Continuing our training camp series, we next take a look at the AFC and NFC East, looking-in on the training camps of the two divisions with representatives from last year’s Super Bowl:
Buffalo Bills – With a second-place division finish in 2017, the Buffalo Bills were on the outside looking in for the playoffs, just missing the cut. Going into his sophomore year with the Bills, head coach Sean McDermott tries to take his squad to the next level with a collection of good players to build around in hopes of getting to the next level of a playoff berth. Top 10 running back in Lesean McCoy is a year older, but still as talented as ever, and the center piece of an offence that like McCoy, has talent, but oft injured. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is another talented piece with an injury history and finished the 2017 season on injured reserve. Buffalo boasts one of the better defenses in the league, with a talented secondary lead by veteran Micah Hyde and Second year sensation Tre’davious White, but the season hinges on the quarterback situation. Will rookie Josh Allen take over the starting job and get the Bills to the next level or will Nate Peterman or AJ McCarron separate themselves from the pack and spark the boost needed to take Buffalo from mediocrity to playoff contenders.
Miami Dolphins –The Miami Dolphins are looking to remake over their team for the 2018 season. The offense has been overhauled as the Dolphins traded away running back Jay Ajayi, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and the retirement of quarterback Jay Cutler. Enter Ryan Tannehill, in a make or break year, missed the whole 2017 season with a torn acl, is looking for redemption in what could be his last year with Miami if he doesn’t perform well. Replacing Jay Ajayi are next man up Kenyan Drake, a speedy back that coaching has shown confidence in, but looking of his shoulder is veteran back Frank Gore, the definition of consistent, even as he enters his 13th year in the league. The free agent signing of Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson should soften the blow of trading Jarvis Landry, as the Dolphin’s retool their receiving group. On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of Ndamukong Suh will be felt, but the addition of Robert Quinn to pair with Cameron Wake makes a for a fierce 1-2 punch in the pass rush. The drafting of Minkah Fitzpatrick will give a solid secondary a versatile and talented piece to move around the field, and something opposing quarterbacks must be aware of. The play of this year’s Dolphins is one to pay close attention to with both a quarterback and head coach on the hot seat. Their destinies are tied together, and they must work together to uplift the Dolphins to the next tier and eventually a playoff berth.
New York Jets –The New York Jets are a team searching for consistency. Always strong on the defensive side of the ball, this recent version of “gang green” is led by safety Jamal Adams and defensive tackle Leonard Williams. This year there is excitement and hope in the Big Apple because of the addition of top 5 pick Sam Darnold. Searching for consistent quarterback play since the Vinny Testaverde, it has been an exercise in patience for the Jets faithful as one after another QB experiment has failed time and time again, from Mark Sanchez to Geno Smith, to Christian Hackenburg. Ownership hopes that a true starter emerges in rookie Darnold, but he will be challenged by free agent signing Teddy Bridgewater and veteran bridge quarterback Josh McCown. Outside of quarterback, there is hope that the receiving corps can take a step forward with the continued development of Robby Anderson and the addition of receiver Terrell Pryor. The Jets hope this duo and a healthy Quincy Enunwa can provide the necessary support for a new quarterback. The retirement of Matt Forte has opened up opportunity for new additions Isiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls, as well as more touches for receiving back Bilal Powell and young back Elijah McGwire. If the offense is able to reach higher levels of productivity than last year and provide support for the defense through more efficient scoring the Jets become a very formidable team in the AFC East and a team that could be dangerous if they can make a playoff run.
New England Patriots –The perennial favorite not only in the AFC East but in the entirety of the NFL, the gold standard in many eyes, the Patriots once again prepare to make a push for the Lombardi trophy. But the path to victory is never an easy one, and this one could be the toughest yet as they again bring in a new set of players to replace many established contributors. Gone are tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis, plus wide receivers Brandon Cooks and Danny Amendola. All starters on last year’s Super Bowl team. Include a four suspension of staring receiver Julian Edelman and the rumored discourse within the organization between Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick over training methods and you would look at the Patriots as a team who could be in for a long season. Alas, New England has proven time and time over that they the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and Patriots have continually found ways to be competitive as long as no. 12 is taking the snaps. Brady is as year older and by admittance close to the end of a legendary career, so this could be his most important season as it could be his last. And going out on top is within grasp when you are throwing to a healthy Ron Gronkowski. A match-up nightmare when on the field, the trouble has been with Gronk staying healthy for a full season, and for the Patriots to find ultimate success they will have to rely on their Hall of Fame tight-end to stay on the field if they want to have an edge in the coming season. The defensive side of the ball is in a state of flux with the loss of bookend cornerback Malcom Butler to division rival the Titans and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to a head coaching job with the Lions. Even with major losses on both sides of the ball, the Patriot way has always been the system and the not the players, and with Belichick and Brady, they will still be the team to beat in the East.
