Two Kids in a Trenchcoat Episode 5

Ryan an Jacob go through their NFC predictions, as well as way too early award picks.

Check out Ryan’s NFL Notes and be sure to check back for Jacob’s previews later today!

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Ryan Sharp’s NFL Picks

Jacob Rosenfarb’s full NFL predictions and analysis will be rolled out later today. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my picks and some notes. You can also listen to all of this on Two Kids in a Trenchcoat.

AFC North

  1. Steelers 10-6
  2. Browns 6-10
  3. Ravens 5-11
  4. Bengals 3-13

This isn’t going to be a great year for Big Ben, but Le’veon Bell and Antonio Brown have enough talent to carry the Steelers to a division title. In part because everyone else is so bad. Six wins is a success for the Browns, but expect to be underwhelmed by Baltimore and Cincinnati. This might actually be it for Marvin Lewis.

AFC South

  1. Jaguars 12-4
  2. Texans 11-5
  3. Titans 10-6
  4. Colts 8-8

There are three capable playoff teams in this division. All of them will make the playoffs. The Jacksonville defense is strong enough to take a good chunk of pressure off of Blake Bortles, who has lost nine fewer playoff games than Tom Brady. Derrick Henry should gain full control of the Titans backfield, and that will benefit them. Most intriguing is the potential for a full season of Deshaun Watson, who showed signs of elite play before tearing his ACL last season.

AFC East

  1. Patriots 12-4
  2. Jets 7-9
  3. Bills 6-10
  4. Dolphins 5-11

Two of the starting quarterbacks in the AFC are rookies. One is mediocre, —  serviceable at best. The last is Tom Brady. Any questions?

Seriously though, the Patriots should run away with the East as usual, barring a catastrophe. The Jets and Bills seem ready to commit to 2018 as a year of development. The Dolphins say they can compete, but let’s be real.

AFC West

  1. Chargers 10-6
  2. Chiefs 9-7
  3. Broncos 7-9
  4. Raiders 4-12

Patrick Mahomes is going to be good, but he isn’t there yet. That, combined with a difficult schedule, will contribute to the Chiefs missing out on the playoffs in 2018. Los Angeles has comparable talent and a more established quarterback in Philip Rivers.

Even with the addition of Case Keenum, the Broncos have too many question marks to make a run this year. Jon Gruden in Oakland is going to be a disaster.

NFC North

  1. Vikings 11-5
  2. Packers 10-6
  3. Bears 8-8
  4. Lions 3-13

Similar to 2014, it’ll take Aaron Rodgers and the Packers a while to get hot. In that time, the Vikings will pull ahead just enough that they hold on to the division at the end of the season. Chicago should improve in year two of the Mitchell Trubisky era, and Detroit will do the opposite.

NFC South

  1. Saints 12-4
  2. Panthers 9-7
  3. Falcons 9-7
  4. Buccaneers 3-13

People forget that Drew Brees is a future Hall-of-Famer. He shows that this year. Combined with a strong defense and good running attack, the Saints should have no problem winning the South. Expect a step back from Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, but nothing drastic. Even once Jameis Winston returns from from suspension, the Buccaneers are looking at a lost season.

NFC East

  1. Eagles 13-3
  2. Giants 8-8
  3. Redskins 7-9
  4. Cowboys 5-11

I heard someone say the Eagles would only win eight games this year. That person was wrong. The Giants however, will feature a healthy OBJ and rookie Saquon Barkley. Eight wins seems realistic for them, but not the Eagles.

At this point, I think Jay Gruden might be the problem for Washington. I’m excited for Alex Smith, though. Things seem a little chaotic in Dallas right now, and that contributes to a poor season for the Cowboys.

NFC West

  1. Rams 12-4
  2. 49ers 10-6
  3. Seahawks 8-8
  4. Cardinals 7-9

Sorry everyone, but Jimmy G has to lose at some point. But that doesn’t equate to a bad season, and the Niners make a run at the wild card spot. Catching the Rams is too hard to do.

Russell Wilson is very good, but the rest of the Seahawks are not. Expect to see a continuing downward trend in Seattle. The Cardinals still have a lot of work to do.

