Baltimore Ravens 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Jon

 

Offseason Storylines

After coming off of a Super Bowl victory, the Ravens had a below average season and failed to make the playoffs. The Ravens did not have the same success on offense because Ray Rice did not produce the same numbers and Anquan Boldin became a cap casualty. The Ravens are hoping that they can improve their running game through the addition of center Jeremy Zuttah and passing game by signing Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Although Smith is past his prime, he is a physical wide out that will add an attitude to the offense. Smith still has reasonable speed and should have the potential to go deep and stretch the safeties. The addition of Owen Daniels will provide a second quality tight end for the double tight end sets.

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On defense, the Ravens were hoping to get more youth and athleticism through the draft. Baltimore used their first selections on CJ Mosley, MLB, Timmy Jernigan, NT, and Terrence Brooks, S. Although it is unreasonable to expect Mosley to replace the great Ray Lewis, he was taught by the best defensive coach in college football and has incredible instincts and desire to succeed. Along with Mosley, the Ravens drafted Jernigan because of his potential. Due to his lack of consistency and motor during college, his draft stock fell and Baltimore was able to snag him in the second round. Jernigan will be able to learn under the tutelage of  Haloti Ngata, who has been one of the best interior lineman over the past few seasons. Along with replacing the legendary Ray Lewis, the Ravens hope that Terrence Brooks can become a stud safety like the great Ed Reed. Like Mosley, it is highly unlikely that Brooks can replace a legend, but they should become starters for the new era of a Ravens’ defense.

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Offensive X-Factor

The key for the Ravens this season will be the  reemergence of Ray Rice. The former Scarlet Knight star was at the center of a lot of controversy after the domestic violence issue. The domestic violence problem will cost Rice the first two games of the season. Before the suspension, Rice was one of the worst running backs in the league, last season. The combination of a bad offensive line and a lot of workload caused Rice to slow down and have by far the worst season of his career. It was not a surprise that the Ravens became an average and one dimensional offense. If Rice can return to scaring defense, compile 1000 yards, and score 10 touchdowns, the Ravens should reclaim one of the best offenses in the league, Flacco’s passing game should improve, and the Ravens will compete with the Bengals for the North Division title. When Rice runs effectively, Flacco’s game drastically enhances because he is a great play action passer and it becomes easier for him to throw the deep ball to the Smiths.

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Defensive X-Factor

The third year player out of Colorado, Jimmy Smith, will be important to the success of the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens lost last year’s starter Corey Graham to free agency. Graham was very effective for the Ravens as he accumulated 4 interceptions, defended 12 passes, and totaled 47 tackles. After two seasons as a backup, Smith will finally be given the opportunity to start for Baltimore. When the Ravens drafted Smith, they knew that he had the potential to be a top corner because of his physical skills, but he carried off the field baggage and attitude problems. However, he has been a good soldier while on the Ravens. Smith should become a good starter and replacement for Graham. If Smith can continue his development, he can mature into a solid number one corner and vault the Ravens into a top 5 passing defense.

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Projections

After the Steelers and Ravens dominated the AFC North for the past decade, the Bengals are favored to win the division. However, the Ravens still have many players on offense that led this team to the championship. If Rice can regain his past form, the Ravens should become one of the ten best offenses in the league. Last year, the Ravens admitted that they were too pass heavy and want to run more this season. The addition of a running threat will allow Flacco to throw passes down the field. During his Super Bowl run, Flacco showed that he has the best arm in football and is the best at throwing passes of over 30 yards. The two Smiths, Torrey and Steve, are deep threats, which will fit with Flacco’s talents and allow the Ravens to compete with the Bengals for the division title. Along with the suspect running game, the offensive line must improve if the offense is going to reach its potential. The unit will have more time to unite and gel as a unit. While the offense still has a few question marks, the defense should return to its former status as one of the best in football. Last season, the passing and rushing defenses were ranked inside the top 12, but they are used to being ranked in the top 5. The rush defense should better its ranking as the unit of Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil, and Courtney Upshaw ranks as one of the best cores in football. The unit is great because they have the ability to accumulate sacks and stuff the run. On the defensive line, the trio of Chris Canty, Haloti Ngata, and Brandon Williams need to show that they have the ability to win the battle of trenches. In the secondary, the Ravens were able to total a lot of turnovers, which needs to continue if the Ravens will return to the playoffs.

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Record: 10-6

Second in the AFC East

Fantasy Pick:

Ray Rice has been one of the most consistent fantasy contributors over the past few seasons before last year. However, during preseason, Rice has look more agile, lighter, and quicker. Although Rice will miss the first two games, he should be able to return to being a top 10 or 15 running back. The Ravens will give him more carries since they realized that they cannot win without his success. Also, Rice is a great fantasy option because he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Unlike many running backs, Rice has the physicality to rush in the red zones and score all the rushing touchdowns.

