August 29, 2015 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NFL Preseason Divisional Standing Predictions AFC
The Steelers now have an improved offensive line and the passing game seems ready to be even better with an improved Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton going to the slot where he belongs, and the addition of speedster Sammy Coates. The offense will not have to lean on the big 3 of Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown as much making them that more dangerous. The Steelers defense has added a few young CBs and they have done a good job adding talent through the draft to the defensive side of the ball in the last few drafts, but now it is time to see the talent turn into the production which will be the key to the Steelers season. DE Stephen Tuitt, OLB Bud Dupree, OLB Jarvis Jones, and ILB Ryan Shazier are the new young core Steelers group and they will join ILB Lawrence Timmons and DE Cameron Hayward as the long term pieces of the Steelers defense.
The Bengals have always been a dangerous team on offense, but this year looks to be the year for them on that side of the ball with RB Jeremy Hill poised to have a breakout season and the team willing to rely more on their two man run game. The WR core is finally healthy with a healthy Marvin Jones in the slot and they are expecting more plays from the TE position with Tyler Eifert taking over the starting job. In addition, the offensive line is even deeper after the draft. The defense is getting younger, so there will be growing pains at CB and possibly LB as Vontaze Burfict heals from injury. However, the D-line which has always been strength will be even better after bringing back Michael Johnson to create pressure on the other side of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins should be fully healed and ready to show why he is a star DT.
The Ravens have one of the best O-lines in football, especially when it comes to run blocking and good consistency/chemistry by keeping around the same guys. However, the team has a new offensive coordinator, which makes expecting another big year out of RB Justin Forsett questionable after a career year. The offense has some new young parts at WR and RB, so behind Forsett at RB and Steve Smith at WR the young talent will need to produce, especially at WR. The TE position is deeper than ever after snatching the best TE out the draft to add to some young talent and Dennis Pitta is still hoping to return so this is a position to watch which may be relied on heavily in the passing attack. The defense is still very strong in the front 7, but there is limited depth at OLB where they are aging. The secondary will be a problem again after a season ending injury to safety Matt Elam and Jimmy Smith as the only solid CB on the roster, someone (anyone) will need to step up in the secondary, especially LaDarius Webb.
The Browns still have one of the better O-lines in football behind arguably the best LT in football, but they still lack playmakers mostly at the WR position. The Browns are depending on veteran QB Josh McCown to solidify the position, but his consistencies throughout his career will show otherwise. They have a nice 3-man run game, but there are hoping rookie Duke Johnson can give them the speed and game changing plays they need which is a lot to rely on. The WR position added vets Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, but both lack speed and struggle to get open, so someone will need to step up from the young talent. The defense is still solid especially after adding CB Tramon Williams opposite star Joe Haden as they wait for Justin Gilbert to make progress. The front 7 will be a lot better once they get more production from the OLBs, but an improved D-line behind rookie NT Danny Shelton should improve the unit overall and help the run defense improve.
The Dolphins seem ready to take the next step after locking up QB Ryan Tannehill with a new contract while giving him more weapons in WRs Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, who was selected the 1st round. The offensive line is healthy and finally looks like a strength with the return of LT Branden Albert. If RB Lamar Miller can stay healthy or another RB can finally step up to take on the power back role, this offense could be one of the best in the league. TE Jordan Cameron should be a solid target for Tannehill if he can stay healthy. The defensive side of the ball has always held their own, but the front 7 should be even better after adding DT Ndamukong Suh to help the pass rush that Cameron Wake already brings. There are questions in the secondary, but added pressure only helps cover the young players’ mistakes.
The Patriots are bound to get off to a slow start with Tom Brady’s suspension, but they will definitely recover with one of the best Coach and QB tandems over the years. The strength will still rely on the TEs with Gronk and Scott Chandler as two huge TEs willing to catch or block and the 3-man run game. Once Brady returns, the offense won’t miss a beat behind a solid O-line. On the defensive side of the ball, the Pats have some of the best young linebackers and the league once they are all healthy. The defensive line will miss NT Vince Wilfork and will have to find ways to sure up their run defense. The secondary is a question, mostly at CB, but there is some young talent there. This is a team that knows how to play despite distractions; well coached.
