“Sauer Notes” AFC East Breakdown: New England Patriots
Here in New York State our year is broken down into four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and summer. But for us as die-hard football fans, there are really only two seasons: football season, not football season. As we near the 2016 NFL season, we here at Major League Fantasy Sports will bring you a division by division break down and cover each team’s fantasy relevance, as well as their outlook for the 2016 season as a whole. Without further ado, let’s get right into it. We will start with the AFC East defending champs, The New England Patriots.
2015 AFC East Standings
- New England Patriots 12-4
- New York Jets 10-6
- Buffalo Bills 8-8
- Miami Dolphins 6-10
2015 Patriots Statistical Recap
Total Yards For: 370. 39 (9th)
Rush Yards For: 82.56 (32nd)
Pass Yards For: 287.83 (2nd)
Average Score For: 28.33 (3rd)
Defensive Total Yards: 336.22 (8th)
Defensive Rush Yards: 100.67 (10th)
Defensive Pass Yards: 235.56 (13th)
Score Against: 17.72 (8th)
2016 Patriots Offseason
Major Free-Agent/Trade Acquisitions
- TE Martellus Bennett, Bears
- LB Shea McClellin, Bears
- WR Chris Hogan, Bills
- DT Terrance Knighton, Redskins
- DE Chris Long, Rams
- OG Johnathon Cooper
While the Patriots lost their first-round draft pick due to the Deflate Gate debacle, they went into the draft with a total of 11 picks, five of them being sixth-rounders.
1st round: Repossessed by the NFL due to DeflateGate
2nd round (60th): CB Cyus Jones, Alabama
3rd round (78th): OL Joe Thuney, NC State
3rd round (91st): QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State
3rd round (96th): NT Vincent Valentine, Nebraska
4th round (112th): WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
6th round (208th): DB/LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, Eastern Illinois
6th round (214th): LB Elandon Roberts, Houston
6th round (221st): G Ted Karras, Illinois
7th round (225th): WR Devin Lucien, Arizona State
New England pulled off three trades during the draft, swapping some of their sixth-round picks for a higher pick, only to turn that into a fourth-round selection next year (remember, the Pats lose a 2017 fourth rounder as part of their DeflateGate punishment).
Trade 1: The Patriots sent their second pick in the second round (No. 61 overall) to the New Orleans Saints for a third-round selection (No. 78 overall, used on Thuney) and a fourth-round pick (No. 112 overall, used on Mitchell).
The 61st overall pick was acquired by New England from the Arizona Cardinals as part of the Chandler Jones swap.
Trade 2: With an abundance of late-round picks and not much desire to use them all, the Patriots turned a trio of those selections (No. 196 overall, No. 204 overall and No. 250 overall) to the Miami Dolphins for the 147th overall pick. While it looked like they had moved up in this year’s draft, the Pats didn’t hold on to that pick for long.
Trade 3: The Pats quickly swapped that fifth rounder they got from the Dolphins, along with their seventh-round selection (No. 243 overall) to the Seahawks for their seventh rounder (No. 225 overall used to take Lucien) and a 2017 fourth-round pick.
2016 Patriots Schedule
The Patriots have the ninth toughest schedule in the NFL for 2016, with opponents having a combined 134-122 record and a .523 winning percentage. They will start the season with three out of their first four games at home, all of which may be missed by possibly the best player ever to step foot on the grid-iron, Tom Brady (extremely tough statement to say being a die-hard Bills fan). With that being said, it’s quite possible that they could come out of that stretch .500, if not 3-1.
