2018 AFC East Previews

New England Patriots

Market Implied Wins: 11.2

The Patriots reached the Super Bowl for the second straight season in 2017 but fell victim to their roller coaster secondary in the end. Bill Belichick’s defenses play a ‘bend but don’t break’ scheme finishing top 8 in yards allowed per point allowed in all but one of the last 15 seasons, including last year despite the lack of consistency. Early last season New England was on pace to be the worst defense in our database (going back to 2000), as the Patriots surrendered a 53% success rate prior to their bye week with opposing quarterbacks completing an alarming 18.5% of their passes for 15+ yards. Changes were made during the bye week and the Patriots allowed just a 42% success rate and 11.3% of opposing passes going beyond 15 yards. New England built on their second-half success by limiting big plays in their first playoff matchup against Tennessee, surrendering an 11.1% deep pass rate before reverting to the early season form in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl by allowing a 25.6% deep pass rate to Blake Bortles and Nick Foles. The safeties are crucial in the ‘bend but don’t break’ scheme and both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung return, but their inconsistency is certainly something to watch.

Devin McCourty will welcome a familiar face to the secondary in twin brother Jason McCourty, who replaces Malcolm Brown after the controversial Super Bowl benching. Jason McCourty will likely be a downgrade as he allowed 1.32 yards per cover snap in 2017 (73rd among cornerbacks). I’m more optimistic about New England’s other key defensive signings, Adrian Clayborn and Danny Shelton. Clayborn racked-up 54 pressures last year (25th) and should provide a capable pass rush across from Trey Flowers, while Shelton finished 13th among defensive linemen with a 9.5% run stop rate and will improve a Patriots’ rush defense that ranked 31st in 2017 according to our metrics.

New England finished with the best offense in our end-of-season ratings, but they have the 5th-most targets lost in the league after parting ways with Brandin Cooks, Martellus Bennett, and Danny Amendola in the offseason. Still, Tom Brady has proven through the years he can get it done with anybody catching passes. Our model rates the future Hall of Fame quarterback as the most valuable player in the league going into his 19th season.

New England’s offense also loses running back Dion Lewis, whose 47% success rate in 2017 was the best among all running backs with at least 150 carries. However, the other Patriots rushers combined for a 46% success rate, suggesting most of Lewis’s stellar season was the product of excellent offensive line play. Four of the Pats’ five offensive line starters return so expect more of the same from the ground attack. New England opted not to re-sign left tackle Nate Solder and traded for Trent Brown instead, which should be an upgrade. Solder surrendered 51 quarterback pressures last season (5th-most), while Brown was one of just 3 players with at least 400 pass blocking snaps to allow just 1 sack. The Patriots have the NFL’s easiest schedule due to their soft division and we expect the offense to be at the top of the league per usual with the defense finishing in the top 10. The 41-year-old Tom Brady has a decent chance of reaching the Super Bowl for a 3rd-straight season.


Miami Dolphins

Market Implied Wins: 6.6

The Dolphins faced significant adversity at the beginning of last season with a hurricane canceling their week 1 game, then traveling across the country to Los Angeles in week 2, only to travel back for week 3 in New York, and then across the ocean for a London game before playing their first home game in week 5. To make matters worse, Miami was the 3rd-most injured team in the league and didn’t get a mid-season bye week for recovery due to the opening week cancelation. One of those injuries was to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who didn’t take a snap in 2017.

Miami ended up finishing 28th in scoring with the combination of Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, and David Fales averaging just 5.6 yards per pass play. Tannehill will be back under center in 2018 and, while he isn’t going to light the world on fire, he has been improving throughout his career. Tannehill’s last full season (2016), which was also coach Adam Gase’s first season, was his best season and the Dolphins were 8-5 before he was injured. Our numbers show Miami’s offense would’ve improved by 76 points last season using Tannehill’s 2016 production, putting the Dolphins right around league average in scoring. Tannehill is now in the prime of his career and I’m expecting him to play well despite the loss of receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry was one of the least efficient go-to guys in the league last season, averaging just 1.65 yards per route run – ranking 19th out of 23 receivers with at least 100 targets. Landry’s numbers with Tannehill in 2016 were obviously better, but his 8.7 yards per target in 2016 was barely better than the next two wide receivers on that year’s team, who averaged 8.6 ypt. I don’t think the absence of Landry will have an impact, especially with the signing of former Patriots’ WR Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, who averaged 7.5 yards after catch last season (2nd).

