New England Patriots 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Jon

 

Offseason Storylines

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Going into the offseason, the Patriots had one objective: improve the defense, but specifically the secondary. Last season, the Pats’ secondary was in the middle of the pack, but was unable to stop the best quarterbacks. The Patriots defense’s stats were inflated because they faced the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills six times last season. During the playoffs, it became obvious that they could not win another championship without a drastically improved defense. During their two postseason games against Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, the unit allowed over 700 yards of offense and 6 touchdowns. Also, the Seahawks’ performance in the Super Bowl against the greatest offense of all time solidified the Patriots’ belief about the importance of physical and talented cornerbacks. Although they did not have a lot of room under the cap, they signed All-Pro Darrelle Revis and Pro-Bowler Brandon Browner. Even though many assume that Richard Sherman is the best corner in the league, it should not be forgotten that Revis played like the best corner since Deion Sanders during his time with the arch rival Jets. Last season, Revis did not post the same numbers because he was recovering from a torn ACL and the Bucs did not allow Revis to play on an island. In New England, the Pats have stated that they will put Revis on the best receiver in order to take him out of the game. Similar to Revis, Browner was suspended for the second half of the 2013 season and will be suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season due to drug use. Browner is a physically imposing corner at 6’4″ and 220 pounds. The Pats will ask him to matchup against the opposing team’s tallest receiver as he has the size and strength to compete for jump balls. Browner plays like a ball-hawk in the secondary and recorded 9 interceptions over the previous two seasons. With the addition of Revis and Browner to an already solid safety core, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, the Patriots should possess a secondary that could compete with any team’s secondary, besides the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots did not feel the need to drastically address the front seven, besides Dominique Easley, because Vince Wilfork and Jared Mayo will return from injury. On offense, the Pats are set to return every starter from last season. Bill Belicheck must have a lot of confidence in Aaron Dobson and Kembrell Thompkins because Tom Brady needs more consistent options on the outside.

 

Offensive X-Factor

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The Patriots’ offense and ultimately their season revolves around the health of Rob Gronkowski. When Gronk is on the field, he is the best tight end in the game and one of the most dominating players in the entire NFL. Over the past two seasons, Gronk has constantly been battling injuries, which have held him to only 18 games. When Gronk plays, the Patriots’ offense is drastically improved. Without Gronk in the rotation, Tom Brady has to rely on players such as Kembrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, and the oft injured Danny Amendola. Although Tom Brady has shown in the past that he can lead a team without top receivers, he is nearing the end of his career and he is coming off of his worst season since 2006. Gronk is a great weapon in the red zone because he is a huge target and neither corners nor safeties are able to cover the behemoth. Before this past season, Gronk recorded double digit touchdowns in his previous three seasons. With the enhanced defense, it will be critical for Gronk to stay on the field because they will have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl.

 

Defensive X-Factor

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The most important player on the Patriots’ defense is Chandler Jones. The 24 year old defensive end is the Pats’ X-Factor because he is the only dynamic pass rusher on the team. In today’s NFL, it is imperative that defenses are able to apply constant pressure on the opposing quarterback. Besides Jones, the Patriots do not have any players that have the potential to record double digit sack numbers. Although the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom is given all the credit for their success, the secondary’s job would have been exponentially tougher if the Seahawks’ front four was unable to dominate the line of scrimmage. Jones has a lot of talent and physical skill, which allows him overpower and blow by the opposing left tackles. If Jones does not produce at least 12 sacks and constant pressure, the skill in the secondary will be useless because quarterbacks will have “all day” to find receivers.

 

Projections

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The Pats have been the class of the AFC East for the past decade and nothing is set to change this season. Although the talent on the roster does not seem intimidating, the Pats are a lock for 10 as long as Tom Brady is the starting quarterback and they play in the same division as the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins. Unlike the past few seasons, Brady will not have the responsibility to carry the entire team. Similar to last season, Brady’s stats will likely take another dip due to the lack of talent on the outside and the Patriots’ improved running game. Also, the Pats will not be playing in as many shootouts as their defense should contain the opposing offense. On defense, the Patriots look like a significantly improved unit. If healthy, Revis has the potential to totally change and enhance a defense. During his time in New York, Revis showed how a defense can be built around him and his ability to shut down the best wide receivers in the league. Revis and the Patriots’ improved secondary must play well because their front seven will not apply enough pressure to stop the top quarterbacks. The secondary should force a lot of turnovers because they have a few great ball hawks including Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty. Along with Revis, the Pats should be one of the best rush defenses in the NFL with Vince Wilfork, Jared Mayo, Donte Hightower, and Tom Kelly. The Pats should make the playoffs again and attempt to add another ring to Brady’s and Belicheck’s collection.

Record: 11-5

First in the AFC East

 

Fantasy Pick

The Patriots D/ST should be one of the best D/ST this season. The addition of the great corners and the return of Devin McCourty should allow the Pats to record a lot more interceptions and maybe more touchdowns. If Jones stays on the field, fantasy owners will also reap the benefits of his production.