The Bills have questions on offense at the most important position and the person who gets the job needs to be ready, but it doesn’t look like that person is on the roster. Tyrod Taylor is an athletic QB who can make plays with his feet or his arm, but he needs to make better decisions. Matt Cassel is better as a game manager or backup at this point and E.J. Manuel needs to show better accuracy and decision making. The RB position is deep especially after adding LeSean McCoy; they will need to carry the team offensively. If TE Charles Clay is anything like he was with the Dolphins, then it will prove to be money well spent. The WR position is deep and full of young play makers. On the defensive side of the ball, the team appears ready to be one of the best units in the league behind one of the best D-lines in the league. The secondary is a working progress, but the young mistakes will be covered up by constant pressure from a solid front 7. The Bills will need to find a QB to take them to the next level, unless E.J. Manuel matures as a QB or Tyrod Taylor proves to be a hidden gem.
The Jets have already had disarray involving their QB and that was the biggest question on the team already as Geno Smith has proven to be very inconsistent and now competition has really been created with Ryan Fitzpatrick. The RB position is full of power backs who can carry the rock, but no real speed back like last season (CJ2K was supposed to be the answer last year). RB Chris Ivory remains the best of the bunch because he is the only one with the burst to break long runs with his physical play, but it leads to injuries. The WR position is deeper than it has ever been with a solid 1-2 punch with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Rookie WR Devin Smith is expected to be a playmaker and the team likes Jeremy Kerley in the slot. TE is solid with Jace Amaro a year better and veteran Jeff Cumberland. The offensive will struggle against faster defenses as they lack speed. On the defensive side of the ball, they have one of the best CB lineups and a strong front 7. This team should be able to compete with anyone defensively, but they might see a lot of time on the field until the offense can get rolling.
The Broncos still have one of the best QBs to play the game in Peyton Manning who is fully healthy and still fighting to win another ring. The RB position is still very deep with everyone healthy and a slimmed down C.J. Anderson. Bringing in Gary Kubiak as Head Coach will help make the most of the RBs and keep Manning fresher towards the end of the season. The WR position is still deep and depending on 2nd year player Cody Latimer to replace Wes Welker, but he should be an improvement with his speed and height making him able to play outside or in the slot. Kubiak brought over some familiar faces at TE to help the loss of star Julius Thomas. The offensive line is a cause for concern with guard Louis Vasquez as the only veteran after an injury to LT Ryan Clady, but the injury was early giving time for the young talent to develop or a veteran to take over; last time Clady was injured Broncos still made it to the superbowl. The defense should be even better under Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and the personnel available to transition nicely to a 3-4. Adding DE/OLB Shane Ray gives a 3rd pass rush option and a long term replacement for Ware. Overall, the defense is basically the same with a year of chemistry added, but the only concern is ILB where Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are coming off of injury.
The Chiefs have one of the best, if not the best, front 7 in the league headlined by OLB Justin Houston fresh off receiving a big contract. On offense, the team still looks like a safe offense behind veteran QB Alex Smith who is known as a game manager, but WR Jeremy Maclin opens up the deep ball as a solid addition who knows the offense. TE Travis Kelce should be the main passing target this year proving to be a huge, reliable target with good hands last season. At RB, Jamaal Charles will continue to pound the ball with his good blend of speed and power; he also has good depth behind him. The offensive line will continue to be the problem with injuries and inconsistency, they have improved at Guard, but there are questions at Tackle and Center. On the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs have added depth to their secondary via the draft and free agency to only strengthen the front 7. The only issue is that there is not much depth on the D-line mostly inside. A good run game and solid defense will always get you wins.
The Chargers have a solid offense with continuity on the O-line, while adding an upgrade at RG in Orlando Franklin. The passing game led by veteran QB Philip Rivers should be even better as WR Stevie Johnson should be ready for a big year out of the slot with a quarterback like Rivers who can get him the ball and WR Jacoby Jones should also be able to contribute, in addition to being a solid returner. Drafting RB Melvin Gordon was a step in the right direction to bring some balance to the offense as he has the size and skill set to be a workhorse back. The TE position is still led by veteran Antonio Gates who decided to give it another year and the athletic Ladarius Green who they hope will become a bigger part of the offense with his size and pass catching ability. On the defensive side of the ball, the D-line is led by DE Corey Liuget who has been able to excel vs. both the pass and the run. The linebackers are young and talented, but need to play to their potential; the team is hoping for a big season from OLB Melvin Ingram who has had injury problems. The secondary should be even better with another year of Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett at CB along with playmaking veteran FS Eric Weddle behind them. The Chargers are a good team in a tough division they should fight for a wildcard spot if the defense can find more playmakers.