Miami’s offensive line ranked 4th in Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking efficiency, but the run blocking was an issue as Miami finished 30th in rush success rate. Consequently, the Dolphins upgraded in the interior of the line, where run blocking is more valuable, adding 3-time All-Pro guard Josh Sitton and league-average center Daniel Kilgore (from SF). The Dolphins managed just 2.7 yards per rush behind the center last season, while the 49ers gained 3.7 yards per rush behind Kilgore and I expect Miami’s ground game overall to improve. Kenyan Drake averaged 4.9 yards per rush after becoming the workhorse back in week 13 last year and his production will take some pressure off Tannehill.

Ndamukong Suh will be easier to replace than most realize because of his down year in 2017. Suh’s 8.1% pressure rate was his lowest in 6 seasons and only slightly better than league average for interior linemen (7.5%). Akeem Spence was brought in to replace Suh and he had 23 run stops in fewer snaps than Suh, who finished with 22 run stops last season. Miami’s defense also loses former All-Pro linebacker Lawrence Timmons, but he was well past his prime and led the league in missed tackles on opposing running backs last season. Timmons will be replaced by 2017 second-round pick Raekwon McMillan, who should provide an upgrade after missing his rookie season with a torn ACL. The secondary should also improve with the addition of first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick to play next to Pro-Bowler Reshad Jones at safety.

I believe the losses of Landry and Suh are overstated for Miami and Tannehill should be a significant upgrade over last year’s quarterback production. We’re still projecting the Dolphins for a top 10 draft pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finished .500 or above if everything breaks right, unlike last season.


New York Jets

Market Implied Wins: 5.8

The Jets exceeded expectations in 2017 finishing 5-11 with a 5.6 Pythagorean win expectation despite a league-low preseason market win total of 4. New York’s quarterback Josh McCown threw for 6.1 yards per pass play last year (18th) but will now backup third-overall pick Sam Darnold. Our quarterback model makes Darnold worse by about a half point entering the season but he obviously has more future upside. New York’s best receiver, Robby Anderson, was one of 12 players gaining more than 2 yards per route run before McCown was injured late last season, but now he’s facing a possible suspension. The Jets spent the 8th-most amount of money on their offensive line in 2017 but finished ranked just 26th in Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking efficiency and the run blocking was even worse with a 34% rush success rate (31st). Center Spencer Long, who dealt with injury issues in Washington, is the only new projected starter up-front and I expect New York’s ground game to struggle again, especially with Isaiah Crowell getting the bulk of the carries after finishing last in success rate among running backs with at least 200 attempts in 2017.

The Jets had the 3rd-best rush defense in our metrics last year, but they lose solid linebacker Demario Davis, who finished 11th in run stop percentage. However, New York signed Avery Williams, who finished 12th in run stop percentage among linebackers, to replace Davis and I expect the rush defense to be solid again in 2018 as run defense is more correlated year-to-year than pass defense. The Jets surrendered 6.4 yards per pass play last year while managing just a 4.8% sack rate (28th). New York didn’t add any significant players to their pass rush and Trumaine Johnson is the only new projected starter in the secondary, which isn’t likely to solve the problem unless he bounces back from a down year in which he surrendered 1.36 yards per cover snap (77th).

Overall, we see the Jets heading for a top 3 pick with both the offense and defense expected to finish in the bottom-5 of the league.


