler Eifert, tight end from Notre Dame. On a team with a fairly weak receiving corps, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more two tight end packages in their rotation.
Last year the hard luck Bengals finished behind the Ravens, at 10-6. I expect a slightly better finish this year.
The Browns are a hard team to buy into coming into any season, and this one is no different. I think drafting Brandon Weeden last year was a huge mistake, Trent Richardson’s ability to stay healthy is suspect, and, with only a handful of draft picks this year, they didn’t give themselves much opportunity to improve. Their first pick, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, has a ton of potential, but he’s been suffering from a nagging injury and is unlikely to start the season opener.
It’s hard to imagine getting worse after a 5-11 season last year, but they are a team relying heavily on faith that their starters won’t screw up or get injured, with few contingency plans in the wings. And I think getting worse is the only path ahead of them.
It’s hard to watch the Steelers dismantle themselves with such gusto, but that seems to be what is happening to the proud franchise. I’ve always enjoyed watching them because they play with grit and determination, but that can only carry a team so far. Ben Roethlisberger looks like a trusty car that’s being driven until he falls apart piece by piece. They did have a pretty solid draft, picking up a top linebacker (Jarvis Jones), an underrated wide receiver (Markus Wheaton), and a running back (Le’Veon Bell). But they also drafted a quarterback, Landry Jones out of Oklahoma, which seems to represent at least some level of recognition that Roethlisberger is dangerously close to being hauled off to the scrapyard.
After a disappointing 8-8 last year, Steelers fans will be disappointed to experience another playoff-less season this year.