As we did last season, Whatifsports will utilize our NFL simulation technology, statistical research capabilities, up-to-the minute roster and depth chart information to preview the upcoming NFL season. We will look at each division before before presenting final standings, stats, fantasy and statistical leaders, award winners and playoff game boxscores. This analysis is just part of a broader endeavor in which WhatIfSports.com provides weekly fantasy projections for FOXSports.com's Fantasy Football.
For this analysis, each regular season game is simulated 1,000 times, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not (see Super Bowl XLII), our expected record (in parentheses next to each team) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
For 2008, to go along with comprehensive individual player statistics and fantasy rankings, we will be showing projected scores and winning percentages from the simulations of all 267 regular and post season games. Also, we will be running our first installment of the NFL Power Rankings after the playoff results article is posted.
Rosters and depth charts are up-to-date and as accurate as possible as of June 8, 2008. A schedule of upcoming NFL preview content including links to other previews that have already been posted is located here.
Today we will preview the AFC East.
New England Patriots (13-3)
It is hard to write a regular season preview about the New England Patriots without immediately thinking about whether that will translate to post-season success. We will get to that on June 20th. Either way, New England was an historically great and lucky team in 2007 that saw its luck run out in the Super Bowl. In 2008, the Patriots return almost all of the offense and overcome two key defections from the secondary to reign again in the regular season with the league's best record. The Patriots average 32.1 points per game (#1 in the NFL) and only allow 19.3 points (#3) against a schedule featuring just four 2007 playoff teams.
Absolute Record: 16-0
Most Significant Newcomer: Jerod Mayo, LB - The rookie out of Tennessee adds youth and more play-making ability to an aging linebacking corps. We project him to make 73 tackles with two sacks and an interception, putting him at #2 in our impact rookie rankings.
Biggest Strength: The System - The brain trust of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
Most Exploitable Weakness: Run Defense - Pressure on Brady was a concern in the Super Bowl, but that should be an anomaly. Even with Mayo, the biggest weakness of this team is actually its run defense. Teams were behind and having to throw the ball so much last season that the Patriots' 4.4 yards per carry allowed were not as exploited as they could have been.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Chad Jackson, WR - The projections have the oft-injured wide receiver ahead of Jabar Gaffney and Sam Aiken with 29 catches for 509 yards and four touchdowns.
Closest Game: @ Indianapolis Colts (Week 9) - No, these teams will not tie; but, this game is so close again this year that it is too close to call at this point.
Fantasy Notables (fantasy rank at position in parentheses): Tom Brady (1) 4,657 yards, 40 TDs, 13 INTs; Laurence Maroney (17) 1,340 total yards, 13 TDs; Randy Moss (1) 93 receptions, 1,563 yards, 12 TDs; Wes Welker (6) 106 receptions, 1,150 yards, 10 TDs; Ben Watson (19) 32 receptions, 386 yards, 4 TDs; Stephen Gostkowkski (9) 61/61 XPs, 22/28 FGs
Projected 2008 Results:
|1||Kansas City Chiefs||98||38-12|
|2||@New York Jets||81||30-22|
|5||@San Francisco 49ers||78||29-20|
|6||@San Diego Chargers||66||26-22|
|8||St. Louis Rams||85||36-17|
|11||New York Jets||90||32-15|
Buffalo Bills (9-7)
Buffalo spent money to add good, veteran players to the young and hungry defense that is vastly improved in 2008. Couple that with an offense starring two second year players and a rookie (among others), and the Bills make the two-game improvement they need to sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Bills average 23.9 points per game (#14) and allow 22.2 points (#13) against a schedule featuring six games against 2007 playoff teams.
Absolute Record: 9-7
Most Significant Newcomer: Marcus Stroud, DT - James Hardy is closely considered here for what the tall, rookie wide receiver should mean to Trent Edwards and Lee Evans; but, it can be much more difficult to find the kind of Pro Bowl defensive tackle/man-child that Stroud is capable of being (if and when healthy).
