2017 NFL Preview: AFC East and AFC North

From Football Outsiders Almanac 2017:

Football Outsiders releases my favorite NFL preview each summer. It is a 400 page behemoth, but if you just read the 3 to 5 page summary for each team it is more digestible. I jotted down some notes from their comments and projections on each team. The AFC East and AFC North are below:

AFC East

New England Patriots: projected 11.5 wins. Most talent, and the easiest schedule in the league. Projected top 5 in NFL for all three units (offense, defense, special teams). Key areas to follow: ranked just 23rd in pass defense last year, and rushing offense fell to 15th (lowest since 2005). Upgraded both those areas, adding Gilmore at CB and two efficient RBs. Last: older QBs tend to lose accuracy late in the season. It is a trend worth following with Brady.

Miami Dolphins: projected 7 wins. A mediocre team across the board last season. New defensive free agents they signed will not move the needle. Defense is reliant on Suh and Wake on the D-line. New D-coordinator was promoted from within. Easy schedule last year helped them reach playoffs; they scraped by easy opponents while going 1-5 vs. winning teams. Top WR Landry actually has negative correlation with offense’s success when he gets the ball more; he is not a big play receiver and not efficient enough as a possession receiver. They need RB Ajayi to play well to set up the offense but his performance game-to-game last year was inconsistent.

Buffalo Bills: projected 7 wins. New head coach was the Carolina D-coordinator. Traded away their top WR and CB = rebuilding year. Have a great D-Line but new secondary and poor linebackers. Taylor is alright at QB, but has no one to throw to. New O-coordinator Dennison’s scheme is a good fit for Taylor. Great rushing offense with RB McCoy but no depth if he gets injured.

New York Jets: projected 6 wins. Worst team in football last year based on FO’s metrics. Did have top run defense and average run offense, but 31st in passing on both sides of ball. Historically, a defense that stops the run but struggles vs the pass tends to improve the following season. The Jets also drafted two safeties to improve the secondary. Front office remains a mess in roster-building. Despite a rebuilding team, they will likely start a subpar 38-year old at QB. Expect the offense to be possibly the worst in the league.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers: projected 10.5 wins. Easier schedule this year. Elite offense has come up short in recent years because of repeated injuries to key players. Defense has struggled to be anything better than above average for several years (no all-stars drafted in last 5 years). RB Bell’s return to team still uncertain. Its QB, RB and two WRs must play together; if they do, they are a 12-win team. If two or more are out; they are a 6-win team.

Baltimore Ravens: projected 8 wins. Flacco is below average despite being top paid player in NFL. Has no one to throw to either. Defense remains good. Special teams has been top 4 in NFL for five straight years. Have an easier schedule this year.

Cincinnati Bengals: projected 8 wins. QB Dalton is notoriously poor when passing under pressure and has two shaky, inexperienced offensive tackles to protect him this season. Did get an infusion of skill position talent by drafting a RB and WR. Defense is average, offense is average.

Cleveland Browns: projected 6 wins. New front office has been making shrewd use of cap space instead of splurging on free agents. Making bargain bin signings while preserving long-term flexibility. Very young on both sides of the ball. Potential studs on the D-line, secondary got a talent infusion. Improved O-line with free agent signings, young upside at RB/WR/TE. Stuck choosing between 3 bad QBs for their starter.