AFC Playoffs

  1. Patriots
  2. Jaguars
  3. Steelers
  4. Chargers
  5. Texans
  6. Titans

Wild Card

Texans (5) over Chargers (4)

Steelers (3) over Titans (6)

Divisional

Patriots (1) over Texans (5)

Jaguars (2) over Steelers (3)

Championship

Patriots (1) over Jaguars (2)

NFC Playoffs

  1. Eagles
  2. Rams
  3. Saints
  4. Vikings
  5. Packers
  6. 49ers

Wild Card

Packers (5) over Vikings (4)

Saints (3) over 49ers (6)

Divisional

Packers (5) over Eagles (1)

Rams (2) over Saints (3)

Championship

Rams (2) over Packers (5)

Super Bowl LIII

Patriots over Rams

Awards

MVP: Jared Goff

Offensive Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson

Defensive Player of the Year: Ndamukong Suh

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James

Coach of the Year: Bill Obrien

Comeback Player of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr.

Nationals hint at rebuild

The Washington Nationals have never won a playoff series.

They are currently below .500, at 62-63, and sit 7.5 games out of the NL East lead and 6.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot.

Things are not looking great in Washington, and it appears the Nats have given up on 2018, and possibly the next several years, as they have traded Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Murphy has been one of the game’s most consistent hitters over the past few seasons, and is currently slashing .300/.341./.442 with 57 hits. The 33-year-old second baseman is unlikely to start over MVP candidate Javier Baez, but is expected to see action at third base in Anthony Rizzo’s absence, which is perhaps the biggest reason the Cubs pursued Murphy.

Washington received Class A infielder Andruw Monasterio and a player to be named later for Murphy and cash considerations for Adams.

A Bryce Harper departure was rumored, as the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly claimed him off waivers, but nothing came to fruition and Harper will stay put for the rest of 2018.

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This turn of events differs from their plan from several weeks ago, which was to hold on to Harper and compete for a playoff spot.

The small return paired with the departure of two solid veterans signals a salary dump, however, team owner Mark Lerman said this is not a rebuild in a letter to Nationals fans. He did say it was “about giving us some roster flexibility, giving us the opportunity to see some of our young talent, and seeing if we can still find a combination or two that could spark a difference.”

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The Nationals frequented the bottom of the standings after their departure from Montreal before Harper made his MLB debut and had an immediate impact on the entire league. During his time in Washington, the team has made four playoff appearances, never getting past the Divisional Series.

Despite Lerner’s statement suggesting otherwise, as Harper enters free agency and signs point to him signing elsewhere, it appears that it’s time for the Nationals to hit the reset button.

Jim Johnson’s resurgence is a blessing for the Angels, but not to just help win games

Last winter, Angels General Manager Billy Eppler looked like a hero. He brought in Japanese phenomenon pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani. He signed 2017 All-Star infielder Zach Cozart to play third and traded for 2016 Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star second baseman Ian KInsler. He also shored up the outfield by re-signing Justin Upton, who hasn’t his less than 26 home runs in a season since 2012. Who would’ve thought that Los Angeles would end up sellers at the trade deadline?

The Halos (54-56) sit 15 games behind the division-leading Houston Astros and they are 10 back in the Wild Card race as of August 3. So far, the Halos have dealt two players who have expiring contracts, Kinsler and 2017 Gold Glove winning catcher Martin Maldonado. August 31 is the final trade deadline, and reliever Jim Johnson getting traded next makes the most sense.

If one looked at the 13-year veteran’s numbers early in the season, nothing about his performance would seem very attractive. He got off to a mediocre start, with a 4.30 ERA through the middle of May. But, Johnson has since turned it around and has even thrived since a rough May 17 outing. He has a 2.37 after that appearance and he has improved his WHIP from a poor 1.48 to a more respectable 1.28.

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A big part of his success has been keeping the ball low and forcing grounders. This is vital to Johnson’s success because he does not strike many batters out. Since the start of June, he has struck out just eight hitters, but he has given up 24 grounders to just 15 fly balls, only one of which left the yard. Before June, he allowed 48 fly balls to 40 grounders, so since many of those hits in the air found outfield gaps, they aided in his rough start to 2018.

Johnson’s trade stock is at its highest right now. Over his last eight outings, he has given up just one run in nine innings and he has dropped his ERA by nearly a whole run since May to 3.40. Plus, he has an expiring deal, so teams won’t need to commit to a 35-year-old for multiple seasons.

There is certainly a market for a pitcher like Johnson, as many teams are looking to find stability in their bullpens for the postseason push. Perhaps Boston, who has the best record in baseball without having a stable set-up man, could find use for a veteran with late inning experience. Or possibly San Francisco, who at five games back of the division are fighting to stay in the race, could use Johnson’s services. The Giants have blown the most saves in the majors, having done it a staggering 23 times.