Biggest Strength: Running Offense - If "balance" were not such a cop-out, I would have said that. This team does not have many glaring strengths or weaknesses. That being said, the running attack has a lot of talent. Jason Peters and the offensive line are big and strong. Marshawn Lynch looks like the real deal (on the field at least). And Fred Jackson and rookie Xavier Omon are promising backups. If the Bills never have to rely on Dwayne Wright to carry the ball, they should run the ball effectively.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Youth - One of the most difficult things to program into a simulation is consistency. The Buffalo Bills appear to have a great deal of talent, but that does not always show up in the numbers. Lynch, Edwards, Donte Whitner, Ko Simpson and others tend to be inconsistent and can make some costly mistakes. Health is also a concern, especially for the defense with players like Stroud, Simpson, Chris Kelsay and Paul Posluszny.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: James Hardy, WR - If the Bills want to use a tight end/h-back more in the offense, Derek Schouman could be a deep sleeper. For now though, we will take Hardy, the second round pick out of Indiana who projects to 56 catches for 810 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Closest Game: San Francisco (Week 13) - Two young and improving teams go head-to-head in what is also Nate Clements' return to Buffalo. We will see how friendly Buffalo (and its weather) are to the 49ers in late November.
Fantasy Notables: Trent Edwards (19) 2,785 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs; Marshawn Lynch (9) 1,623 total yards, 13 TDs; Lee Evans (11) 76 receptions, 1,145 yards, 8 TDs; Robert Royal (34) 28 receptions, 283 yards, 2 TDs; Rian Lindell (7) 39/40 XPs, 30/37 FGs
Projected 2008 Results:
|4||@St. Louis Rams||73||27-21|
|7||San Diego Chargers||27||21-27|
|9||New York Jets||69||26-15|
|10||@New England Patriots||29||17-29|
|12||@Kansas City Chiefs||85||28-17|
|13||San Francisco 49ers||47||26-25|
|15||@New York Jets||65||23-19|
|17||New England Patriots||21||21-30|
New York Jets (7-9)
The Jets made some great additions to the offensive line and backfield to improve the running game. And a good draft plus some addition by subtraction gives the defense players who better fit the 3-4 scheme. However, without a downfield passing game and with question marks at defensive tackle and corner, New York cannot compete with New England and Buffalo, nor breach .500. The Jets average 22.1 points per game (#20) and allow 24.2 points (#19) against a schedule featuring five games against 2007 playoff teams.
Absolute Record: 6-10
Most Significant Newcomer: Alan Faneca, G - He may have been around for a while, but he has made seven Pro Bowls and aided Pittsburgh's often top-rated rushing attack in his ten seasons. Faneca, Damien Woody, another new guard the team added, and Tony Richardson, a fullback who often plays like a guard, should greatly help to open up the inside rushing lanes for Thomas Jones.
Biggest Strength: Pass Rush - With Shaun Ellis, Calvin Pace, Vernon Gholston, David Harris, Kerry Rhodes and others, the Jets can attack the quarterback from any angle.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Passing Game - As alluded to earlier, the Jets cannot complete passes downfield. When Chad Pennington is in the game at quarterback, he has great accuracy, but is severely hindered by a weak and fragile arm. Kellen Clemens has the big arm, yet has not been able to harness it when going long. Laveranues Coles has also been limited to a possession receiver in the last few years. If new TE Dustin Keller can occupy the middle, Kellen Clemens steals the starting job from Pennington (or waits for an injury), the running game keeps defenses guessing more and the Jets find a deep threat out of Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, Wallace Wright and/or Marcus Henry, this could be a vastly improved offense. That is a lot of ifs.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Jesse Chatman, RB - Not only does Chatman's acquisition solidify the running back position as a position of strength for the Jets, it could free up Leon Washington to be used more creatively. The simulations have Chatman at 638 total yards and seven touchdowns and Washington at 474 yards and three touchdowns.
Closest Game: St. Louis Rams (Week 10) - With a team like the Jets that appears very good at some things and poor at others, every matchup can be interesting. The simulated season actually has New York on the wrong end of four games that are within a 15% margin between favorite and underdog. Against the Rams, expect a big day out of Torry Holt and Marc Bulger in a game featuring two very different teams.