New York Giants 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Prad

NFC East Rank: 2nd

Projected Record: 9-7

 

The New York Giants have a new look and are set to rebound following a disastrous start to their 2013 campaign. They started last season with six straight losses and 15 interceptions from QB Eli Manning. Although they finished with seven wins in the final 10 games, the initial hole was insurmountable. Neither side of the ball performed particularly well, so this offseason was critical to their success in the immediate future. Additionally, Manning, who finished with a league-high 27 interceptions, is set to improve since he can’t get much worse on that front. In his ten seasons in the league, Eli has played under one offensive coordinator in Kevin Gilbride. With Gilbride retiring, the monotony of that offense will no longer suffocate the unit. The landscape in New York is set to change, but only time will tell if it will be an effective change.

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After Gilbride’s departure this offseason, the Giants signed Ben McAdoo, who served as the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay for the past couple seasons. McAdoo will implement a sort of west coast offense in New York. His playbook has been constantly rehearsed during training camp and it will be effective immediately. McAdoo wants Manning to elevate his completion percentage above 70%, but that will prove to be quite difficult. Thus far, his career high is 62.9%, which he achieved in 2010. Plus, the feat has only been accomplished seven times in the history of the NFL (twice by Drew Brees). The short passes in the offense will be a better fit for Manning after he saw his balls end up in defender’s hands too often last year.

The offensive line will be an absolute difference maker this year. Last year’s line was atrocious in both pass and run blocking. This is partially attributed to the sheer number of injuries and alternating lines the G-Men used each week. Still, most of it was simply ineffectiveness. The old line was gradually aging, like all units do, but last season was a rude awakening to the problem. Veteran G Chris Snee retired this offseason following growing elbow concerns. New York believes the issues with the line have been resolved though. They acquired OT Charles Brown and G Jon Jerry along with using their second round selection on C Weston Richburg. These three can fundamentally alter the offensive line, because all of them have the potential to start in Week One. Yet, lines do not always coalesce as well as they look on paper. Chemistry was a critical component to the success of the line in the last decade and they need to find that similar groove early on in the upcoming season.

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The group of receivers at Eli’s disposal also adds to the already improved offense. WR Victor Cruz signed a five-year $43 million deal last offseason, so the Giants don’t have to worry about their primary target for a while. However, WR Hakeem Nicks bolted for the Colts. Nicks, always thought to be a deep threat and one of Eli’s favorite targets, failed to catch a single touchdown all of last season. His deep threat label was relinquished to Cruz last year, so he hardly provided another dimension to the group. WR Reuben Randle and WR Mario Manningham will most likely be able to account for Nick’s production and some. Manningham, who caught that brilliant pass from Manning in their most recent Super Bowl, will look to regain some of the trust lost when he left for San Francisco. This receiving corps most significant addition was their first round pick in WR Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham could easily shift into that second receiver position right behind Cruz. His time at LSU was highlighted by his super speed and exceptional route running, both of which Manning could certainly utilize. This collection of receivers will fit well within McAdoo’s game plan and will offer at least three suitable options for Manning each set of downs.

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The defense enabled New York to stay in games throughout all of last season. Without some of their decent play, this team’s win total could have just as easily been three or four. They greatly benefited the team, but were average in just about every category ranking somewhere between 10th-20th in the league. A Pro Bowl caliber athlete in CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a decent player in CB Walter Thurmond strengthened the secondary this offseason. Rodgers-Cromartie will start opposite of CB Prince Amukamara and together will form an impressive duo. These two along with a strong group of safeties in FS Antrel Rolle and SS Stevie Brown intimidate opposing quarterbacks from tossing the long ball more frequently.

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The front seven has been the reason for much of their success in the past decade, but it wasn’t all that great through the course of 16 games. An underachieving DE Jason Pierre-Paul coupled with a mediocre linebacker corps did not help their case. It was the secondary and other parts of the line such as DE Justin Tuck who picked them up. A revitalized Tuck totaled 11 sacks last season but left for Oakland afterwards. It leaves both a physical and emotional void that needs to be filled soon. DE Mathias Kiwanuka believes he can do just that. Kiwanuka is the only player on this roster other than Manning who won the last two Giants Super Bowls. If he can indeed fill the massive hole, then the Giants will rush the quarterback better with a healthy JPP.

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Last season’s 7-9 mark was the worst in the last decade under HC Tom Coughlin’s guidance. This season will be an inevitable improvement though. All signs point to Manning having a career season and his mission will be further aided by a revamped offensive line and formidable run game. The G-Men will have a great opportunity to qualify for the playoffs in a not so outstanding NFC East. And if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that the Giants can make incredible postseason runs. All they need is an opportunity. If Manning can click at the right time, New York can play into January and if they’re lucky for a third time, early February.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

Miami Dolphins 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Jon

 

Offseason Storylines

The Dolphins entered the offseason with an incredibly difficult task: retool the offensive line. Last season, an argument could be made that the Dolphins’ offensive line was one of the worst and volatile in history. Besides for leading the league in sacks allowed, they were in the center of the media world due to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin controversy. Due to the multiple problems, the Dolphins will be starting four new offensive lineman. The edge of the line should be significantly improved because of the addition of Brandon Albert and Juwan Johnson. Miami will likely have problems running up the middle because Shelley Smith and Dallas Thomas, the starting guards, have played very little in the past and are unlikely to become even average interior linemen. Along with their putrid offensive line, the running game provided little help for Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins attempted to better their running game by adding stud running back Knowshon Moreno.