 

 

Best and Worst-Case Scenarios: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens just missed the playoffs the past two years with mediocre records of 9-7 and 8-8. Defense has always been their strong suit, so, in his final year as general manager, Ozzie Newsome went all in on offense. In the first round of the draft, the Ravens had two picks. They selected Hayden Hurst, a tight end from South Carolina, and then later chose Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s former Heisman Trophy winner, projected to be the quarterback of the future. In free agency, the Ravens focused on playmakers, so they brought in receivers Michael Crabtree (Oakland), Willie Snead (New Orleans) and John Brown (Arizona).

Best case:

Jackson pushes incumbent Joe Flacco to his best season since 2014, when the veteran set career highs in touchdowns (27) and QBR. The Ravens went 10-6 that year. Crabtree steps in and becomes the number-one target. He caught the eighth-most touchdown receptions in the league in 2017 after catching the ninth-most in 2016. He becomes Flacco’s most productive receiver since Steve Smith Sr. in 2014 (79 receptions and six touchdowns).

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The offensive line gets a boost with Marshal Yanda returning. He missed the final 14 games last year with an ankle injury, but, he comes back this year and earns his seventh Pro-Bowl selection. 2017 All-Rookie guard Jermaine Eluemunor and third-year tackle Ronnie Stanley both improve and help bolster the line beside Yanda.

Ideally, running back Alex Collins reduces his turnovers and maintains his yardage production, which was tenth-best in the NFL last year.

The Defense stays sharp after a solid 2017. They get top cornerback Jimmy Smith for the season opener after he missed the final four games in 2017 with an Achilles injury. He bounces back and replicates his early season form from last season. The Ravens led the NFL in takeaways, three of which were Smith interceptions (He had a pick-six and a fumble returned for a touchdown).

Baltimore gave up the tenth-fewest passing yards last year, and with the turnovers they forced, were ranked the second-best pass defense by NFL.com. With returning linebacker stars Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley able to control the run and disrupt the pass game, they continue to force takeaways and smother opponents on defense.

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The Ravens sweep the Bengals for the first time since 2012 and they take both games from Cleveland for the third straight year. They split with Pittsburgh and finish with an 11-5 record, winning their first AFC North title since 2012, their Super Bowl season.

Worst case:

Flacco sputters and Jackson does not appear to be ready to start. Flacco’s QBR in 2017 was his worst since his rookie year in 2008. He gets off to another mediocre start, putting Head Coach John Harbaugh in a difficult position where he has to bench the quarterback who has started in each of Harbaugh’s seasons in charge. It takes a while for Jackson to get used to running a pro-style offense, and early losses bury the Ravens’ chances at the postseason.

The rest of the offensive weaponry doesn’t live up to expectations. Brown and Snead both have poor outings after they struggled in 2017. Without another quality receiver, Crabtree gets smothered by defenses. Collins’ fumbling issues do not go away. He was third in the NFL in fumbles for running backs last season, and this year, due to poor quarterback play, he gets extra action and fumbles more often.

Unfortunately, the Ravens’ past strength, defense, takes a hit after coordinator Dean Pees retired, unretired and then took a job with Tennessee. During six years in Baltimore, Pees led three top-ten scoring defenses.

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Age also factors in the defensive production. The 35-year-old Terrell Suggs starts to slow down after a Pro-Bowl year, and with their outspoken leader struggling, the rest of the defense loses some edge. With their offensive woes, the defense spends a lot of time on the field, which taxes them later in the season, leaving them vulnerable.

The Ravens miss the postseason for the fourth year in a row with a 6-10 record, and Coach Harbaugh’s seat starts to heat up.

Prediction: 10-6

Best and Worst-Case Scenario: Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

In 2016, the Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. However, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a torn ACL before the postseason began, and Miami got trounced by Pittsburgh 30-12 in the Wild Card round. Tannehill’s injury held him out of the entire 2017 campaign, so the Dolphins grabbed former Bear Jay Cutler. The 34-year-old had a poor outing and the Dolphins didn’t get close to the playoffs.

After the season, Cutler retired, and the Dolphins replaced their offensive coordinator with Dowell Loggains, who was hired since he and Miami head coach Adam Gase both worked together as offensive coaches in Chicago. The most impactful addition for Miami for this season will be getting Tannehill back, however, their biggest loss this offseason was trading away his best target, Jarvis Landry. The three-time Pro-Bowler was let go for a fourth and seventh round pick. The Dolphins and Landry were unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, so he was franchise tagged and traded.

