It's the Patriots' playground once again
There are two storylines in the AFC East that will be talked about a lot before the season and they are "will the Patriots go 16-0 again?" and "will the Jets go 0-16?" The answer to both is no, but it'll be fun to discuss.
New England won the Super Bowl last year and appears to be a better team on paper this season. The Dolphins and Bills also made moves in hopes of narrowing the gap, but there’s still plenty of ground to cover. The Jets seem to be playing for 2018 or beyond with the roster moves they made this offseason.
As I did with college football, I'll provide my thoughts one every team's win total provided by the South Point Casino in Las Vegas. Injuries will change any of these so be vigilant of any news that may come out of training camp. Schedules also are important, as are situational plays. The AFC East gets the NFC South and the AFC West this season.
Over 7 wins +125...Under 7 -145
15/1 to win the division
Offense: A lot of the Buffalo offense is status quo with the major players returning in Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins. The team didn't exactly show a ton of love to Taylor this offseason, but ended up keeping him considering the lack of options on the free agent market. The passing game will go as Watkins goes and that's hard to rely on considering his injury history. The No. 2 WR spot could go to rookie Zay Jones who comes over from East Carolina. The offensive line should be pretty good and this team invested in fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert to help open up holes for Shady.
Defense/Special Teams: Sean McDermott is a defensive-minded coach so it's this side of the ball that should see more benefits. The Bills did lose linebacker Zach Brown as well as defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and Corey Graham. The secondary is going to turn to first-round draft pick Tra'Davious White out of LSU. He'll have Ronald Darby on the other side at cornerback. The front seven has a lot of potential especially with Shaq Lawson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams up front. Stephen Hauschka comes over and is a huge upgrade over Dan Carpenter at kicker.
Selection: To me, the Bills took a step back this offseason although the hiring of McDermott is a huge upgrade over Rex Ryan. The offense needs to find more weapons while the defense has to get pressure to help out the secondary. The Week 6 bye will come at a good time after playing three of four on the road – at Carolina, Atlanta and Cincinnati – with the home game being Denver. I think seven is a good number and I lean to the under too so really at that price, I'm not very interested. They have a late three-game homestand against New England, Miami and Indianapolis that could decide which way this number ultimately lands.
Over 7.5 +115...Under 7.5 -135
15/2 to win the division
Offense: This side of the ball is in flux right now following the injury to Ryan Tannehill. Season-ending knee surgery remains a distinct possibility, which is why head coach Adam Gase persuaded former Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to delay his broadcasting career and join him in Miami instead. Whether it’s Cutler, backup Matt Moore or someone not yet on the roster, he has weapons in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills as well as a new tight end in Julius Thomas, who was acquired via trade with Jacksonville. Jay Ajayi was a revelation too with 1,272 rushing yards. The key for him to even get better is center Mike Pouncey's health. He's missed 19 games the last four seasons.
Defense: Eventually this side of the ball will catch up to it's potential. It'll be new coordinator Matt Burke's task to get this unit to play better after being promoted from linebackers coach. Lawrence Timmons is a great pickup at linebacker. Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and William Hayes will put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks. The problem is that the cornerback position is so bad that who knows how much blitzing they will do. Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett don't exactly inspire confidence. The late signing of cornerback Alterraun Verner will help and the Dolphins should be fine at safety with T.J. McDonald, Nate Allen and Reshad Jones.
Selection: Year after year we wait for the Fins to break out and be the team that will challenge the Patriots. It might be another season because of Tannehill's injury. The schedule starts out a lot friendlier then last year although they do have three on the road Weeks 2-4. Miami also has forsaken the usual bye week after its London trip (Week 4) and instead will have one in Week 11. Until the quarterback situation figures itself out, I'll stay away from this one, if for any other reason because it's due to change because of the uncertainty under center.
Over 12.5 wins +115...Under 12.5 wins -135
-1500 to win the division
Offense: Somehow this side of the ball managed to get better with the addition of WR Brandin Cooks and RB Mike Gillislee, who should take over as the short-yardage and goal-line option. Cooks adds some true speed to a passing game that has lacked that aspect in recent seasons. We'll see if the game plan opens up a little more to suit his skills. Dwayne Allen replaces Martellus Bennett as the No. 2 tight end to complement Rob Gronkowski, whose health will always be a question mark. New England also still has Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola at wide receiver. There are no worries at quarterback with Tom Brady leading the way and Jimmy Garoppolo behind him.
Defense: This side of the ball will look different following the retirement of Rob Ninkovich and the departures of Logan Ryan, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long. Kony Ealy was acquired in a trade with Carolina, Stephon Gillmore was signed in free agency, and David Harris joined after being let go by the Jets. Pairing Gilmore with Malcolm Butler should give the Patriots one of the best tandems in the league. The pass rush should be serviceable, especially if Trey Flowers can match or surpass his seven sacks from 2016. The retirement of Ninkovich weakens the linebacking group a little, but the addition of Harris could offset that.
Selection: New England will not go 16-0 so we can get that out of the way. There are several games that could cause the Patriots trouble with road tilts at New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Denver and Pittsburgh as well as a Week 11 matchup with Oakland in Mexico City. I agree with the public money going on the under here as I'm modestly concerned about the front seven of the defense. There may be a lot of overs in Patriots games this season.
Over 4 wins EVEN...Under 4 -120
75/1 to win the division
Offense: Quarterback for this team is one big gigantic question mark. It's most likely going to be Josh McCown or Christian Hackenberg. Really the team is biding it's time and looking towards next year’s draft. Matt Forte and Bilal Powell form a solid running back duo although Forte is getting up there in age and wear. The wide receivers took a hit early when Quincy Enunwa suffered a neck injury that would take him out for the season. Now they will turn to Robby Anderson and Lucky Whitehead along with rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen.
Defense: There are building blocks for the future on this side of the ball especially at safety with first-round pick Jamal Adams and second-rounder Marcus Maye. The defensive line should be stout with Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Wilkerson was very disappointing last year so we'll see if he can play up to his hefty contract. We'll also see if second-year linebacker Darron Lee can take that next step. This group has the potential to be solid and should keep games from getting too far out of hand.
Selection: The Jets will not go 0-16 so let's get that out of the way. Home games against the Chargers, Bills and Jaguars represent their best chances for wins. The road slate has Oakland, Tampa Bay, Denver, New Orleans and New England so that certainly won't help. The Week 5 date in Cleveland could end up being an important one not only in terms of the teams’ win total, but also for draft order. I'll take the under for New York.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.