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On defense, Miami wanted to solidify their secondary by adding veteran safeties and cornerbacks. In order to put a quality corner opposite of two time Pro-Bowler, Brent Grimes, the Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan. Although Finnegan is on the wrong side of 30 and coming of an injury plagued season, he wants to prove that he can still be starting corner and a turnover machine. Also, Finnegan will add a physical and nasty attitude to Miami’s entire team. Along with Finnegan, the Dolphins signed ex-Lions safety Louis Delmas. Delmas is a ball hawk and picked off three passes last season.

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Offensive X-Factor

The most important player on the entire Dolphins’ roster is Mike Wallace. The former speedster and playmaker for the Pittsburgh Steelers signed a $60M deal with the Dolphins last offseason. The Dolphins expected Wallace to be the same dynamic receiver that would blow by opposing corners and stretch a defense. Although Wallace averaged 1100 yards and 9 touchdowns during his last three years in the Steel City, he accumulated only 930 yards and 5 touchdowns. Although he underachieved last season, the Dolphins need him to play at a high level if Ryan Tannehill will better his skills and lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. If the Dolphins are able to improve their offensive line, Wallace will have more time to run down the field and Tanneill will have more time to find the open receiver. In Pittsburgh, they ran at a high level because safeties could not creep toward the line due to Wallace’s speed. This could create more lanes for Daniel Thomas and Knowshon Moreno.

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Defensive X-Factor 

After winning the Super Bowl with the Ravens, Dannell Ellerbe was one of the hottest names on the free agent block. Consequently, he signed a huge deal with the Dolphins, who hoped that Dannell would stabilize the linebacking core and make the Dolphins one of the better rush defenses in the league. However, Dannell, like Wallace, was unable to live up to his contract in his first year. Although Ellerbe had an average season with 93 tackles, he recorded only one double digit tackle game over the final 7 weeks of the season. Also, Ellerbe was unable to make the Dolphins an above average defense against the run. Last season, they ranked toward the bottom half of the league in stopping the run. Along with his less than expected tackling numbers, Ellerbe only one sack, after a 4.5 sack season with Baltimore, and did not force one fumble the entire season. The Dolphins need Ellerbe to return to his 2012 form, if they are going to surprise teams and reach the playoffs.

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Projections

Last season, Miami nearly made the playoffs, but they could not win one of their last two games against the Jets, at home, or the Bills. In 2013, the Dolphins were one of the worst running teams in the NFL as they were 4th to last in attempts and 7th to last in yards. Although they would be a reasonable strategy if the quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning, they were sporting a second year quarterback, who has played quarterback for only about 3 years in his life, including college. Although Ryan Tannehill had a nice season, more touchdowns than interceptions and over 3500 yards of passing, he should not be given 600 attempts. The Dolphins became predictable on offense, which allowed teams to blitz and sack Ryan 58 times. This season, fans should expect a more balanced offensive scheme, as they signed Knowshon Moreno and added offensive line through the draft and free agency. Tannehill should continue to improve as a passer, as he has looked great in preseason, but he will likely never be more than a top 20 quarterback in the NFL. On defense, the team will continue in their quest to apply pressure on the quarterback. Last season, the Dolphins’ front four was able to accumulate 27 sacks, including 8 from their interior lineman. The Dolphins will be a very intimidating defense because, unlike most teams, they can apply pressure up the middle with Odrick and Starks and pressure from the ends with Vernon and Wake, two of the best pass rushers in the league. Miami’s secondary should continue playing aggressive and look for turnovers as many quarterbacks will be under distress and force bad passes. Overall, the Dolphins should be a similar to team as last season and barely miss the playoffs. However, if Tannehill is able to up his game and play like a top 15 or even top 10 quarterback and the defense can learn how to stop the run, the Dolphins may be competing with the Patriots for the AFC East division championship.

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Record: 8-8

Tied for second in AFC East

 

Fantasy Pick:

This year, the position with the least depth is obviously the tight end position. Outside of Graham, Gronk (when healthy), Davis, and Witten, the tight end position is lacking talent. However, Charles Clay could be a sleeper this year. Last year, Clay started all 16 games and produced solid number, 750 yards and 6 touchdowns. In the red zone, Clay is a large target that young quarterbacks love to hit when under duress. At the end of the season, Clay was drastically improving as a tight end and pass catcher, as he had been a full back the previous season. In a year with bad tight ends, Clay would be a good late round find and a solid tight end that should produce over 125 points this season.