The Raiders have improved their coaching staff and they have added some nice young talent to get people excited, but while they are improved they are still in a tough division. On offense they are expecting to see progress from 2nd year QB Derek Carr, who has proven to have a solid arm and good pocket presence, but this year he has a WR to grow with in rookie Amari Cooper and a vet to rely on in the hungry Michael Crabtree. The running game should be a lot better with a full year of RB Latavius Murray as the starter and the addition of Roy Helu Jr., who is a solid 3rd down back with good hands. The O-line must continue to improve across the board, but should a lot better inside with the addition of C Rodney Hudson. The TE position has athletes, but will one of them standout? On defense, the Raiders should see much improvement with the additions of NT Dan Williams to plug the middle, MLB Curtis Lofton to the stop the run, MLB Malcolm Smith to bring athleticism and super bowl experience, and FS Nate Allen to continue to make plays in the secondary. However, they will need another big year out of vets SS Charles Woodson and DE Justin Tuck, while seeing continued growth from their young LBs and most importantly the weakness, their young CB group, where someone needs to step up.
The Colts have one of the best offenses in the league after stocking up on playmakers adding veterans WR Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, as well as, WR Phillip Dorsett to go along with the speedy T.Y. Hilton and developing Donte Moncrief. They added some pieces on the O-line, but that will be the only question on the offense. The defensive side of the ball is where the growth needs to come as they have a lot of young players, but they are relying on older pass rushers to get the job done by adding OLB Trent Cole and the return of OLB Robert Mathis from injury. The secondary is where someone needs to develop opposite Vontae Davis at CB and someone will need to step up at safety for suspended S LaRon Landry. The offense will put up big numbers, but once again it will be up to the defense to stand their ground.
The Texans offense is a work in progress with the big loss of RB Arian Foster who was ready to carry the load again, but the good news is that he will be back. QB Brian Hoyer is the starter and he has shown with a run based run game, that he can win games. WR DeAndre Hopkins seems ready to take on a bigger role and free agent additions Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts know how to get open along with rookie WR Jaelen Strong who should be a solid possession wide. The O-line has some youth inside who will need to step up, but the talent is there so they should hold up well. The TE position has athletes who must play to their potential, but they should contribute. If RB Alfred Blue can carry the load, then the offense could surprise. The defense is set up front with NT Vince Wilfork now holding the middle next to star DE J.J. Watt. The team has a solid pass rush and could be even better with DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney returning from injury. The CB position is strong with Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph, but they have free agents coming in at the safety spots who will need to step up early. FS Raheem Moore has good speed and good cover skills while SS Stevie Brown makes plays and likes playing near the line of scrimmage, but the pass rush will protect the secondary. The Texans have good talent and good coaching they will find ways to win games.
The Titans is another team with a solid coaching addition with Dick LeBeau controlling the defense and some infusion of young offensive weapons for HC Ken Whisenhunt. On offense rookie QB Marcus Mariota is taking over the show with a solid receiving core with speed WR Kendall Wright, rookie WR Doriel-Green Beckham, who has great size and speed, and the free agent addition of veteran slot WR Harry Douglas and veteran possession WR Hakeem Nicks. The RB position needs much improvement with 2ND year RB Bishop Sankey set to carry the load again and RB Dexter McCluster as the 3rd down back and home run threat. The young offensive lines needs to continue to get better and play to their potential, but the talent is there. TE Delanie Walker is motivated to have another big season and most rookie QBs rely on the TE. On the defensive side of the ball, signing pass rusher Brian Orakpo was was a solid pickup and if he can stay healthy all season it will be a steal. The pass rush should be a lot better with star DT Jurell Casey, Orakapo, and passrusher Derrick Morgan as playmakers. However, the other young parts in the front 7 need to step up. On the back end, they need improvement all across the board, except at CB with Jason McCourty, but they are hoping free agent CB Perrish Cox can shutdown the other side. The Titans will go through some growing pains on both sides of the ball, but expect quicker results on the front 7 of the defense with coaching and good personnel in place.
The Jags offense is expected to make strides with QB Blake Bortles in his 2nd year with a nice 3man WR core of Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Marqise Lee. The young O-line needs to play better all across the board, but there are talented and experienced parts while the addition of C/OG Stefen Wisniewski definitely helps. They should have a nice two TE set with star TE Julius Thomas and long time vet Mercedes Lewis. The RB position has good competition with Denard Robinson coming off a big season, rookie RB T.J. Yeldon as a solid power back addition, RB Toby Gerhart, who is finally healthy and power back Bernard Pierce. Someone should emerge from the group and Denard Robinson should go to be a 3rd down back. The defense has already been hurt with the loss of rookie 1st round pick DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr. for the season. However, the Jags have a solid front 4 who know how to stop the run and get after the passer. The young LB group will need to continue to get better. The secondary is very young, but some talent is there so someone will need to step up; FS Jonathan Cyprien is the only star. The Jags should continue to develop their young talent, but it might not be enough for their coach to stay around.