Five AFC East story lines heading into 2016 NFL season
The New England Patriots have been looking for revenge all summer ‘16, as they look to continue their dominance of the AFC East. Bill Belichick’s Patriots have won 13 of the last 15 AFC East crowns, including seven straight. Once Tom Brady returns from his four-game suspension, the Patriots will be like a shark searching for blood in the water. The Patriots are not the only headline grabbers in this division, but they are still a big story line. Here are that and four other AFC East story lines to pay attention to heading into the 2016 NFL season.
The Patriots’ First Four Games
With Tom Brady suspended for the first four games the Patriots play, due to the Deflategate scandal, the boys from New England will have to rely on near unknown quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The schedule works out like this: in Arizona on the first Sunday Night, and then three straight home games against the Dolphins, Texans (Thursday night) and the Bills. Each one of these opponents improved their teams this offseason, most notably the Cardinals as they acquired Chandler Jones from the Patriots.
Most people would chalk up the Cardinals game as a loss for the Patriots, so the pressure could be on Garoppolo very early. The other three games, though, are very pretty winnable considering the hit or miss nature of each team. If the Patriots go 2-2 or worse to start the season, it opens the door for the three other teams to get a head start in the division. But somehow you have to assume that Belichick and co. will find a way to get it done, even without “The Deflator.”
Adam Gase Takes Over the Dolphins Offense
There has always been hype around the Miami Dolphins before the season starts in the Ryan Tannehill era. They are even sometimes chosen as a breakout team that will finally challenge the Patriots in the East. That has not happened yet, as the Dolphins most recently came out flat last year under Joe Philbin.
Adam Gase is a very well-respected offensive mind and many thought it was overdue that he becomes a head coach. The Dolphins do have weapons around Tannehill in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jay Ajayi, and now Arian Foster. With all the hype around the Patriots and Jets, don’t sleep on the Dolphins this season. Sounds annoyingly familiar doesn’t it?
New York Jets’ Tough Schedule
The second toughest schedule in the NFL in 2016 belongs to the New York Jets. Five of their first six opponents made the playoffs last season: Bengals, at Chiefs, Seahawks, at Steelers, and at Cardinals. The six-week stretch is the toughest patch of the schedule, facing the Seahawks and then two straight road games in Pittsburgh and Arizona. The Jets of course will play the Patriots, Dolphins and Bills twice as well. The Jets went 3-3 last year against the AFC East, with the toughest loss being week 17 in Buffalo. All they had to do was win and they would have made the playoffs. Tall order for gang green this season, how will they respond?
Could The Bills Finally Take The Next Step?
The biggest highlight for Rex Ryan last season was ending the Jets season with a Week 17 win. The win both knocked the Jets out of the playoff picture and had the Bills finish the season at .500. The front office has faith in Tyrod Taylor, as talks of a contract extension are heating up. Rex brought on his brother Rob Ryan, adding the former defensive coordinator to his staff, but both of their NFL futures could be bleak if it doesn’t work out in Buffalo. The Bills by no stretch are a bad team, but can they finally take that next step and be a 10-6 team that actually does something substantial.
The Jets Offense
With the contract drama behind them, the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick are in full win-now mode. With the addition of Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, the Jets have added another big name to an offense that already features Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Fitzpatrick is coming off a career year, throwing 31 touchdowns for the Jets, setting a franchise record along the way. However, it was Fitzpatrick’s 15 interceptions that worries Jets fans, especially seeing him throw three costly interceptions in the Week 17 loss to Buffalo. This will be the second year under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, so many hope the familiarity will keep turnovers to a minimum.