Preseason Watch List: AFC East

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills return to St. John Fisher College with renewed excitement thanks to the hiring of Rex Ryan. Ryan brings Greg Roman (San Francisco) and Dennis Thurman (Jets) with him as coordinators. Ryan and Thurman inherit a Top 5 defense while Roman has a much bigger mountain to climb offensively. Buffalo ranked 18th in points and 26th in yards last year, and has questions up and down the lineup. No matter what happens, you can be sure the Bills camp will yield lots of sound bites for beat writers in search of a good pull quote.

Preseason Game Schedule

  • Aug 14 -- Carolina 7:00 pm
  • Aug 20 -- @Cleveland 8:00 pm
  • Aug 29 -- Pittsburgh 4:00 pm
  • Sep 3 -- @Detroit 7:30 pm

What We're Watching

  • The lesser of three evils (aka the starting quarterback battle) -- Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor have all been mentioned by beat writers as the best quarterback in camp. While there may be no consensus on who the top signal caller is, there is consensus that all three are inferior options. Can new coordinator Greg Roman get blood from a stone?
  • LeSean McCoy's role -- The Bills acquired McCoy from the Eagles and Rex Ryan wants a run heavy offense. McCoy should be in line for a record workload, but Greg Roman has not utilized his running backs much in the passing game; one of McCoy's strengths. is McCoy going to get 20 carries a game, or will the team use a committee approach to include Fred Jackson and others?
  • The WR pecking order -- Sammy Watkins is the top option, but can Percy Harvin displace Robert Woods? Should fantasy owners care either way given the quarterback situation?
  • Reshuffling the offensive line -- Rookie John Miller and veteran Richie Incognito are set to man the guard spots, and Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson are fighting for the right tackle spot (as they did last offseason). Rex Ryan clearly wants a line that can move the pile and open running lanes.
  • Installing the "Rex Ryan" defense -- Ryan expects the Bills to be the league's top defense, which isn't all that unrealistic considering the Bills finished 4th in points and yards allowed in 2014. The biggest question facing the unit is whether the corners are up to the task of playing aggressive man-to-man.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Dolphins enter 2015 with a sense of optimism we haven't seen in many years. The Dolphins doled out the most money of all 32 teams in the offseason, and believe the roster is now stacked for a playoff run. Ryan Tannehill excelled in his first season under OC Bill Lazor, and he should improve in a second season as his understanding of the nuances increases. Defensively, the team added marquis free agent defensive tackle N'damukong Suh to an already impressive unit. Head coach Joe Philbin probably needs a playoff berth to ensure his future beyond 2015, and this team gives him a great chance.

Preseason Game Schedule

  • Aug 13 -- @Chicago 8:00 pm
  • Aug 22 -- @Carolina 7:00 pm
  • Aug 29 -- Atlanta 7:00 pm
  • Sep 3 -- Tampa Bay 7:00 pm

What We're Watching

  • Who does Tannehill have rapport with? -- Last year Mike Wallace and Ryan Tannehill lacked chemistry, which is why Wallace is now in Minnesota. The Dolphins brought in tight end Jordan Cameron, veteran receivers Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings and rookie 1st rounder DeVante Parker. All are talented but there aren't enough targets to go around (incumbent Jarvis Landry is going to be at or near the top of the passing tree). The preseason will illuminate where the fantasy value lies among the pass catchers.
  • Can Lamar Miller excel as a full-time workhorse? -- Last year Lamar Miller started slowly but finished strong. When the Dolphins used a draft pick on Jay Ajayi, some wondered if Miller would be marginalized. Yet early camp reports and comments from Joe Philbin indicate just the opposite. Miller is going to be given the opportunity to be the bellcow.
  • Simplifying the defense -- Kevin Coyle is a talented coordinator, but his playbook can be overwhelming. He's been tasked with simplifying things this year, with the idea that a slimmed-down playbook will enable the players to execute at the highest level.
  • Solving the middle linebacker and cornerback conundrums -- Koa Misi and Kelvin Shepard both have designs on the middle; and both have intriguing aspects to their game (with commensurate downsides, too). At cornerback, Will Davis, Zachary Bowman, Tony Lippett and Jamar Taylor are vying for the starting role opposite Brent Grimes

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Leave it to the NFL to create an environment where the Patriots find themselves with a chip on their shoulder. Coming off a Super Bowl championship (the 4th for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady), this team should be at risk of a letdown. Yet, thanks to 'Deflategate' and the pending 4-game suspension for Brady, this team has much to prove and a message to send. New England fielded a Top 5 offense (4th in points) and a top 10 defense (8th in points allowed) last year, but must deal with significant losses on the defensive side of the ball.