Buffalo Bills

Market Implied Wins: 5.8

The 2017 Bills squeaked into the playoffs despite finishing 21st in point differential, 22nd in our end-of-season power ratings, and 27th in net yards per play. It’s safe to say Buffalo was a below average team last year and significantly downgraded in the offseason starting at the most important position: quarterback. Tyrod Taylor gave the Bills league-average quarterback production last season ranking 17th in our metrics and now they will start Nathan Peterman, who rates as the worst week 1 starter of any team in the league according to our quarterback model. Taylor led the league in 2017 with just a 1.0% interception rate and Buffalo’s offense is almost certainly going to turn the ball over more this season as they will likely fall somewhere between the league average interception rate of 2.5% and Peterman’s career interception rate of 10.2%. The Bills’ offensive line last year was a bright spot, as they allowed the second-fewest pressures in the NFL, but they’ve completely overhauled that unit with the loss of former Pro-Bowl experienced center Eric Wood, four-time Pro-Bowl guard Richie Incognito and left tackle Cordy Glenn. Incognito and Glenn will be replaced in-house by backups Dion Dawkins and John Miller, while Wood will be replaced by league-average center Russell Bodine coming over from Cincinnati. The Bills dropped from the 5th-most expensive offensive line in 2017 to the 5th-cheapest offensive line this season and I expect them to be much worse – especially with an inexperience less mobile quarterback. Poor offensive line play will also affect LeSean McCoy, now 30 years old facing a possible suspension due to an off-field incident this summer. Running backs typically begin to decline after age 28 and last year was McCoy’s first season under 4 yards per rush as he is now past his prime. Buffalo’s ground game was already below average last year and now have the potential for a steep downturn.

The Bills’ rush defense ranked 28th in the league in games after trading interior defender Marcell Dareus in the middle of last season. Buffalo signed DT Star Lotulelei this offseason to replace him but Lotulelei finished 88th in run stop percentage among interior defenders to see at least 100 rush snaps in 2017. The Bills’ secondary added veteran CB Vontae Davis, who is coming off a groin injury, and it will be difficult for the two-time Pro-Bowler to replace E.J. Gaines’ production, as Gaines surrendered just 0.82 yards per cover snap last year (11th among corners). The Bills also signed Philip Gaines to play nickelback after a season where he ranked 34th of 38 qualifying defensive backs in yards allowed per cover snap in the slot, so Buffalo figures to be even worse defending the pass this season.

We project the Bills to finish in the bottom-3 on both sides of the ball making them the favorite to get the number 1 pick in next year’s draft. I would lean under their win total as well.


Dr Bob Sports NFL Best Bets Service

2016 was the first season using the new play-by-play model and my NFL Best Bets the last two seasons are a very profitable 137-101-2 (58%). Prior to 2016 my NFL Best Bets were based on situational analysis and my original math model, which performed very well for many years but offered very little value in later years. My NFL Best Bets were 57.8% from 1987 through 1998 but were just 50.6% from 1999 through 2012, which is when I decided to stop handicapping the NFL until I had a better model.

The new play-by-play model was introduced in 2016 with very good results and an improvement to the model was introduced starting in week 11 of the 2017 season that improved results (21-10-1 on Best Bets the last 10 weeks of the season). Work was done this summer to fine tune the model and the back-tested results were very good – particularly on totals, which have underperformed the last two seasons. I am very excited about the improvement to the play-by-play predictive model and look forward to a profitable 2018 season.

2016-17 NFL Best Bets were 137-101-2 (57.6%)  – 92-48-2 on sides, 44-48 on totals, 1-2 1st-half totals, 0-1 team totals, 0-1 teasers, 0-1 season win totals.

2016-17 NFL Strong Opinions were 92-71-4 (56.4%) – 41-43-3 sides, 43-27-1 totals, 1-0 1st-half totals, 7-1 Super Bowl prop bets.

2017 NFL Best Bets were 37-32-2 (26-22-2 sides, 10-5 totals, 1-2 1st-half totals, 0-1 team totals, 0-1 teasers, 0-1 season win totals) and Strong Opinions were 28-19 (14-13 sides, 7-4 totals, 1-1 1st-half totals, 6-1 Super Bowl prop bets).

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Dr Bob College Football Best Bets Service

My College Football Best Bets are 2038-1679-64 (55%) on a Star Basis for +219.6 Stars Since 1999 (+222.7 Stars on Sides, -32.7 Stars on Totals, and +29.6 Stars on season win totals and futures) and the Strong Opinions are a profitable 637-560-15 (578-498-14 on Sides and 59-62-1 on Totals).

My 2017 College Best Bets were a decent 56-47-2 but I feel my level of handicapping was better than that record. My 101 Best Bets (excluding the 4 season win totals) combined to cover by a total of 229 points, which is an average of +2.3 points, despite my side Best Bets being -9 in fumble margin, which is random and worth about 36 points. A line differential of +2.3 points would normally equate to a win percentage of 56.1% winners, which is the best indicator of my handicapping level in 2016.

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