Fantasy Notables: Chad Pennington (29) 1,468 yards, 11 TDs, 6 INTs; Kellen Clemens (34) 1,275 yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs; Thomas Jones (25) 1,325 total yards, 10 TDs; Jerricho Cotchery (23) 64 receptions, 983 yards, 6 TDs; Dustin Keller (27) 29 receptions, 329 yards, 2 TDs; Bubba Franks (28) 25 receptions, 315 yards, 2 TDs; Mike Nugent (21) 38/38 XPs, 26/29 FGs
Projected 2008 Results:
|2||New England Patriots||19||22-30|
|3||@San Diego Chargers||35||18-30|
|8||Kansas City Chiefs||60||28-18|
|10||St. Louis Rams||49||24-23|
|11||@New England Patriots||10||15-32|
|14||@San Francisco 49ers||22||20-37|
Miami Dolphins (5-11)
Coming off of one of the worst seasons in the history of the NFL, this is not the year that Bill Parcells makes Miami into a Super Bowl contender; but, they should improve (the odds are very much against getting worse). The Dolphins average 19.9 points per game (#29) and allow 28.3 points (#29) against a schedule featuring just four games against 2007 playoff teams.
Absolute Record: 2-14
Most Significant Newcomer: Bill Parcells - There already have and will continue to be so many comings and goings with this team that the credit here has to go to the guy making the moves. From the coaching staff to the roster, Parcells is calling the shots now and he is trying to bring in "his" guys.
Biggest Strength: Hope - The offensive line has been rebuilt and Ronnie Brown looks healthy; but, it would not be fair to teams with real strengths to choose any facet of Miami's game here. Instead, it is hope that will make this team better and interesting to watch. They know that they are almost guaranteed of being better than last year. There is a lot of young talent here that was great in college and there are some great football minds running the team. So, "hope" is what can carry this team.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Passing Game - This is more because of inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver than anything. Just because I think Chad Henne will be a good NFL quarterback (far better than Matt Ryan) and, just because I would love to see what a healthy Ted Ginn Jr. could do if he had some consistency (and a strong arm) throwing him the ball, and just because I liked watching Derek Hagan make great plays at Arizona State does not mean that they will put it all together this year. Who knows? It could even be John Beck to David Kircus or Josh McCown to Greg Camarillo all year.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Anthony Fasano, TE - By fantasy league draft day, this may not be too deep of a sleeper. Parcells gets his Bavaro (or Witten, or Coates, etc.) with Fasano, a player he picked in the second round of the 2006 draft and then traded for in February.
Closest Game: @ Denver (Week 9) - We are not saying that Miami will win this game, but it could be much closer than expected. The fact is that there are not many games from which to choose. The only two games where Miami is favored, hosting Baltimore and at Kansas City, they should have a pretty good chance of winning. Outside of games against Denver, Houston and St. Louis, the Dolphins' chances look pretty bleak.
Fantasy Notables: John Beck (30) 1,486 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs; Chad Henne (37) 1,158 yards, 7 TDs, 6 INTs; Ronnie Brown (25) 1,500 total yards, 11 TDs; Ted Ginn Jr. (46) 46 receptions, 751 yards, 4 TDs; Ernest Wilford (27) 67 receptions, 733 yards, 4 TDs; Anthony Fasano (17) 40 receptions, 479 yards, 3 TDs; Jay Feely (28) 34/34 XPs, 24/28 FGs
Projected 2008 Results:
|1||New York Jets||19||19-27|
|3||@New England Patriots||9||14-35|
|5||San Diego Chargers||15||18-29|
|12||New England Patriots||6||20-38|
|13||@St. Louis Rams||37||23-32|
|15||San Francisco 49ers||27||21-28|
|16||@Kansas City Chiefs||71||26-21|
|17||@New York Jets||27||18-30|
Click here to view a schedule of 2008 NFL previews and see others that have been posted.
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