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

Dallas Cowboys 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Prad

Projected Record: 4-12

NFC East Rank: 4th

 

The Cowboys have been average. It’s the only word that could possibly do justice for a team that has compiled a .500 record each of the last three seasons. And unfortunately for the ‘boys, finger pointing is a famous game in Dallas. Jerry Jones emphasizes winning prior to every season, but the team fails to answer the call every year. Tony Romo often takes the brunt of the burden of winning; yet, this appears is unwarranted. Last season, he posted an impressive 31 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. So, he can’t be the only problem on a 53-man roster. Sure, he fails to deliver in crunch time, but it’s the team’s job to make sure he isn’t put in a compromising position. Still, he finds himself in that position…year after year. Dallas’ future remains uncertain but one thing is certain: their fans’ will maintain unrealistic expectations.

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With Romo recovering from back surgery, it’s highly improbable he’ll post another tremendous season. Other aspects of the offense will certainly aid his production. His offensive line was beefed up in this year’s draft with the selection of Notre Dame’s Zach Martin. He has incredible potential, but will have to deal with the growing pains of a rookie. The future is bright for Martin, who will start at the Guard position in at least his second year, if not rookie. Another 4,000-yard season is contingent upon his time in the pocket and the effectiveness of his line.

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Beginning this season, newly acquired Scott Linehan will call all plays on offense. This is the third time in three seasons that the passing coordinator’s job has been transferred with Offensive Coordinator Bill Callahan holding those duties last year and Head Coach Jason Garrett the year before. This inconsistency is unmistakably a disadvantage for the growth of Romo and the offense. Hopefully, starting Wide Receivers Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams can make the smooth transition between coordinators. There will be inevitable complications in the first few weeks of the season, but the offense has to work them out quickly. Bryant has turned into a superstar with more than 1,200 receiving yards each of the last two seasons. The Romo-Bryant tandem needs to work better than ever for Dallas to compete in the NFC. Terrence Williams, the new starting wideout, needs to improve on his 2013 numbers (44 catches for 736 yards). If he can eclipse the 70 receptions and 1,000 yard marks, Williams will bring another dimension to the Cowboys’ unit.

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The Cowboys can expect production out of their Tight End year in and year out. Jason Witten, a future Hall of Famer, has been the only constant on this offense for the last 10 seasons. In that span, he has failed to miss one game. Witten won’t be remembered for his endurance though. His production over the last decade has to be considered more than incredible. Over the last seven seasons, he has averaged 90 receptions and 994 receiving yards. Although, he may have slowed down last year (73 receptions for 851 yards), Witten will not be declining substantially anytime soon. If he can accrue even 80 catches for 900 yards, Romo will be one of the most potent quarterbacks in the league. The passing game is completely equipped with talent, but without an effective Romo, the offense ceases to produce.

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Last season, the running game was showing signs of Emmitt Smith and the 1990s Cowboys. And that can be directly attributed to a revitalized DeMarco Murray. The Sooners standout rushed for his first 1,000-yard season while maintaining an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. Murray is just entering his prime at age 26, so it would not be surprising to see him rush for 1,000 yards a few more times in his career if he can remain healthy. The aforementioned addition of Zach Martin can only help his game, so there is no excuse for a lack of effectiveness. By all accounts, the offense appears to be heading in the right direction.

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Nevertheless, the defense is an entirely different story. They conceded the third most total yards (6,645) in NFL history a season ago. The departure of star linebacker, DeMarcus Ware, doesn’t help either. Forced to cut him because of salary cap issues, Jerry Jones hopes Anthony Spencer can fill some mighty big shoes at outside linebacker. Otherwise, Dallas is in danger of NFL infamy. It would not be unforeseen if they trumped the 7,042 mark set by the Saints in 2012.

The team’s sack leader, Jason Hatcher, has also departed this offseason for the division rival Redskins. Hatcher was a focal point in the defensive scheme last year. Without their leading pass rusher, the Cowboys defense will fail in applying too much pressure on opposing quarterbacks the upcoming season. Luckily, Dallas acquired Henry Melton this offseason. If Melton returns to his 2012 Pro-Bowl caliber, the Cowboys won’t miss Hatcher all that much. Alas, Melton does not turn in that Pro-Bowl type performance every year, so we’ll have to see how he fits within the context of the defense.

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Unfortunately, things don’t get better for the defense. Sean Lee, the team’s leader in interceptions, was declared out for the season with a torn ACL. This is a devastating blow to a linebacker corps that already lost Ware from salary cap restrictions. Either Justin Durant or rookie Anthony Hitchens will act as Lee’s replacement, but neither will come close to Lee’s production. This defense had a bad offseason to say the least. And that 7,042-yard record doesn’t look that far off the radar anymore.

