The Open Man previews the 2017 NFL Season with breakdowns of all 32 NFL teams. Starting with the AFC East, a division set to be dominated once again by the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
New England patriots
After a comeback for the ages against the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots enter 2017 with a chance to further cement their legacy as football’s greatest dynasty.
Following an offseason of additions, the Patriots are expected to be even better this season and talk of a potential 19-0 season has entered the discussion for the first time since their 18-1 heartbreak.
The Patriots offseason included perhaps their biggest year of upgrades in the Bill Belichick era. Brandin Cooks came in from the New Orleans Saints to give Tom Brady yet another receiving threat while running back Mike Gillislee was brought in from the Buffalo Bills to bolster the run game.
Martellus Bennett served as the Pats biggest departure, but the Patriots front office did well to replace him with the addition of red zone threat Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts to continue the dynamic of a talented secondary tight end to provide aid to Rob Gronkowski.
On defense, the Pats also loaded up with several smart acquisitions. Cornerback Stephen Gilmore was raided from the Bills and pass rusher Kony Ealy was brought in via trade from the Carolina Panthers to provide the Patriots with a pass rusher. Ealy had just 14 sacks in three seasons with the Panthers, but the hope is he can thrive in the Patriots system and become another player in a long line of talents who have benefitted from a move to Foxboro.
With the additions and the momentum from an incredible championship triumph, expectations are deservedly high for the Patriots. It is impossible to fathom any other team knocking off the Pats in the AFC East this season and in a weak division, homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs and another Super Bowl appearance awaits. It is a boring prediction to fawn over the Patriots, but this season looks to be yet another year dominated by Brady and Belichick.
The long suffering Bills ditched Rex Ryan and his brother after another year of no playoffs in Buffalo to hire Sean McDermott as the next man to attempt to bring a winning team back to the franchise.
However, that task is likely to prove difficult for McDermott in his first season with the team. Thanks to the departures of Stephen Gilmore and Mike Gillislee to the Patriots, the Bills are staring at a season where their hated divisional rivals raided two of their best players.
Beyond the departures of Gillislee and Gilmore, the Bills made further adjustments to their roster in early August with two eyebrow raising trades. Former first round pick Sammy Watkins was shipped out to the Los Angeles Rams along with a sixth round pick for cornerback E.J. Gaines and the Rams 2018 second round selection. In a corresponding move, struggling cornerback Ronald Darby was moved to the Philadelphia Eagles for Jordan Matthews and a third round pick.
Both moves from the Bills traded away high priority draft picks and prospects once considered as the future in Buffalo for perceived downgrades and Day 2 draft picks. Those moves indicate a rebuild, which might not sit well with the Bills Mafia as they desperately wait for an end to a painful playoff drought.
It makes sense for Buffalo to take a look at a change in direction in another season that will be dominated by the Patriots in the AFC East. That doesn’t change the urgency of the fanbase. Those fans are in for yet another down season after the Bills simply witnessed far too many departures with not enough additions to expect a jump into a postseason berth.
Last season, the Miami Dolphins rebounded from a disastrous start to the season to push their way into the AFC Wild Card. Miami climbed back from a 1-4 start to the season in 2016 to finish with a 10-5 record and a playoff finish in head coach Adam Gase’s debut season in charge.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their postseason berth was soured by the absence of their starting quarterback due to an injury that kept Ryan Tannehill out of their AFC Wild Card meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tannehill’s absence was the clear factor in a 35-14 loss to Pittsburgh after the Dolphins beat the Steelers in Week 6 and ended the year in heartbreak after an impressive fight to get into the postseason.
This season, the Dolphins will need to survive a full year without Tannehill after their franchise quarterback was ruled out for the season with an ACL injury. Tannehill’s injury spurred the decision to bring Jay Cutler out of retirement to reunite with his former offensive coordinator in Gase.
The decision to go all-in on Cutler will define the ‘Phins season and if Gase can sustain the success he built in his first season. Cutler spent the offseason focused on the start of his broadcast career at FOX and there is a significant gamble on a player who is on the decline combined with a lack of full focus on preparation for the season.
In his preseason debut with the Dolphins, Cutler finished 3/6 for 24 yards and will continue to get more comfortable in the hopes of a revival in Miami. Many are high on Cutler and are thinking shades of Rich Gannon in Oakland.
That level of a storybook turnaround may be a stretch and the truth will likely sit in the middle with Cutler serving as a capable stopgap for Tannehill before the Dolphins franchise guy comes back in 2018.
Today's practice might have been the offense's best since life after Tannehill. Jay Cutler was sharp when protected. Offense is at gear 3.
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 22, 2017
Beyond Cutler, this Dolhpins team is good enough to contend for a Wild Card spot once again this season, The weapons are in place and their 9-2 run to end 2016 is a sign of growth for a team that is a true playoff contender. If Cutler can make enough plays and minimize some of the mistakes he made time after time in Chicago, the Dolphins should have a great chance of a second straight AFC Wild Card finish.
New York Jets
Of the 32 NFL teams, previewing the 2017 New York Jets seems to be the biggest waste of time of the group. The Jets are actively trying to be bad this season and are highly likely to get their wish. Even if it costs head coach Todd Bowles his job.
At quarterback, the Jets will throw out a trio of tripe in Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. McCown – the peak tank general in NFL history for teams trying to lose – plus two quarterbacks who failed to become the guy in New York and are going through the motions in the wait for the Jets to use their top pick on another attempt to develop a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Jets had the chance to sign Colin Kaepernick and employ a capable quarterback for the season, but chose not to. Likely because Kaepernick could actually provide the risk of winning a game or two along the way that would put forth a risk of losing the top pick in the draft.
Now, the Jets will get their wish and stumble their way to a 1-15 and 2-14 season with a team of players who will put their bodies on the line for 16 games for a front office that plans to replace them. There are no winners here and the Jets especially won’t be winners for a long time as things will get worse before they get better on the green side of MetLife Stadium.