Preseason Watchlist - AFC East
By Jason Wood
July 27th, 2012

Buffalo Bills

  • Link: http://www.buffalobills.com/team/training-camp/home.html
  • Location: St. John Fisher College (Pittsford, NY)
  • Dates: July 26 August 14
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Bills return to St. John Fisher College for the 13th year, and find themselves one of the trendier pickes to emerge as a playoff contender this year. The enthusiasm stems from the Bills aggressive free agent push that added defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is also transitioning the team to a 4-3 defensive front. Although much of the focus will be on the defensive side of the ball, there are also questions to be answered offensively.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Thu, Aug 9 - vs Washington - 7:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 17 - @ Minnesota - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 25 - vs Pittsburgh - 7:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - @ Detroit - 7:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is Ryan Fitzpatrick a difference-making quarterback? Fitzpatrick had his best year statistically in 2011, starting all 16 games and throwing for 3,832 yards and 24 touchdowns (62% completion rate). However, he was erratic and led the league with 23 interceptions and faded down the stretch. This is a big year for Fitzpatrick as the expectations are for the playoffs. Is he up to the challenge?

  • RBs Fred Jackson vs. C.J. Spiller Last preseason C.J. Spiller was considered a draft bust and Fred Jackson was the workhorse. Jackson lived up to expectations, playing as one of the top fantasy RBs until a broken fibula ended his season. C.J. Spiller found a new lease on life in place of Jackson, compiling 633 yards and 5 TDs over six games. Now with both healthy, fantasy owners are wondering what the split will be?

  • The perennial search for a complementary receiver Steve Johnson was re-signed and remains the cornerstone of the passing game, but who fills the void on the other side of the lineup? The names remain the same: Donald Jones, Derek Hagan, Marcus Easley, and David Nelson. Do fantasy owners have reason to care who wins this "battle?"

  • Do the offseason additions and new scheme fix the defense? The Bills are moving to a 4-3 front overseen by Dave Wannstedt, the "new" defensive coordinator. The cornerstones of this transition were the addition of Mario Williams, and to a lesser extent Mark Anderson. Rookie CB Stephon Gilmore is also expected to start immediately.

  • Who starts at left tackle? The offensive line is largely set other than the key left tackle position. Second year Chris Hairston and rookie 2nd rounder Cordy Glenn will wage a spirited battle in camp to decide who protects Fitzpatrick against opposing pass rushers.
  • Miami Dolphins

  • Link: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-06-29/sports/sfl-miami-dolphins-announce-2012-training-camp-schedule-20120629_1_training-camp-training-facility-practice-facility
  • Location: Nova Southeastern University (Davie, FL)
  • Dates: July 27 August 15
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Dolphins had an offseason to forget, as they seemingly lost out on their top choice at head coach (Jeff Fisher) and their quest for Peyton Manning. In spite of those public relations gaffes, the Dolphins head back to Nova Southeastern University with the optimism that comes with a new coaching staff. Head coach Joe Philbin and OC Mike Sherman will implement a traditional West Coast offense this year, and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is shifting the defense to a 4-3 base front with more man-to-man coverage.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Fri, Aug 10 - vs Tampa Bay - 7:30 PM
  • Fri, Aug 17 - @ Carolina - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 24 - vs Atlanta - 7:30 PM
  • Wed, Aug 29 - @ Dallas - 8:30 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • The quarterback conundrum The Dolphins selection of Ryan Tannehill in the first round had many expecting a youth movement, but Tannehill has looked lost during the OTAs and has a steep learning curve in spite of playing for Mike Sherman in college. This opens the door for either incumbent Matt Moore or veteran David Garrard to win the job but is either likely to be a viable fantasy option?

  • Can RB Reggie Bush prove that last year wasn't a fluke? Reggie Bush enjoyed a career year in his first season in Miami, totaling 1,382 yards and 7 touchdowns. Can he build off last season or will fantasy owners overpay for a career year? Remember, the Dolphins ran a man blocking scheme last year but now Bush will have to run behind a zone-blocking scheme. He also has two very talented young runners in Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller nipping at his heels.

  • Who backs up Bush? Given Bush's injury history and up-and-down career, the backup should have significant fantasy value. Can Daniel Thomas hold off Lamar Miller, or will they both carve out niche roles and play in a committee if Bush gets hurt?

  • Who's going to catch the ball, and should fantasy owners care? The Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall away and seemingly did nothing to bolster the position that is, other than signing Chad Johnson to a one-year deal. Johnson may earn playing time, which is more a condemnation of the other receivers than an endorsement of Johnson. Can the likes of Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Legedu Naanee and Clyde Gates have any fantasy impact?

