As free agency heats up this Spring, the ultimate question resurfaces… “Who will dethrone the New England Patriots?” Some intriguing moves have been made only twenty-four hours in, but I am still not convinced they are enough to take down Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and an arsenal of players most people have not heard of. At 11-5 the Patriots arguably had their worst season since Matt Cassel led them to their earliest vacation in the last twenty years. However, with two weeks preparation and minimal competition in the AFC East the Patriots are constantly able to execute the worst nightmares that most teams face.
In the end, New England hoisted a sixth Lombardi trophy in the Brady-Belichick era. A fired up and revamped New England Patriots roster will avoid yet another Super Bowl hangover in the upcoming season. Since yesterday some moves worth talking about have been made around the AFC. Most notably would be Steelers’ legends Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell landing in Oakland (Brown) and New York (Bell). Several other moves have been made to improve teams on both sides of the ball but let’s take a look at the teams best buzzing around the league starting with those two.
The Raiders look to have a bright future under Jon Gruden who booked three first round picks in exchange for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, then only trading away a third and fifth rounder for the best wide receiver in the league. However Antonio Brown will have a heavy workload to replace Jordy Nelson, Jared Cook, and Marshawn Lynch, who are all free agents looking to make noise elsewhere. In a division where they face two talented teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs twice a year, I don’t see a 2001 snow-bowl rematch happening in 2019.
Now it’s understandable that the Jets may not be a threat to the rest of the league just yet, but being in the same division as the reigning champs always cause a brow raise for the division’s sake. Bringing free agents Le’Veon Bell and CJ Mosley in as two new leaders for the Jets should cause for an immediate improvement in the Big Apple, but looking at history in the Meadowlands there are a few concerns I see in Sam Darnold’s horizon… Newly acquired Jamison Crowder, alongside Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa is nowhere near the wide receiver core that former Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase had down south, where he still could not find success.
Players such as Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, and Devante Parker should have produced much more success considering Adam Gase (the proclaimed quarterback guru) started three different quarterbacks to throw the ball in their direction. I find Le’Veon Bell to struggle a little more in New York behind an offensive line that allowed thirty sacks to their rookie quarterback (13 games) compared to Ben Roethlisberger’s twenty-one (16 games in 2017). In addition to that, the last time Adam Gase struggled with an above average running back he shipped Ajayi to Philadelphia to win a Super Bowl in exchange for only a fourth-round pick. I see New York winning more than four games this year, but a Wild Card spot is the longest shot I’m willing to take.
Kansas City is the AFC team with the second-best odds to go to Miami next year, and they will not be going down without a fight. After a bitter loss at home in January, there is no way Pat the Patriot isn’t the bulls-eye on the dartboard hanging in Andy Reid’s man cave. Losing Kareem Hunt last season put a speed bump in Reid’s plans. Although Mahomes continued an MVP caliber season, you could tell their plan was disrupted, going 3-2 after an impressive 9-2 start. Now for cap space purposes they have released all-pro lineman Dee Ford, cut Eric Berry, and still have not found Hunt’s replacement.
The addition of Tyrann Mathieu is a well-needed piece, and I do believe Mahomes is the future of this league, but it is hard, and so far impossible, to repeat back-to-back fifty touchdown seasons. Playing teams like Houston, Los Angeles (the Chargers), Colts, Bears, Patriots, and Jaguars may tire them out throughout the season. I agree they have the best shot to end the Dynasty in the northeast, but Chiefs kingdom might have to wait for Tom Brady to end it himself before they raise the Lombardi.
John Dorsey has officially shown up to the NFL’s welcoming party and ready to make the Cleveland Browns a team worth not laughing at. After not sleeping for two years second-year GM John Dorsey has drafted his quarterback, reunited the best-receiving duo remembered in college, got a pro bowl running back (barring suspension from the NFL), and vamped up the defensive line with Sheldon Richardson siding next to Myles Garrett. This man has made moves that fans around the league dream their GM makes. Although it sounds great, the Browns have a long way to go before making it to the third week of the playoffs.
John Dorsey hasn’t screwed up yet, but Freddie Kitchens is now a first-year head coach with a lot of new pieces to produce success with. Baker Mayfield had a great season for a rookie, but a 27/14 touchdown-to-interception ratio is going to have to improve to be able to take down teams like Kansas City and Los Angeles in a win or go home situations. Jarvis Landry is coming off a season with low career receptions (81), second-lowest receiving yards, and only four receiving touchdowns; a season comparable to Chris Hogan or Corey Davis will need to improve by playoff time. For newly acquired receiver Odell Beckham the sky is the limit this next year. After coming off two seasons limited by injuries and only nine touchdowns the new King of Cleveland has a fresh start and something to prove.
Lastly, the NFL fans will wait and see what Kareem Hunt faces and how long his suspension will be. If Hunt can come back and help Cleveland the way he helped the offensive juggernauts of Kansas City, then I strongly believe Cleveland will face no problem being the front runner against a Killer B-minus Pittsburgh, a brand new and raw Baltimore, and a team in Cincinnati that seems not even God can save.
WHAT THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS WILL BRING:
The Patriots will start shaky like normal, with first-year sophomore Isaiah Wynn protecting Brady’s blindside as 6’8-380 pound Trent Brown’s replacement. Tight End Matt Lacosse, and Wide Receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris will need to learn Josh McDaniels’ tricky offense. The entire defense will have to warm up to new Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano, and Tom Brady will face another year against Father Time at 42. All of this doesn’t sound too great so far, but it has happened time and time again, and until the dynasty is ended they have to be the favorites to win the conference.
The acquisition of Michael Bennett comes as a great replacement to Trey Flowers and even more so if he can bring his brother Martellus out of retirement. Hopefully, a sooner-than-later return from Josh Gordon (suspension) and Jeremy Hill (injured reserve) could help get Patriots back to an offense everyone is used to. The Patriots play their usual division opponents, who will result in a likely 5-1 record, maybe 4-2. They play a gutted AFC North and new look Cleveland Browns under first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. The NFC East also has to face the Patriots, and I don’t see Dak Prescott’s Cowboys or Case Keenum’s Redskins beating Tom Brady.
The Giants just traded away their top receiver, and it’s not a Super Bowl, so we know which Eli Manning will show up. The Eagles just lost the one quarterback on their team that could handle the pressure of Bill Belichick. Lastly, Bill O’Brien’s Texans have never beaten New England, and Kansas City will thirst for revenge until they get it. If it’s another normal year in New England any record from 11-5 to 16-0 is likely and will result in enough preparation time to handle two teams in the playoffs and fly Air Kraft down to Miami.