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NFL-Pre season-AFC teams season preview

2017 AFC EAST PREVIEW

BUFFALO BILLS
TEAM THEME: SALUD

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123.5

Rex Ryan’s grandstand firing of OC Greg Roman following an 0-2 start last season wasn’t enough to save his hide as his toxic personality, along with his defenses that finished No. 24 and 26 in two years with the Bills, proved to be his Waterloo. Fired brother Rob also won’t benefit from the finally healthy services of last year’s top pick, DE Shaq Lawson who never fully recovered from preseason shoulder surgery, or 2nd-rounder LB Reggie Ragland who sat out the entire season with a torn ACL. As for the offense, Dan Graziano of ESPN notes that of the quarterbacks who have played at least 20 games the past years, Tyrod Taylor ranks 4th in TD/INT ratio and 7th in Total QBR.

The addition of WR Zay Jones, who set an NCAA single-season record with 158 receptions at East Carolina last season, along with the healthy return of stud Sammy Watkins, should help Taylor and 1st-year head coach Sean McDermott ease the pain of a difficult schedule that finds the Bills taking on foes with a projected 134.5 wins. And if upper management can prevent any further pillaging from their division rival Patriots, maybe even retired anchor Chris Berman will, once again, circle the wagons in upstate New York.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rex Ryan’s record with Buffalo was the best of any of the previous five Bills’ head coaches.

PLAY ON: vs. NY Jets (9/10)

MIAMI DOLPHINS
TEAM THEME: GASING AT THE POSSIBILITIES

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 7 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 134

There’s a lot to like about the 2017 Dolphins as owner Stephen Ross laid out a bundle in resigning key personnel while trying to hold on to the core of his 10-6 team. There’s also a lot to be concerned with as the Fish allowed went just 4-13 ‘In The Stats’, allowed more points than they scored, and were also only 2-4 SU against winning opposition last season. The latter is extremely alarming considering Miami tackles the 3rd most difficult schedule in the league (projected wins 134) and the 6th toughest based on win-loss records from last year (148-119).

Numerous close calls (seven games decided by overtime or 4 points or less) had the Dolphins gazing at defense in the draft, headlined by pass-rusher Charles Harris (Missouri) in the first round. Looking for red-zone help, they also re-united TE Julius Thomas with head coach Adam Gase. The offensive line looks to be a strength as Laremy Tunsil, last year’s value-packed first-round pick, will move to his natural position at left tackle, though they will need Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey to overcome nagging injuries that has caused him to miss 19 games over the past four seasons. The main question is whether retread QB Jay Cutler can adequately fill former starter Ryan Tannehill’s shoes.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 2000, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald notes the Dolphins have drafted a total of 12 players that have totaled 12 Pro Bowl seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: at Buffalo (12/17)

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
TEAM THEME: GAME OF GROANS

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 12.5 +100
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124

Tom Brady got his ‘one for the thumb’ in leading the Pats past Atlanta, capping the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. We’re not sure who groaned more: the growing legion of New England haters or the sportsbooks who took a virtual bath, especially on 2nd half action. After suffering its first shutout loss at Gillette Stadium in franchise history in Week Four, Brady returned from suspension and the Pats never looked back. We don’t want to say he’s getting old but your TV might still have knobs on it as old as Brady (40). Nonetheless, he adds another weapon to his “5’10” arsenal” in deep threat Brandon Cooks, complimenting Julian Edelman out of the slot and pass-catching back James White.

A 9th straight postseason appearance figures to be in the bank as a difficult non-division lineup is offset by the soft AFC East. And the more things change in the ever-developing NFL, the more they stay the same in Foxborough: the Patriots will continue to employ one of the NFL’s smaller coaching staffs (its 15-member group is far below the league average of 20). It’s an old school approach that Belichick feels leads to better communication. One thing’s for sure… with or without rabbit ears, his message is clear.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 2006, five defending Super Bowl champions have failed to make it back to the playoffs the following season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Atlanta (10/22)

NEW YORK JETS
TEAM THEME: KISS THIS

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 131.5

You know you’re in trouble when your owner asks the fans for patience. Even Hall of Fame QB Joe Namath, who displayed just that when waiting for a kiss from his main squeeze, Suzy Kolber, said, “Right now I don’t think there are many teams wary of the Jets.” Recognizing an obvious need to officially begin their rebuild, the Jets said adios to mainstays Ryan Clady, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Darrell Revis. They then proceeded to trade down four times in the NFL draft to acquire much-needed extra selections for an aging roster.