Best Case:

Ryan Tannehill returns as he left off, a slightly above-average starting quarterback who, with the right pieces, can get Miami back to a winning record as he did in 2016.

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Behind Tannehill, halfback Kenyan Drake learns from Miami’s newly acquired backup running back, the 13-year veteran and potential Hall of Famer Frank Gore. Drake proves that trading away former halfback Jay Ajayi was the right choice last season. Drake did average more yards per-carry in 2017 (4.8 to Ajayi’s 4.2), and with Gore’s guidance he improves to be one of the top-10 running backs in the league in his third year.

At receiver, the additions of veterans Albert Wilson from Kansas City and Danny Amendola from New England give Miami new found depth at the receiver position. Fourth-year wide out and former first round pick DeVante Parker steps out of Landry’s shadow and becomes a capable top target for Tannehill.

To protect their quarterback, Miami added center Daniel Kilgore and guard Josh Sitton, who help protect Tannehill from big hits he took in the past. Over his last four years, Tannehill led the league in the dubious category of sacks once and led in sack yards lost twice. This year he gets the protection he needs to make higher quality throws and give his receivers time to get open.

On the other side of the ball, Miami gave up the fourth-most points in the NFL last season. But, 2018 11thoverall pick Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama makes a big difference in the secondary. He intercepted three passes and was second on the National Champion Crimson Tide in tackles last year. Adding lineman Robert Quinn proves to be an upgrade over Ndamukong Suh, who left for Los Angeles. For the Los Angeles Rams, Quinn did have four more sacks than Suh in 2017.

Miami takes advantage of their tame non-division schedule, playing just three playoff teams from 2017. They earn a winning record in their division rivals and finish above .500, which puts them in contention for the playoffs after a disappointing 6-10 2017 season.

Worst case:

The offense fails to get over the loss of their most dynamic playmaker, Landry. Danny Amendola’s numbers in 2014 and 2016 dipped considerably, and after a solid 2017, his even year blues return. None of Miami’s young targets emerge as a go-to number one, and Tannehill struggles without having a player who can make big plays like Landry.

New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains fails to get this offense to play up to their talent level. He has three seasons of prior experience as an OC, and his teams are a terrible 15-33. Last season, his passing offense threw for the fewest yards in the league. His hiring will result in a more run-heavy offense, which in turn makes them one dimensional and opposing teams will load the box and stop Drake in his tracks.

Despite the struggling offense, defensively is where they will struggle the most. They gave up the third-most plays over 20 yards last year. The secondary doesn’t improve even with Fitzpatrick. They implode and give up more big plays down the field.

The division gives them trouble, especially since the Bills and Jets drafted quarterbacks early this year who have potential to be game changers. The schedule becomes more difficult than anticipated as Green Bay, Oakland and Houston all have bounce-back seasons. The Dolphins finish worse than 2017 with a 4-12 record.

Final prediction: 5-11

 

Best and Worst-Case Scenarios: New England Patriots

The Patriots came within eight points of becoming the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since… the Patriots in 2004 and 2005. Following the loss, their offseason suffered a little more turbulence than usual. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s relationship was called into question over reports that indicated that Brady was feeling underappreciated, top receiver Julian Edelman got hit with a four-game suspension for PEDs, they lost their longtime starting left tackle Nate Solder to the Giants and their leading rusher Dion Lewis and Super Bowl XLIX (2015) hero Malcolm Butler left for Tennessee. But, this is a team that hasn’t suffered a losing record since 2000, with the greatest quarterback-head coach combo in history. Unless one of the other three teams has a breakout year, they will not be threatened at the top.

Best case:

The drama between coach and quarterback fizzles out once the games begin. In his age 41 season, Brady defends his 2017 MVP campaign with another brilliant one. He brings the best out of veterans Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt while Edelman serves his suspension. Edelman comes back in week five, healthy and motivated to step into that top receiver role once again. Rob Gronkowski stays healthy this year and records double digit touchdowns for the first time since 2015.

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The first-round selection of Georgia’s Sony Michel pays off as New England finds their running back of the future. He averaged 7.9 yards per-carry in 2017, and broke out for 181 yards and three scores on just 11 rushes during the Rose Bowl Game. The depth at halfback with newly acquired Jeremy Hill from Cincinnati (led NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2015), James White and Rex Burkhead help the Pats break into the top-seven in the league rushing yards. The last time they did that was in 2016, their Super Bowl winning season. Having a solid running game also takes pressure off of Brady.