Week 1: @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 2: vs. Miami Dolphins
Week 3: vs. Houston Texans
Week 4: vs. Buffalo Bills
Week 5: @ Cleveland Browns
Week 6: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Week 7: @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 8: @ Buffalo Bills
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 11: @ San Fransisco 49ers
Week 12: @ New York Jets
Week 13: vs. Los Angeles Rams
Week 14: vs. Baltimore Ravens
Week 15: @ Denver Broncos
Week 16: vs. New York Jets
Week 17: @ Miami Dolphins
Patriots 2016 Odds
Division Winner: 4/1
2016 Fantasy Outlook
Tom Brady (QB) – Over 16 seasons in the NFL, Brady has a 172-51 record with four Super Bowl titles. He currently ranks 1st in NFL history in QB winning percentage (77.1) with the third most QB wins (172) in the regular season behind Brett Favre (186) and Peyton Manning (186). He trails Peyton Manning by 13,912 passing yards to rank first All-time with Drew Brees (1875 more passing yards than Brady) as a threat to beat Manning as well. He needs 111 more passing TDs to match Peyton, while being tied for 3rd all-time with Brees with 428 passing TDs. Tom signed a two-year extension in the offseason, which will keep him in New England until 2019. This gives him enough time to pass Manning in some key categories if he can stay healthy long enough to play out his contract. This season he is expected to be suspended for four games, due to his ties to Deflategate. I believe Brady will challenge this ruling, leading to him being a possible value in the early Fantasy draft season. Last year Tom led the league in passing TDs (36) for the fourth time in his career (2002 – 28, 2007 – 50, and 2010 – 36). He has five straight seasons with 4000+ passing yards. Over his last six years, Brady averaged 33.8 passing TDs, and attempted over 600 passes in four of his last five seasons. His success last year was done with weakness on the offensive line due to injuries and below average play at WR. Brady has a great resume, and I expect another solid season. With 16 games played, I’d expect 4500+ yards with a solid shot at 35+ TDs. I’d buy him if discounted while buying insurance with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jimmy Garoppolo (QB) – In limited action in his first two years in the NFL, Garoppolo completed 64.5 percent of his career passes with his first and only NFL TD. Garoppolo will be groomed to be the next Patriots quarterback after Tom Brady. He went to a lower level school (Eastern Illinois), but his success as a senior (5050 yards with 53 TDs and 9 Ints) gave him a chance of being a top five QB selected in the 2014 draft. Jimmy has size (6’3″ and 226 lbs.) with a quick release. Most of his plays were from the shotgun in college, and he rarely saw pressure. Garoppolo does a good job selling his ball fakes when pulling the ball back from the running back and twitching his shoulders on play fake passes. His arm is solid, but he throws too many passes without tight spin. Jimmy isn’t a threat in the running game (4.97 40 dash at the combine and -0.3 yards per carry in his college career), but he will make the occasional play on the ground (8 career rushing TDs). Garoppolo finished his college career with 13,156 passing yards as a four-year starter at Eastern Illinois with 118 TDs and 51 INTs. The NFL game will be much quicker, and Garoppolo’s ability to read defenses will be challenged. If Brady does indeed sit out four games, Jimmy will have a chance to put himself in position for a huge payday shortly.
LeGarrette Blount (RB) – The Patriots really would like to play two different styles on offense, which sets up a wide range of playing time for a player like Blount. LeGarrette is expected to be the power back again in 2016 after signing a one-year deal in the offseason. Over 12 games in 2015, he had 165 carries for 703 yards and six TDs with minimal value in the passing game (6/43/1). Last season he missed Week 1 due a suspension plus three more missed games due to a hip injury in Week 14. Blount only had two games with more than 20 touches leading to one 100-yard rushing game (29/129/1). Earlier in the season, Dion Lewis stole the show, and even some of the goal line carries inside the 10-yard line. LeGarrette is just a mix and match, one-dimensional RB with a chance at 200+ carries for 900+ yards and double-digit TDs. He has boom or bust impact from week-to-week in the Fantasy world, which makes him a tough own in the high-stakes market where passing catching backs are much more attractive.
Dion Lewis (RB) – After kicking around the NFL for four seasons with no real opportunity to earn meaningful playing time, Lewis was a shining star in the Patriots’ offense over the first seven games of the season where he flashed impact quickness in the passing game (36 catches for 388 yards and two TDs on 50 targets). New England gave him a full workload in carries (15) in Week 1 with Blount out on a smoke break. Over the next six games, Dion averaged 5.7 rushes per game. On the passing side, Lewis averaged over five catches per game for 55.4 yards. On the year, the Patriots completed 102 passes to the RB position on 142 targets which led to 1043 yards and nine TDs. In early November, Lewis suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. With a ten month recovery period, Dion has a chance to be ready in early September. His path to full-time snaps on passing downs won’t be as clear with James White showing growth in the passing game late in the 2015 season. Lewis has limited mileage, and his quickness fits this offense. I don’t want to overpay for a split role, but I’ll gladly snatch him up if he is undervalued on draft day. Possible 70+ catches and 125+ combined touches for 1000+ yards and a handful of scores.