Quizzically, QB Josh McCown (19-46 SU in the NFL, including 2-20 the last 22) figures to start until they figure out what they want to do with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Together they form a sluggish MPH (McCown, Petty, Hackenberg) trio that is simply not up to speed in this league. Its no wonder why the Flyboys season win total came in at 5 – the same number of victories they finished with last season after posting 10 wins in HC Todd Bowles’ rookie season. Despite filling obvious needs, New York’s draft also looked like something out of Noah’s Ark as the Jets drafted positions in pairs: two safeties, two receivers and two corners. Right now they are hoping the ‘beat out’ Cleveland for the top spot in this year’s draft.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jets are 15-0-1 ATS as division dogs against foes off a division ATS win.

PLAY ON: vs. Miami (9/24)

2017 AFC NORTH PREVIEW

BALTIMORE RAVENS
TEAM THEME: THE MUCK STOPS HERE

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 +110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 127

Yes, Joe Flacco has won 83 games since entering the league in 2008, only trailing Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan during that span. However, since winning the Super Bowl and signing a monster contract in 2013, Flacco’s total QBR rating ranks 21st, behind the likes of Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The firing of OC Marc Trestman five games into the season didn’t help as the Ravens ended the year averaging only 2 points and 10 yards per game more than with him. Nor does the lack of depth at wide receiver as Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are primarily deep threats that struggle to make plays (Perriman has yet to produce 65 receiving yards in a game). Thus, the signing of WR Jeremy Maclin should help.

So in typical Ravens’ fashion when all else fails, John Harbaugh will, once again, turn to a defense that features six new starters and a deep secondary. Harbaugh is pumped, going on record as saying “I don’t want to overstate the expectations, but I’m not afraid to do that, really. I expect these guys to be great.” That should certainly help a team that played in a whopping 11 games last season that were decided by one score (7 points) or less.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Half of the Ravens’ road wins the last two years have been at Cleveland.

PLAY ON: at Oakland (10/8)

CINCINNATI BENGALS
TEAM THEME: STARVIN’ MARVIN

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 123

Apparently London Bridge wasn’t the only thing falling down across the pond. Cincinnati’s trip to Wembley Stadium in late October against the Redskins resulted in a 24-24 tie and the Bengals could never really get it in gear from that point on, closing out a dismal 2016 campaign with a 3-5 finish (all five losses by 5 or fewer points) – and ending a streak of five straight one-and-done postseason appearances. However, things are looking up for Andy Dalton in America’s Queen City. Cincy has added speedy WR John Ross and controversial RB Joe Mixon to an explosive offense that features WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert.

In addition, no team will face an easier set of foes in 2017 as the Bengals’ schedule of opponents tallies a combined 123 projected wins. Marvin Lewis’ men also have the luxury of traveling the second fewest air miles in the loop (7,652) while taking on the NFC North – a division they have owned of late as evidenced by a 10-2 SU and 8-3-1 ATS mark since 2005. It’s all for naught, though, unless the offensive line can keep their red-headed rifle upright and seeing ‘Green.’ With that, it’s hard to look past the fact that Cincinnati last tasted playoff victory in 1990.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cincinnati is 12-2-1 ATS as a pick or dog of 3 or less points off a DD win under Lewis.

PLAY ON: vs. Detroit (12/24)

CLEVELAND BROWNS
TEAM THEME: KIZER PEMANENTE

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 4.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132

The quarterback-starved Browns passed on signal callers with their two first-round selections but the carousal added another pony in the following round with the selection of DeShone Kizer. Kizer will likely open the season holding the clipboard for Brock Osweiler and/or Cody Kessler but history suggests it won’t take long before he gets his chance as the Browns have cycled through 26 QBs since 1999 (New England has used a total of five in that span and would have been three if not for Brady’s suspension). Still, color us intrigued as it looks like Hue Jackson has the Brownies heading in the right direction. They upgraded their offensive line and amassed a ton of draft picks (12) for 2018, including two firsts, three seconds and a pair of fourth rounders. All this while earning top grades in this year’s draft.