Defensively, Dont’a Hightower returns strong after missing 14 games (including playoffs) last season due to pec and shoulder injuries. He sets career highs in tackles (65) and sacks (six) and competes for comeback player of the year. After a rough year, Stephon Gilmore settles in and shows why he was a pro-bowler in 2016 for Buffalo. The Patriots gave up just the fifth-most points last year, and they stay in the top-five once again.

On the schedule, the Patriots sweep through the division for the first time since 2012 and win 13 or more games. They haven’t gone worse than 12-4 since 2009. They get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and make it back to the Super Bowl for the third straight year, where they win their sixth title in the Brady-Belichick era.

Worst case:

Their worst-case scenario is that Brady’s play dips as Peyton Manning’s did at a similar age. But, Manning showed decline prior to his fall. He had his lowest recorded QBR since the stat began to be tracked in 2006 the year prior to his last. Brady continued his dominance in 2017, so his fall seems much less likely to occur than Manning’s was.

Around him, Edelman returns from his suspension rusty after missing over a year. He doesn’t look like the same player who caught 98 passes for 1106 yards in 2016. For the third time in six seasons, Gronkowski misses half of the year (or more) with an injury. Dion Lewis’ dynamic play as a halfback, receiver and returner are sorely missed. Behind the youngest offensive line in the division, none of New England’s current running backs break out. Michel needs time to develop his cuts and vision. Hill battles injuries for the second straight year, and there really isn’t a true identity for the Patriots rush attack, just various players being plugged in based on who plays well recently.

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With Malcolm Butler gone, the secondary struggles as they did in the Super Bowl when Coach Belichick controversially benched his top corner. They gave up 373 yards and three touchdowns to Philadelphia backup quarterback Nick Foles. The Pats now have the oldest starting defensive backs in the AFC East, with both of their safeties, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, set to turn 31 before the season starts. With an older, slower secondary, New England struggles against the pass even more than in 2017 when they gave up the third-most yards through the air.

With their woes, the Patriots only win 10 games, and fail to earn a first-round bye for the first time since 2009.

Final prediction: 12-4

 

Best and Worst-Case Scenarios: New York Jets

The Jets have not had a consistent starting quarterback for multiple years since Mark Sanchez from 2009-2012. That inconsistency has certainly costed New York, as they have had no playoff appearances since the 2010 postseason. But, in order to change that narrative, they traded up in the 2018 Draft to third and selected Sam Darnold from USC. The Jets have bolstered their roster in other areas as well. They added shutdown corner Trumaine Johnson from the Los Angeles Rams, and improved their backfield and receiving core.

Best case:

Sam Darnold is the real deal and he is ready by the start of the year. His arm strength results in many big plays down the field to receivers Robby Anderson, who doesn’t get suspended despite legal troubles, Quincy Enunwa, who stays healthy after missing last year with a neck injury, and the newly signed Terrelle Pryor from Washington. In a professional system, Darnold cuts down on his turnovers, his biggest weakness last season, and he contends for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Running back Bilal Powell ran effectively last year, averaging 4.3 yards per-carry with five touchdowns. He continues that success in 2018 behind a very similar offensive line. The additions of past starting backs Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland) and Thomas Rawls (Seattle) give offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates good options for different running back combinations.

With the addition of Trumaine Johnson, the Jets have their best cornerback since Darrelle Revis. The Jets have not had a player intercept more than two passes in each of the past two years. Through six seasons, Johnson has two or more picks in five campaigns. Second-year talents Jamal Adams (2017 All-Rookie) and Marcus Maye develop into formidable safeties and the secondary proves to be the best in the division.

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On the schedule, there are just two 2017 playoff teams for the Jets to play through their first seven games. With that, they take advantage and get off to a hot start, which helps them gain momentum and confidence. They finish over .500 for the first time since 2015, and they sneak into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

Worst case:

Darnold’s control is a major issue during the preseason, and Head Coach Todd Bowles goes with the veteran Josh McCown for most of the year. McCown set career highs in touchdowns and completion percentage in 2017, but at 39, he fails to repeat that success.

The offensive line struggles as they did last year when they gave up the fifth-most sacks in the AFC. Crowell and Rawls both had down seasons in 2017, and behind a suspect line, they struggle again. Wide out Terrelle Pryor fails to repeat the success he had in Cleveland in 2016, and he has another poor campaign as he had in Washington last year.