America’s Team is in a peculiar situation. The offense seems to be gaining momentum with young talent and veteran leadership. On the other hand, the defense has hit the league’s cellar. Rod Marinelli’s defense needs talent at some major positions and it appears he isn’t getting help anytime soon. Jerry Jones might not want to completely overhaul the defense because rebuilding takes a while, but it’s a situation that will be difficult to remedy in one year. Cowboys’ fans can’t expect all that much from this team’s roster, but it’ll be fun to watch Romo work with his offense. Dallas will have a difficult time scrapping together even five wins, so it appears their run at 8-8 records is finally over.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

New York Jets 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Jon

 

Offseason Storylines

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After years of salary cap hell, John Idzik and the Jets were blessed with tens of millions of dollars to improve a lackluster roster. However, they did not spend enough money to drastically improve their team. The Jets’ only major signing was Eric Decker. Although Eric Decker is a nice wide receiver, he is not a number one. The Jets are hoping that he can become a number one because they have one of the worst receiving cores in the NFL. During the draft, the Jets added Jace Amaro in the second round. The tight end out of Texas Tech has a lot of talent and the prototypical size and strength for the position. The Jets added a few other receivers in the later rounds, who have potential, but it is unlikely that they will succeed this season, Along with Decker and Jace Amaro, the Jets tried to make their squad more explosive by adding Chris Johnson. Although Johnson is past of his prime, he still has home run ability, which the Jets have been lacking since losing Leon Washington. Along with adding explosion on offense, the Jets signed Brian Giacomini to replace Austin Howard at right tackle, add physicality, teach the rest of the team how to win . The offensive line needs to play well in order for the running backs to succeed and Geno to stay upright in the pocket.

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On defense, the Jets maintained most of their players that led them to become one of the best defenses in the league. John Idzik and the Jets’ front office were under a lot of scrutiny this offseason because they did not answer the questions at corner. Although they had plenty of money, they only signed D’mitri Patterson, a journeyman who is frequently hurt. Instead of drafting one of the great corners in the draft, Rex drafted safety Calvin Pryor in the first round, the fifth straight defensive player selected in the first round. The Jets waited until the third round to draft cornerback Dex McDougle. Dex has a lot of upside, but has been injured throughout his collegiate career. Although Dex started hot at rookie camp, he has cooled off and Rex does not talk about him with the same bravado.

 

Offensive X-Factor

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The most important player on the Jets’ offense is Stephen Hill. Although many believe that the Jets will go as far as Geno Smith takes them, Hill is the X-Factor on the team. Last season, the Jets had one of the worst offenses in the league and Geno Smith had a lot of difficulties because the wide receiver play were borderline unwatchable. Although Jeremy Kerley is a nice piece, he is a slot receiver and cannot make big plays in the passing game. Stephen Hill is one of the most frustrating players in the league because he has great size, strength, and speed, but he drops a lot of balls, is frequently injured, and commits mental blunders. With the addition of Eric Decker, defenses should pay less attention to Hill. If Hill can turn into an adequate number 2 receiver, Smith will have another weapon on the outside, which will drastically improve the offense and the entire team.

 

Defensive X-Factor

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The X-Factor for the Jets on defense this year will be the cornerback Dee Milliner. After losing Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in consecutive years, the Jets secondary does not have the same talent that led them to two AFC Championship Games a few years ago. This season, the Jets will be relying on Dex McDougle, Milliner, and Patterson to stop Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and a few other great quarterbacks. If the Jets are going to stop these legends, Milliner must play like the number one corner that the Jets thought he would become when they drafted him ninth overall. However, during much of his first season, Milliner was absolutely dreadful and frequently beaten by opposing wide receivers. Fortunately for the Jets, Milliner drastically improved his play over the last 2 weeks of the season as he recorded 3 picks and defended 10 passes. If Milliner can carry over his success from last season, the Jets will have a number one corner to complement one of the best front sevens in the NFL.

 

Projections

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After surprising most of the NFL and winning 8 games last season, the Jets are one of the most interesting teams entering the 2014-2015 season. While some believe that they are going to win only 5 games, others believe that they will challenge the Patriots for the AFC East crown and win 10+ games. However, the one constant is that all experts think that the Jets’ offense will determine how many games the team wins. If people predict that the Jets will win more than 8 games, they are presuming that Geno will take a step forward with the new additions. Similar to Dee Milliner, Geno improved as the season waned and notched 7 touchdowns compared to only 2 interceptions over the last 4 games, including 3 wins. With the inclusion of Decker, Johnson, Amaro, and hopefully Hill, the Jets should open up the playbook and allow Geno more opportunities to throw the ball down the field. On defense, the Jets are led by their front seven, specifically Sheldon Richardson, Muhammed Wilkerson, Calvin Pace, Jason Babin, David Harris, and Quinton Coples. Like last season, the Jets should be able to provide constant pressure on the quarterback. The pressure that the front seven creates will be critical so the secondary has to cover for less time. It will be imperative for the defense to play well in every ball game because it will rarely be able to score enough points to match the defense’s problems.

Record: 8-8

Tied for second in AFC East

 

Fantasy Star

Chris Johnson has the ability to restart his career in New York. Playing under Rex Ryan’s run heavy offense and Marty Mournwiegs’ tendency to include the running back in the passing game, Johnson should be given a lot of touches during each game. Although Ivory may steal a few of his touchdowns in the redzone (or even Sheldon Richardson), Johnson will definitely accumulate big plays and touchdowns.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com