One constant is LT Joe Thomas (160 consecutive starts in 10 Pro Bowl seasons) who will need to remain productive as the game plan should be to pound the ball on the ground with RBs Isaiah Crowell (4.8 YPR) and Duke Johnson (4.9 YPR). The hire of DC Gregg ‘Bounty’ Williams is a good move but that will lead to a change of schemes (back to 4-3) for the third time in seven years. A salty division slate, along with a 1-5 SUATS log at home versus the NFC North, figures to keep the Brownies in the oven for another season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 2006, the Browns have drafted 7 QBs that have gone 22-69 collectively.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Green Bay (12/10)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
TEAM THEME: KILLER B’S

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 10.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 129

Playing every away game in an Eastern Time zone for only the third time in NFL history, the Steelers capitalized by going 5-3 SUATS in those games en route to a 11-win regular season – keeping Mike Tomlin’s 10-year streak of never having a losing campaign intact. And not only will the Steelers, like last year, travel the fewest air miles (6,790) in the league, they’re also expected to be favored in all but two games this season (small dogs at KC, small home dog to NE) according to Cantor Gaming in Las Vegas. The full time return of WR Martavius Bryant is a scary proposition as Ben Roethlisberger has never played a full season with all three B’s (Bell, Bryant, and Brown) in the lineup (provided LeVeon Bell eventually signs a contract).

The feel-good addition of RB James Conner compliments Bell while second-round selection WR JuJu Smith-Schuster gives Big Ben another weapon (can you say 40 TD passes!) to improve on an already impressive 138-66 SU record in his NFL career, including 25-10 SU and 23-12 ATS in division roadies. Anything less than a fourth consecutive double-digit win season and a second straight AFC North title will be a disappointment for the Terrible Towels.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Persistence has paid off for Pittsburgh: the Steelers have made 29 playoff appearances over the last 45 seasons. They are also only the fourth NFL franchise to earn 600 victories, trailing only Chicago, Green Bay, and NY Giants.

PLAY ON: vs. New England (12/17)

2017 AFC SOUTH PREVIEW

HOUSTON TEXANS
TEAM THEME: ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 130.5

It’s been reported that head coach Bill O’Brien changes quarterbacks more often than he does underwear, which if true, could lead to a malodorous situation in Houston this season. The truth of the matter, though, is no one gets more from a stable of mediocre quarterbacks than the QB whisperer as his teams have started 8 different signal-callers in his three years with the Texans, yet somehow managed to pull off 28 wins and a couple of playoff appearances along the way. Despite paying dearly for first-round pick Deshaun Watson, it’s unlikely the Clemson star will join the stable anytime soon as O’Brien’s philosophy is rookie quarterbacks should be seen and not blurred (and if all else fails, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear a few Tony Romo ‘whispers’).

The return of J.J. Watt, who missed 13 games last season after undergoing back surgery, along with the rise of DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney – who is now playing at the level expected when Houston made him the top pick in the draft four years ago – ensures the defense is no laughing matter. It also should send the Texans back to the postseason out of a very winnable AFC South.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Houston is 12-0 SU and 10-2 ATS as a favorite against foes off a loss under O’Brien.

PLAY ON: at New England (9/24)

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
TEAM THEME: OPERATION: DVOA

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 +120
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 122.5

There’s a new buzzword in Indy this season: DEFENSE. According to Bill Barnwell of ESPN, new GM Chris Ballard shored up the league’s fourth worst defense per DVOA via the draft and free agency. (DVOA is a statistical metric devised by Football Outsiders.com that measures Defense-adjusted Value Over Average – sort of like MLB’s ‘WAR’ Wins Above Replacement statistic. It allows you to compare teams and players overall and their offenses and defenses with better accuracy than standard measures such as yards gained and yards allowed, which don’t adjust for opponent quality.)