James White (RB) – White was never good enough to be “The Man” in Wisconsin’s backfield, but he was able to see plenty of action over four seasons. He finished his career with 4015 rushing yards on 643 carries and 45 rushing TDs. He had his best season in 2013 when he rushed for 1444 yards on 221 carries and 13 TDs. His biggest area of growth was in the passing game (39/300 and 2 TDs). White has NFL average RB speed with his biggest asset being his short area quickness. He had surprising strength (23 reps on the bench press at the 2014 NFL combine), which gives him some value as a pass protector on third down. His vision is above average, but he lacks breakaway speed. In his rookie season, James only had 14 touches for 61 yards in three games of action. He failed to outplay Dion Lewis over the summer in 2015, which led minimal snaps and production over the first nine games of the season (eight rushes for 20 yards and eight catches for 58 yards). Over the last seven games of the year, White offered a similar but lower skill set than Lewis. He caught 32 passes for 352 yards and four TDs on 43 targets. The Patriots only game him 14 rushes during this span as they don’t trust him as a runner. Ideally, a Fantasy owner would like to handcuff Lewis and White if both players have a fair price. If both players split time in the passing game, it will be a big negative from a Fantasy perspective. I like his passing catching ability, and his success in training camp may give him a leg up on Lewis early in the year.
Julian Edelman (WR) – Julian was well on his way to another 100 catch season with 1000+ yards headed into the 9th game of the season. His season ended with one bad tackle leading to a broken left foot that required surgery. After nine games, Edelman had 61 catches for 692 yards and seven TDs on 88 targets which projected to 108 catches for 1230 yards and 12 TDs on 156 targets. All of these totals would have been career highs. When he returned for the playoffs, Julian had 17 catches for 153 yards on 29 targets. There is no doubt he has a 100+ catch skill set, but he’s now been injured in each of the last two years (nine missed games – concussion in 2014). He will be a pass-catching machine in multiple games with limited upside in scoring. His bar should be set at 100/1100/6 with more upside with growth in the Patriots’ offense.
Danny Amendola (WR) – Amendola had his best opportunity for success since being acquired by the Patriots in 2015. He caught 65 of his 87 targets (74.7 percent catch rate) which led to 648 yards and three TDs over 14 games. Danny had two 100-yard receiving games (7/105 and 9/117) and three other games with seven catches or more. His best success came after Edelman landed on the DL. Over a four-game span from Week 10 to Week 14, he had 32 catches for 304 yards and a TD on 44 targets. Unfortunately, he missed Week 12 due to a knee issue which flared up again late in the year leading to another missed game and minimal production in two other games (three catches for 20 yards on six targets). His skill set is close to Edelman with less durability. Even with a starting job, Danny is real tough to trust on a weekly basis. I view him as the 4th option in the passing game at best behind Gronk, Edelman, and the RBs. With a perfect season, he’d be lucky to catch 70 balls for 800+ yards and low-level TDs.
Nate Washington (WR) – Over 11 seasons in the NFL, Nate has 458 catches for 6954 yards and 44 TDs on 873 targets in 159 games (107 starts). His best season came in 2011 when Washington had 74 catches for 1023 yards and seven TDs on 121 targets. He’ll start the regular season at age 33. His catch rate (52.4) has never been an asset in his career as most of his damage tends to come in the deep passing game. I think his game will work well for New England with this offensive team structure. Nate will be used to stretch the field, and he can beat his man plus there are times when he has value on the outside at the goal line. In this offense, Washington will only be a flash player with Fantasy value in a couple of games.