Preseason Game Schedule

  • Aug 13 -- Green Bay 7:30 pm
  • Aug 22 -- @New Orleans 7:30 pm
  • Aug 28 -- @Carolina 7:30 pm
  • Sep 3 -- N.Y. Giants 7:30 pm

What We're Watching

  • The Tom Brady situation -- Brady is ready to fight his suspension through whatever legal means available. What's not clear is whether he'll be given an injunction while the court battle unfolds. For now, we have to assume he'll miss the first four games, but any reversal of that decision will vault Brady back into the QB1s on draft day.
  • How does Jimmy Garoppolo look? -- Garoppolo could be the starter for a month, and his performance in the preseason will shape how fantasy owners think of Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman. If Garoppolo struggles, the Patriots skill players could fall in drafts and offer great value for those willing to ride out the early season for bountiful riches in October/November/December.
  • Is LeGarrette Blount locked in as the starter? -- Blount ended up being one of the team's key offensive contributors during the championship stretch run, but Bill Belichick is never predictable. With so many talented running backs on the roster, will the preseason provide color into the regular season roles? Last preseason Jame White starred, but was a virtual non-factor once September got underway.
  • Can the new cornerbacks possibly keep the defense near the top of the league standings? -- Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner are gone, and their replacements will come from the likes of Bradley Fletcher, Ryan Logan, Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown. That quartet hardly has the looks of a Super Bowl caliber secondary.

NEW YORK JETS

Rex Ryan's nine lives ran out and the Jets finally opted to go in a new direction -- hiring Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles as head coach. Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers must improve a defense that allowed 401 points last season while finishing dead last in turnovers. They get a big boost from the addition of a trio of elite cornerbacks and rookie 1st round defensive lineman Leonard Williams. On offense, Chan Gailey must figure out if Geno Smith is the man for the job; and find out quickly. The Jets finished 28th or worse in points scored for three consecutive seasons, but added more firepower to an underrated set of skill players.

Preseason Game Schedule

  • Aug 13 -- @Detroit 7:30 pm
  • Aug 21 -- Atlanta 7:30 pm
  • Aug 29 -- @N.Y. Giants 7:00 pm
  • Sep 3 -- Philadelphia 7:00 pm

What We're Watching

  • Is Geno Smith the man for the job? -- Geno is off to a strong start in camp, but until the preseason bullets are flying, we won't really know if he's benefiting from Chan Gailey's quarterback friendly system. The Jets have Ryan Fitzpatrick as a backup, but it makes sense to give Smith a long leash because playing Fitzpatrick all but assures the team has to start from scratch in 2016.
  • What can we expect from Brandon Marshall? -- Marshall has five 100+ reception seasons and seven 1,000-yard seasons, but fell off (61 receptions for 721 yards in 13 games) last year, facilitating his trade to the Jets. Marshall has been successful catching passes from Jay Cutler, Matt Moore and Josh McCown -- so there's no reason to think Gen Smith won't get Marshall the ball, too. Yet at his advancing age and in a defensive-minded setting, Marshall may have seen his best days.
  • Will Chris Ivory be given a chance at a full-time role? -- Ivory has never been a full-time player, but not because of talent. He's battled injuries and coaches' whims, but this season has the clearest path to a full-time role in his career. The coaches are saying all the right things, and if he can stay healthy and show 3-down effectiveness in the preseason, his ADP is going to skyrocket.
  • Have we buried Jace Amaro prematurely? -- Amaro had a forgettable rookie season (38 for 345 yards and 2 TDs) but that doesn't mean he can't become an ascendant player. Tight ends usually take two or three seasons to emerge, and Amaro remains an intriguing mix of size (6'5", 265 lbs.), speed and swift route-running. Don't count out Amaro emerging in the preseason.
  • What does Bowles have planned for the cornerback trio to end all trios? -- If there's been a better trio of cornerbacks than Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, I can't recall. Bowles -- a secondary coach by nature -- has the flexibility to play many defensive fronts knowing that he has three lock-down corners to cover downfield. Expect an attacking style that forces turnovers; in stark contrast to Rex Ryan's bend-but-don't-break unit last season.

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