Remember when the AFC East was a very deep division? When it seemed like all four teams could at least make a little noise? Well, those days are mostly over. Once you get past the Patriots and Jets, it is all downhill.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case in terms of fantasy potential. This is the seventh in my series of divisional previews. Don’t miss the rest: AFC South, AFC North, NFC South, NFC North, AFC West and NFC West.
New England Patriots
It seems that no matter what happens, Tom Brady can will this franchise to being competitive. He had a massive season stat-wise in 2010 with a bunch of question marks as targets. Things are still not super-defined in terms of receivers, but there are some good notions.
For one, Chad Ochocinco was brought in and should provide some decent stats as the season progresses. His preseason wasn’t spectacular, but one would expect him to gel better with Brady over time. Wes Welker continues to be a solid PPR option, especially in a contract year this season.
One sleeper to watch who isn’t even on a roster at the moment is Randy Moss, who allegedly is keeping himself in shape despite his recent “retirement.” Recent comments from Brady suggest that the QB would welcome Moss with “open arms” if he were to be asked back. He may be worth a speculative add if you have a deep enough bench.
The running back situation is a total crapshoot, as usual. Benjarvus Green-Ellis had the best 2010 track record, but that means nothing in an offense that spreads the love amongst its RBs. Danny Woodhead will get some looks. Rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will also get some love. I’d avoid the group of them unless injuries start to thin the pot some.
The tight end position in New England is young and exciting. Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski made names for themselves last season. Gronkowski is the one to own at the moment due to his proficiency in the red zone, but Hernandez isn’t a bad option either, especially if your tight end situation is in shambles.
New York Jets
Now here is a RB situation I can get more excited about. Shonn Greene may not have a lengthy NFL track record as the main guy, but that will change this season. He’ll be fed the rock early and often while LaDanian Tomlinson takes a lesser role.
While Greene may not add much in the receptions department, he could be a younger and more intriguing version of Michael Turner, especially in terms of touchdowns.
The passing game is a more of question mark here. Mark Sanchez has celebrity status, but not great fantasy appeal at the moment. The Jets offense allegedly is going to “open things up” more this season, but one would expect the offense to go through Greene more-so than Sanchez. As a bye-week fill-in against weaker secondaries, Sanchez could be a viable start.
The receiving corps is not totally defined either. The best bet is Santonio Holmes, who comes back as the best option in the stable. Plaxico Burress is an intriguing storyline who could be a decent fantasy option if Sanchez starts to be more proficient through the air. Derrick Mason provides a reliable safety blanket for Sanchez, but not game-breaking potential.
Mark this team as one that will be playing from behind a lot. That means more garbage time aerial attempts, and some sleeper potential in the passing game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was sneaky-good in 2010 because of this, and possesses some value again this season in the same vein.
Steve Johnson, who emerged as the top dog receiver last year, also makes a nice start against defenses that can’t contain the pass as well. Watch young Donald Jones, who falls into Lee Evans’ old No. 2 receiver slot. He could be a sneaky waiver wire add if you need some back-end pass-catching help.
The running game still goes through Fred Jackson, despite all the coach-speak about C.J. Spiller. One would think that Spiller doesn’t possess the every-down-back feel that would allow him to be the top option. Still, either offer decent upside.
The sleeper here is rookie Johnny White. A head injury kept him out of the preseason for stretches, but he has the potential to move up the depth chart based on potential alone. Of course, the Bills aren’t going to produce a ton of RB fantasy stats based on their style of play, but White is still a deep, deep sleeper option.
The whole offense is a big mystery. Chad Henne is the QB seemingly by default. How long that lasts is anyone’s guess, especially with David Garrard now looking for work.
There is potential on this offense. Daniel Thomas may have lacked some oomph in the preseason, but he still has some upside in the offense based on opportunity alone. Reggie Bush has never been able to handle full-time RB carries, but he still is worth a roster spot in PPR leagues based on his potential out of the backfield.
The passing game starts and seemingly ends with Brandon Marshall, who could be a draft day value based on his ADP and the overall potential if he is finally past a previous hip injury. After him, it is a slew of what-ifs. Davone Bess has the best potential in PPR formats.
Fantasy MVP: Tom Brady, NE. (Tempted to put Shonn Greene here based on potential, but Brady gets the job done every season, has arguably more help this year and is a decent value based how high guys like Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick go in drafts.)
Fantasy rookie of the year: Daniel Thomas, MIA. (There are a number of deeper guys who have this sort of upside, but Thomas’ opportunity out of the gate is just too great to ignore, even if he posts pedestrian numbers early in the season.)
Sleepers: Donald Jones, BUF. Randy Moss, N/A. Plaxico Burress, NYJ. Shonn Greene, NYJ (considering how far he’s falling in drafts and the early-round upside); Johnny White, BUF; Brandon Marshall, MIA.; Reggie Bush, MIA (most have written him off for dead, but he’ll get more reps than ever this season. His placement here is based on PPR potential). Taylor Price, NE.
Bust: Benjarvus Green-Ellis, NE. (Too many options mean that he’ll have to share the love.)
Comeback player of the year: Brandon Marshall, MIA.
For more hard-hitting fantasy football advice, including some Week 1 tips for clobbering the competition, go to www.chinstrapninjas.com