The offense, which ranked 7th in the league in points scored and 9th in total yardage won’t need metrics as long as Andrew Luck is back at full strength following off-season shoulder surgery – and that’s iffy as of this writing. Luck (46-30) is coming off a quiet 4,24/31 TD/63.5 completion percentage performance and will face the league’s softest SOS slate with foes going just 112-147 last season. Sure, the offensive line still needs help but if last year’s three selections (nabbed with the first five picks) come around and Ballard’s defensive plan pans out, the Colts could get off the 8-win schneid and return to the postseason for the first time in three years.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Andrew Luck is 21-3 SU and 20-4 ATS in his NFL career in games following a Colts’ SUATS loss.

PLAY ON: at Houston (11/5)

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
TEAM THEME: HAIL THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 6.5 -150
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124.5

Despite holding half of their opponents to under 300 yards last season, the Jags managed to net only three wins as they lost a league-high eight games by a touchdown or less. It marked their sixth straight losing season, as they have not made the playoffs since 2007. Hence, they got busy in the offseason, bringing in numerous free agents, removing the interim label from head coach Doug Marrone and naming Tom Coughlin VP director of football operations. They also landed RB Leonard Fournette who should make an early splash as five of the Jags’ first six foes ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed per attempt last season. That can only help QB Blake Bortles, who next to Philip Rivers (52), has tossed more interceptions (51) than anyone in the league over the past three years (it’s never a good sign when your QB has more pick-6s than wins).

The Jaguars will also need to outplay Vegas projections as they are predicted to be favored in only six of their sixteen contests and will count on Marrone to handle division duties as the former head man in Buffalo (15-17 SU) is 10-4 ATS in division games, including a near spotless 5-1 ATS at home. A September 17th date versus an improved Tennessee team will put that number to the test. It will also be crucial to Bortles’ future as a starter with Jacksonville.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jaguars are 1-10 SUATS at home in games after facing an NFC foe.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Indianapolis (12/3)

TENNESSEE TITANS
TEAM THEME: MULARKEY ASIDE, BEWARE OF THE TITANS

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8.5 -130
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124.5

Taking the Titans from 3 wins in his rookie season to 9 victories last year, QB Marcus Mariota’s career looks promising – as long as he can avoid the dreaded injury bug that cut short each of his first two seasons in the league. That becomes a major hassle should Tennessee be forced to turn to Matt Cassel. The rest of the offense is also in good hands as dynamic first-round draft pick WR Corey Davis joins Rishard Matthews, who exploded over the final 12 games of the season, catching 65 balls for 945 yards and 9 TDs. The backfield is also well fortified as DeMarco Murray re-established himself as a bonafide anchor while Derrick Henry averaged 4.5 YPR in his rookie campaign.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans reinforced a secondary that ranked 30th overall with key free agent signings. Yes, we realize that head coach Mike Mularkey is just 14-34 SU in his last 48 games dating back to his days with Buffalo, but if they can take advantage of a soft schedule that finds only six foes owning winning records in 2016 (116-148 overall), then they just might make some noise in the vulnerable AFC South.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Music City Titans are 10-1 SU and 8-2-1 ATS versus sub .500 NFC West opponents.

PLAY ON: vs. Indianapolis (10/16)

2017 AFC WEST PREVIEW

DENVER BRONCOS
TEAM THEME: RIGHT BACK AT YOU

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 8 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 133.5

It’s a good thing rookie head coach Vance Joseph, a former defensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins, won’t have to spend too much time shoring up a stop-unit that ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed (18.6) and 4th in overall total defense (316.1) last season. That’s because he’ll be spending most of his days (and nights) figuring out who will be under center while tackling the second most difficult slate in the league based on opponents’ win-loss records last year (150-114), and fourth hardest looking at foes’ projected wins (133.5) for this season.

Will it be Paxton Lynch, Denver’s top pick in the 2016 draft? Trevor Siemian, a 7th-rounder in 2015? Or perhaps Mr. Irrelevant – Chad Kelly – the final selection in the 2017 class will eventually get his chance. If healthy, the signing of RB Jamaal Charles could be a coup for a rushing attack that averaged less than 100 YPG for the first time in recent history. Simply put, the Broncos will need to get back to a bread-and-butter run offense in order to avoid the ‘Lynch’ mob and book their usual postseason spot. ‘Ad- Vance’ notice: Christmas (at Kansas City) and New Years (vs. Oakland) will likely decide how the AFC West is won this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 15-3 SU and 14-4 ATS in their last 18 division away games.