New York Giants – The Giants are trying to erase the 2017 season. Numerous injuries to key players, poor quarterback play, and an under-performing offensive line led to the Giants finishing with the worst record in the NFC East. As the G-Men put last season behind them and look towards the future with an active off-season, adding key pieces to their squad to fill specific weaknesses that were exposed during last season. New York added offensive bookend Nate Solder and road grater Willy Hernandez to sure up the offensive line and improved their anemic running game with the additions of veteran running back Jonathan Stewart and explosive top draft pick Saquon Barkley. The Giants hope this thunder and lightning tandem along with athletic 2nd year tight end Evan Engram and All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr., will ignite the offense and give Eli Manning the pieces to bounce back, in what is a do-or-die year for Manning and his Giants career and potentially his NFL career. Defensively, the Giants traded main defensive disruptor Jason Pierre-Paul, so the Giants will rely on safety and leader Landon Collins to inspire the New York defense.
Dallas Cowboys – After taking a huge step forward in 2016, the Cowboys fell back to earth in 2017 with the suspension of running back Ezekiel Elliot being felt on the field as the ‘Boys became a one-dimensional team lacking the scoring punch brought by their ultra-productive back and their receiving core didn’t give them the support they needed. Making noise by releasing popular wide receiver Dez Bryant, Dallas begins rebuilding it’s receiving corps. With Bryant gone, the Cowboys must get Cole Beasley to take a step forward and new additions Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns to produce. The running game will be strong with Elliot running behind the best offensive line in the league. The defensive secondary played well last year, creating numerous turnovers, but until the front line solidifies, teams have found holes to exploit in the Dallas D. Dallas hopes the continued development of Demarcus Lawrence and the addition of draft pick Leighton Vander Esch paired with a healthy Sean Lee can help the Cowboys make a deep playoff run in 2018.
Philadelphia Eagles – 2017 was quite a year for the Philadelphia Eagles, as they beat the odds to become the Super Bowl champs. What’s more impressive is they did it without franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. Going into the 2018 season, the Eagles have a roster primed for another run. Wanting to be cautious with franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles may turn to Super Bowl hero and back-up Nick Foles to start the motor of the Eagles offense. Philadelphia has done a good job keeping a strong supporting cast around their signal callers with Jay Ajayi as lead back, and Nelson Agholor with Alshon Jefferey leading the receiving corp. Wentz and Foles also has the underneath support of Zach Ertz, one of the top scoring tight ends of ’17. Philly still boasts a strong and opportunistic secondary lead by Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Michael Jenkins. Up front Brandon Graham and new edition Michael Bennett create a formidable tandem for any o-line to contain. Philadelphia is primed for another run at the Lombardi trophy, but they always say repeating is the toughest thing to do, but the Eagles have the tools to be a favorite to achieve that task.
Washington Redskins – Washington is a team searching for an identity. The drama behind where Kirk Cousin will land is over, and his replacement, Alex Smith has entered the fold. A “game manager” with plus athleticism who doesn’t turn the ball over, will take over an offense that is searching for production from various levels. This means many players will have an opportunity to prove themselves and make an impact in this retooled offense. Washington hopes third time is a charm as they wait for 3rd year receiver Josh Doctson to grown into the red-zone threat they hoped he become as a first round pick. Joining Doctson is new arrival Paul Richardson, and established vet Jamison Crowder. The ‘Skins will use a running back by committee approach with a rotation of Darius Guice, Samje Perine, and Robert Kelley on early downs, with 3rd down specialist still being locked down by Chris Thompson. Speedy and Athletic, tight end Jordan Reed presents match-up issues for the defense whenever on the field, the issue for Reed has never been talent but his inability to stay healthy for a complete season. Coming into 2018 healthy, Washington hopes this will be the year they can get a full season of production out of their best weapon. Defensively, Josh Norman leads as a shut down corner on one end of the field, and Ryan Kerrigan delivers a reliable presence and solid pass rush. The addition of draft pick Da’ron Payne is hoped to stabilize the d-line and provide much needed run support and a serviceable pass rusher. In a division that has multiple teams trying to regain form and become competitive, Washington has an opportunity to be a player in the east.
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