  • Can Cameron Wake flourish in his return to defensive end? Wake earned a large extension after compiling 22.5 sacks and three forced fumbles over the last two seasons, but is now being asked to move back to defensive end (a position he played in prior destinations). Can he maintain his productivity in the new role?
  • New England Patriots

  • Link: http://www.patriots.com/trainingcamp/
  • Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA)
  • Dates: July 19 (Rooks), July 25 (Vets) August 9
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The clock is ticking on the New England Patriots and the sense of urgency is mounting. For the second time in the last five years, the Patriots won the AFC and came into the Super Bowl as favorites, only to lose at the hands of Eli Manning and coach Tom Coughlin. Tom Brady is coming off an MVP-caliber season and turns 35 in early August, so the window remains open. The biggest question for this team will be whether Bill Belichick who is often referred to as a defensive genius can fix a unit that bent (31st in yards allowed) but didn't always break (15th in points allowed). The team also welcomes back prodigal son Josh McDaniels, who returns as offensive coordinator.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Thu, Aug 9 - vs New Orleans - 7:30 PM
  • Mon, Aug 20 - vs Philadelphia - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 24 - @ Tampa Bay - 7:30 PM
  • Wed, Aug 29 - @ New York - 7:30 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is there a hidden gem among the RB stable? The Patriots passing attack is so potent that the running game has been forgotten by most but that would be a mistake. Bill Belichick is always willing to move to where the puck is going and it shouldn't surprise anyone to see him re-commit to the ground game at times. The question is whether 2nd year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen can get enough touches to warrant spots in your fantasy lineups.

  • Who loses from Brandon Lloyd's arrival? Brandon Lloyd led the NFL with 1,448 yards receiving playing for Josh McDaniels in Denver, but has never come close to matching those numbers at any other point in his career. Lloyd's addition to the Patriots will certainly help the overall offense, but how will Lloyd fare specifically? And how will his presence impact the likes of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez?

  • Will Wes Welker make the Patriots regret the lack of a long-term deal? Wes Welker has caught 554 receptions in five seasons with New England. He's caught 111+ in four seasons (the other being when he got hurt and "only" caught 86) and led the NFL three times, including last season. Yet, the Patriots made re-signing him a non-priority and instead are asking him to play on a one-year franchise tender. Will Welker parlay another monster season into free agent riches elsewhere? Either way, fantasy owners are in for a fun ride this season, particularly in PPR leagues.

  • Is TE Rob Gronkowski healthy? Gronkowski redefined what's possible by a tight end, with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and an NFL-leading 17 touchdowns. In spite of his success, Gronkowski hurt his ankle in the playoffs and was clearly less than 100% in the Super Bowl. Some have voiced concern about his lack of participation in offseason workouts, but the Patriots allayed those fears by signing him to a $54 million extension. As long as Gronkowski suffers no setbacks in camp, he may be a 1st round selection in the majority of leagues.

  • An open competition at most defensive spots The Patriots are overflowing with offensive weapons, but the defense is a different story. The vast majority of defensive positions are up for grabs in camp, made notable by the Patriots use of six draft choices on the defensive side of the ball. Can rookies Chandler Jones, Danta Hightower and Tavon Wilson make immediate impacts? Will the return of Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling to full health turn the defensive tables?
  • New York Jets

  • Link: http://www.newyorkjets.com/schedule/training-camp-schedule.html
  • Location: SUNY Cortland (Cortland, NY)
  • Dates: July 28 August 15
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Jets make their annual pilgramage to SUNY Cortland with hopes to rebound from last season's disappointing finish. Rex Ryan has promised fewer promises and more measured reactions to the media, and has even shed 100 pounds to put a physical exclamation point on his newfound focus. All eyes will be on whether quarterback Mark Sanchez can rise to the occasion or let the chants for Tim Tebow get in his head. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is also going to try to establish a more effective ground game to take pressure of the signal callers.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Fri, Aug 10 - @ Cincinnati - 7:30 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - vs NY Giants - 7:00 PM
  • Sun, Aug 26 - vs Carolina - 8:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - @ Philadelphia - 6:35 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is Tim Tebow a genuine threat to Mark Sanchez? Mark Sanchez may not be the most statistically impressive passer but he is light years better than Tim Tebow. Yet, Tebow's charisma and late game heroics have clouded the perception. Will Sanchez handle the perceived threat or will his confidence crumble like a house of cards?

  • Can new OC Tony Sparano finally turn Shonn Greene into a star? Shonn Greene has no more excuses as LaDainian Tomlinson retired and Tony Sparano has made the likes of Reggie Bush and Marion Barber fantasy stars. Can the big back show the power and second gear we haven't seen since his collegiate days?

  • Ranking the receiving corps Santonio Holmes is locked in as the top option bit is that good news? He hasn't been great in New York and was openly hostile about teammates this offseason. Beyond Holmes the Jets have no idea who will step into the key roles. The hope is rookie Stephen Hill can defy critics and show enough polish to play right away. One deep sleeper to keep an eye on is Jeremy Kerley, who could shock with a strong camp.

  • Is there a right tackle on the roster? Wayne Hunter was a turnstile last year yet the Jets haven't effectively replaced him this offseason. Vlad Ducasse just doesn't seem to have the coaches' confidence and a potential trade for Jeff Otah is on hold after he failed his physical.

  • Place kicker battle Nick Folk has to wage a kicking battle against Josh Brown, and if Brown is healthy the odds favor the former Seahawks and Rams kicker.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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