PLAY ON: at Kansas City (10/30) – *KEY

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
TEAM THEME: ONE STEP UP, TWO STEPS BACK

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 132

After trading up 17 spots in the first round of this year’s draft, many feel Patrick Mahomes II will be Andy Reid’s quarterback in the near future. Considering Mahomes went 0-9 SU in his college career against ranked opponents and the Chiefs square off against the toughest SOS in 2017 with foes sporting an overall .573 win percentage (153-115), Reid should consider jumping in the Delorean ASAP and driving back to the future. Despite being outgained by 34 YPG and losing the stat battle in 11 of 16 contests, the Chiefs managed to collect 12 scalps in 2016.

That immediately puts them on our early-season fade list unless they can improve on a defense that is often forced to play a Dime package (6 DBs) due to lack of depth at linebacker and ranked 22nd or worse against the run five of the past six seasons. However, if oft-injured MLB Derrick Johnson returns and RB Kareem Hunt, who surpassed 300 touches and came into his own as a weapon out of the backfield last year at Toledo, can fill in for the departed Jamaal Charles, things for Andy could be just dandy in the wild, wild AFC West. But we simply don’t trust teams from one year to the next that lead the league in net turnovers. They tend to regress to the mean in a mean way.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last quarterback drafted by the Chiefs to win a game in the NFL was in 1983.

PLAY AGAINST: at NY Jets (12/3)

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
TEAM THEME: BOLTING FOR L.A.

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total 7.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 128.5

There was plenty of crying for Philip Rivers last season in San Diego as the Chargers all-time passing yards leader – who hasn’t missed a start since taking over the reins in 2006 – suffered a career-high 21 picks while completing just over 60% of his passes, far below his career completion percentage. It’s no wonder why the Chargers drafted stud WR Mike Williams and used three of their seven draft picks on offensive linemen. Unfortunately, Williams is out until at least October with a back injury. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bolts allowed the most pass pressure in the league over the past three seasons. That same massive line, though, is the main reason RB Melvin Gordon showed considerable improvement.

The defense also asserted itself with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram forming a fierce pass-rushing duo. However, the schedule-maker did the Chargers and rookie head coach Anthony Lynn no favors this season as they take on a league-high 11 foes that owned winning records in 2016. The feeling here, though, is if this team can shake their annual injury bug (they led the league with 355 man games lost last season) and pull out a few close ones (1-8 in games decided by a TD or less), they could supplant the Chiefs as playoff contenders.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chargers are 24-4-1 ATS as road dogs of more than 4 points since 2004.

PLAY ON: vs. Miami (9/17)

OAKLAND RAIDERS
TEAM THEME: JUST SAY WHEN, BABY

Westgate SuperBook Season Win Total: 9.5 -110
Opponents’ Collective Season Win Total: 124

Future bettors who rolled the dice on the Raiders last season were rewarded early as the Vegas-bound Silver and Black easily topped their projected win total of 8.5 by delivering 12 victories, despite the fact that they were actually outyarded on the season. With that a serious red flag pops up – especially if they can’t match a trend that saw them go 8-1 in games decided by a TD of less. A relatively easy schedule this season (according to Vegas, not the NFL) may see them top the number (9.5) this year, especially with a healthy Derek Carr driving a potent attack that features WR Amari Cooper and recently added RB Marshawn Lynch and TE Jared Cook. Unfortunately, the Raiders made no high impact moves to help Khalil Mack and beef up a front seven that failed to sack Brock Osweiler in a humbling Wild Card round loss to the Texans.

The good news is last season was the first time since 1967 that Oakland won five consecutive road games; the bad news is Blackjack Del Rio’s bunch is 1-8 SU versus the NFC East since 2005. Still, we’ll consider a double down ‘under 10 wins’ should the public drive the number up as teams who lead the league in net turnovers (tied with the Chiefs last year) average 16.5 less net TO’s the following year. Think about that before jumping off the high board again with the Black-and-Silver in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After going 1-18 SU since 2009 in games in Eastern Time zone cities, the Raiders went 3-0 in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: at Buffalo (10/29)

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