With the losses of longtime Jets Muhammad Wilkerson and Demario Davis (team leading tackler in 2017) the Jets run defense gets even worse. They gave up the ninth-most yards on the ground in 2017 and the most 40+ yard rushes. This causes the secondary to step up and stop runs before they turn into huge gains, which could leave them exposed on play-action plays.

New kicker Cairo Santos doesn’t return to his 2016 (fifth-best field goal percentage in the NFL) self after a groin injury held him out of much of last year.

Against division foes, the Jets get outmatched. The Patriots are 12-2 against New York since 2011. They continue their dominance with two wins against the Jets in 2018. The Bills and Dolphins take three of four against New York. Going 1-5 in division games puts the Jets in too deep of a hole to get out of. They go 5-11 for the second straight season, failing to contend for the playoffs or for the top pick.

Final prediction: 7-9

Best and Worst-Case Scenarios: Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills earned their first playoff berth in 17 seasons last year, ending the longest playoff drought in the league. However, they subsequently traded away their starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, for the 65thpick in the 2018 draft. Taylor went 8-6 as a starter in 2017. He will play for Cleveland this season, and the Bills acquired two new quarterbacks to battle for the starter’s job. They signed longtime Cincinnati Bengals backup A.J. McCarron and they sent two second round picks to Tampa Bay in order to move up and draft Josh Allen from Wyoming.

Best Case:

Allen impresses during the preseason and wins the starting job off the bat. His outstanding arm strength allows him to make impressive throws down the field throughout the season and he becomes a candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Additionally, LeSean McCoy bounces back after a down year. In 2016, McCoy was stellar, averaging 5.4 yards per-carry with 13 touchdowns. He took a step back in 2017, rushing for just four yards per carry and six touchdowns despite playing an additional game. He improves with the help of a younger and more athletic offensive line now that veterans Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito have left in free agency.

Ideally, Kelvin Benjamin connects well with Allen and recreates the magic of his first season in 2014. As a rookie that year, he had his current career-high in catches, touchdowns and yards. Alongside Benjamin, second-year receiver Zay Jones shakes off a rough rookie season and shows why the Bills used a second-round pick on him.

Defensively, the additions of veteran linemen Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy help improve Buffalo’s 28thranked run defense from a year ago. First round selection Trumaine Edwards from Virginia Tech steps into a starting role and quickly becomes a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. With a solid frame and quick legs, the first-rounder leads Buffalo’s linebacker core in tackles.

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In the secondary, 2017 All-Rookie Tre’Davious White continues to impress after a promising first season. He was second on the team in interceptions with four. Micah Hyde, 27, contributes well after being selected to the All-NFL Second-Team in 2017. Last year, he intercepted the fifth-most passes in the NFL. The additions of former Chief Phillip Gaines and former Colt Vontae Davis create beneficial veteran depth to help a passing defense that gave up the 13thmost yards last year.

With Allen as quarterback and with a couple of young gems on defense, the Bills improve upon last season by winning four division games as opposed to three. They manage to go 10-6, even with a difficult schedule, and they even get past the Wild Card round of the Playoffs.

Worst Case:

Josh Allen is erratic and he gets benched for his first season. McCarron has thrown just 14 passes in two years, and that lack of exposure to NFL defenses costs him. He proves to be a downgrade from Taylor and the Bills front office longs for their former quarterback. LeSean McCoy gets suspended for assault allegations against him. When he returns, his game continues to diminish as he is now a 30-year-old rusher and dealing with off-field legal issues. The younger line fails to make up for the loss of Incognito and Glenn, and McCoy and McCarron take beatings in the backfield. Zay Jones looks more like a bust than a promising player, leaving McCarron thin in reliable targets.

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On the defensive side, Lotulelei’s impact continues to drop as his production in tackles and sacks has gone down over the past two seasons. Kyle Williams’, 35, game heads in the wrong direction again as he had one of his worst seasons last year. This results in opponents being able to run all over the Bills, which in turn, costs them games against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers, Dalvin Cook and the Vikings, Jordan Howard and the Bears and Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars.

In the division, Tom Brady’s Patriots sweep Buffalo, and the Dolphins and Jets take three of four against the Bills. Their rough schedule buries them and as a result, the Bills take a big step back and prove that 2017 may have been a fluke by finishing 5-11 and earning a top-10 pick.

Final Prediction: 6-10