Chris Hogan (WR) – The Patriots signed Hogan to a three-year, $12 million contract in the offseason, which put him in line to be their insurance policy as a slot option at WR. Over the last two years with the Bills, Chris caught 77 passes for 876 yards and six TDs on 120 targets. In his rookie season, Chris earned the nickname “7-11” as he was always open. His resume is short, so he looks like more of a gamble as a Fantasy option if ever given a chance to start.
Martellus Bennett (TE) – The Pats hope Bennett becomes the new “Hernandez” in their offense at TE. He spent the early part of his career in the shadows of Jason Witten. Over the last four seasons, he has 50 catches or more highlight by his impact 2014 year (90/916/6 on 128 targets). Martellus will work the short areas of the fields leading to many short dump-off passes. New England doesn’t have strength at WR so Bennett could have a chance at 50+ catches with some value at the goal line.
Stephen Gostkowski (K) – Gostkowski has been the top kicker in the NFL over the last three seasons. He’s made 106 of his 114 field goal tries (93.0 percent) during this period. In his career, Stephen is 17-for-22 from 50 yards or beyond while earning more chances in two of the last three seasons (10-for-12). Last year he made all 52 extra points chances even with the added length, but he missed the most important extra point in his career in the playoffs. He has one of the best legs and kicking opportunities in the league. Gostkowski should be the first kicker off the board in most leagues.
New England allowed the 8th lowest amount of rushing yards (1580) in 2015 with ball carriers gaining 4.0 yard per carry. Their success was helped by allowing only 397 rushing attempts (10th) due to the Patriots playing from the lead in almost every game. They allowed eight rushing TDs and only eight runs of 20 yards or more. On the passing side, NE ranked 17th in passing yards allowed (3851) with 24 passing TDs, 12 Ints, and 49 sacks (2nd in the league).
For the first time in years, the Patriots have developing talent at CB with upside in pass coverage. CB Logan Ryan and CB Malcolm Butler were productive in coverage. Ryan added value in run support. The addition of CB Cyrus Jones should improve their pass coverage in nickel and dime packages. Devin McCourty is one of the better safeties in the league with value in all areas. S Patrick Chung has improved in his pass coverage since returning to New England in 2014. He hits hard with value in run support, but he only has one Interception in the last three seasons.
The Patriots have two stud linebackers in Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. They both grade highly in run defense and pass coverage with the ability to attack the QB. The middle linebacking position looks like an open battle between multiple players with no option offering impact upside.
DE Jabaal Sheard played well as a rotational player in 2015 with best value coming in the pass rush (eight sacks). He also defended his position well when to ask to stop the run. Jabaal missed three games due an ankle issue. DE Rob Ninkovich showed decline last year with only league average value in run defense while picking up 6.5 saves. New England needs DE Geneo Grissom or DE Chris Long to make a step forward in the pass rush. Long had 41.5 sacks from 2010 and 2013. DT Malcolm Brown held his ground against the run in his rookie season with three sacks. His game should improve where he becomes an asset on more downs. Both Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton will offer league average value in the middle of New England’s line plus rookie DT Vincent Valentino will add rotational value.
Overall, this defense doesn’t have elite talent on the defense line with strength on the outside at the linebacking position. Their secondary will offer upside as long as New England gets enough pressure on the QB. I’m not sure their success in sacks in 2015 is repeatable. Last year the Patriots struggled to create turnovers (21) leading to minimal defensive scores (3). They play from the lead a high percentage of the time increasing the chances of sacks and Ints. New England looks like a backup Fantasy defense with sneaky upside if a couple of players make a step forward.
Even with the looming four game suspension to Tom Brady, I would have to side with the books in Las Vegas that New England still finds a way to continue its dominance over this division and bring home another AFC East title in the 2016-17 season. Say the lose the first game in Arizona with a very tough match-up with Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals, I still believe they can win two out of the next three games which will all be in the confines of Gilette Stadium. With that being said, I do not foreshadow the Jets, Bills, or Dolphins starting the season 4-0 so if anything the Patriots would only have to make up one game to be back in the lead like they are used to. My final prediction is an 11-5 record, beating out the Jets (assuming they re-sign Fitzpatrick) with a 10-6 record.
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