The Dolphins were hailed by the media as the winners of the off-season, after all of the millions they spent, but like previous “winners” of the off-season, they should disappoint. The Buccaneers were the “winner” of last off-season, after shelling out big money for Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, and Eric Wright, but managed just 7 wins. The “Dream Team” Eagles came before them and they won just 8 games. Dan Snyder and the free spending Redskins came many a time before them, but largely produced no results.
The well run teams who sustain consistent success, the Packers, Patriots, Giants, 49ers, Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, Saints, etc. of the world, almost never make a big move on the first day of free agency. They instead focus on strong drafting, developing and re-signing their own guys, and letting the market come to them and filling holes with solid starters on cheaper deals on later days in free agency. They never make panic signings early in free agency.
You can say it’s because they are already good or because they don’t have a lot of cap space, but none of those teams was built through big free agency signings. No consistently good team ever was. The Ravens’ 2013 off-season is the perfect of example of this. They drafted well, adding starters in the first two rounds of the draft, and got solid starters on cheaper contracts in Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff, and Daryl Smith after the dust cleared in free agency.
I don’t know how much better of a team the Dolphins are as a result of this off-season. Mike Wallace was the big signing, signing this off-season’s biggest contract, getting 60 million over 5 years from the Dolphins. He’ll undoubtedly be an upgrade on the outside opposite Brian Hartline, but he’s overrated and not worth what he was paid. In 2010 and 2011, Wallace was one of the best receivers in the league, catching a combined 132 passes for 2450 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, Wallace held out long into Training Camp last off-season, putting himself above the team and was not the same all season.
Wallace was ProFootballFocus’ 91st ranked wide receiver out of 105 eligible. He caught just 55.2% of the passes thrown his way and averaged just 13.1 yards per catch. Wallace has demonstrated for the past year or so that he’d rather get paid above anything, holding out at his team’s expense and then chasing the money and going to Miami so it was probably smart of the Steelers not to lock him up long term (not like they had the cap space, but still). He could easily coast now that he’s been paid. On top of that, the track record of receivers switching teams is dubious at best. Vincent Jackson last season was an exception, not the rule. I doubt he lasts 3 years of his contract with the team, before being cut or forced to restructure.
He wasn’t the only signing in the receiving corps, which was a big need of their off-season. I’ll give them credit for addressing their biggest need. They also signed Dustin Keller to a one-year prove it deal coming off a down season due to injury. That was one of their smart moves. He caught just 28 passes for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, but he missed 8 games and was limited in others with injury. The previous season, the former 1st round pick caught 65 passes for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns despite being on the pitiful Jets’ passing offense.
Along with Keller and Wallace, the Dolphins also added Brandon Gibson, which was not such a smart move. Gibson isn’t a bad player, but he’s a marginal talent and not worth a 3 year, 10 million dollar deal and he’ll also be converting to the slot, which he hasn’t played a lot in his career. He’s played just 175 slot snaps in his career and he displaced Davone Bess, a cheaper and more proven slot receiver who caught 321 passes in that role over the past 5 seasons. He was sent to Cleveland for a late round pick. They essentially overpaid to downgrade the slot receiver position.
On the defensive side of the ball, the two big signings they made were linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Ellerbe displaced Karlos Dansby at middle linebacker, while Wheeler displaced Kevin Burnett on the outside. Ironically, Burnett graded out better at 4-3 outside linebacker than Wheeler did last season on ProFootballFocus, grading out 4th, while Wheeler ranked 6th. The same is true with Dansby and Ellerbe. Dansby ranked 13th, while Ellerbe ranked 14th.
On top of that, they are both much less proven and the Dolphins are essentially paying for one year wonders. Prior to last season, Ellerbe had played 917 career snaps in 3 seasons and graded out below average in all 3 seasons. Wheeler, meanwhile, had topped out at 537 snaps in a season in 3 years as a part-time base package linebacker in Indianapolis, prior to last year’s breakout year. Sure, both Wheeler and Ellerbe are younger than the guy they’re replacing, but they’re paying a ton of money for guys who are both best case scenario going to match their predecessor’s performance. They may prove to be long-term upgrades, but don’t expect better linebacker play from them this season. Considering they shelled out 26 million for Wheeler and 35 million for Ellerbe on 5 year deals, that’s not a good move.
On top of that, they had serious losses this off-season, losing running back Reggie Bush, cornerback Sean Smith, and most importantly left tackle Jake Long. They’ll attempt to replace Bush with 2012 4th round pick Lamar Miller and Bush may prove to be the easiest to replace. Miller did just have 51 carries as a rookie, but he certainly has the natural talent to best case scenario replace Bush’s abilities as a runner, but he’s unlikely to replace Bush in the passing game, where he caught 78 passes over the last 2 seasons. Shelling out big money for an aging, injury prone back like Bush wouldn’t have been a smart move, but they could still miss him.
Sean Smith, meanwhile, was their #1 cornerback last season, grading out slightly above average in coverage, allowing 62 catches on 113 attempts for 732 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 8 passes and committing 7 penalties. The Dolphins signed Brent Grimes to a one-year prove it deal this off-season to replace him and it wasn’t a bad move at all. Grimes was ProFootballFocus’ #3 ranked cornerback in 2011, which led to him being franchise tagged by the Falcons in the following off-season, so the upside is there. However, he’s now 30 years old and he has played just 13 games in the last 2 seasons combined thanks to injury, most notable a torn Achilles that cost him most of 2012. His best days may be behind him and the fact that the Falcons didn’t seem too interested in keeping him concerns me.
Jake Long, meanwhile, should be the toughest to replace. Long is a household name because he was the 1st overall pick of the Dolphins in 2008 and because he deservingly made the Pro-Bowl in each of his first 4 seasons in the league. However, after ranking 10th, 2nd, and 2nd on ProFootballFocus in 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively, injuries helped drop him to 21st in 2011 and all the way down to right around league average in 2012.
Still, even league average should be significantly better than what they get from new left tackle Jonathan Martin, a 2nd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Martin struggled mightily as a rookie, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 5th worst ranked offensive tackle last season, despite getting to play 11 of his starts on the easier right side. In 5 starts at left tackle to end the season, he was miserable, allowing 2 sacks, 2 hits, and 17 hurries in just those 5 starts alone. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but his collegiate tape features plenty of him struggling to pass protect against speed rushers. Just pop in the 2011 USC/Stanford tape to watch Nick Perry turn him into a roller-skater for 4 straight quarters plus 3 overtimes. Reports out of Training Camp haven’t been good either.
The Dolphins also don’t seem too bullish on him as a blindside protector, trying before draft day to facilitate a trade for Branden Albert, so he could play left tackle and Martin could stay at right tackle. The Dolphins instead had to “settle” for Tyson Clabo, who was, to their credit, a smart, cheap one year signing. He’s been a top-20 offensive tackle on ProFootballFocus in each of the last 5 seasons and even going into his age 32 season, he should still be a very strong right tackle for them. However, it leaves Martin on the more important blindside, especially bad since the Dolphins have a young quarterback under center to develop. That should counteract much of the boost Tannehill will get from an improved receiving corps.
And with that, we get to the most important player to the Dolphins’ playoff chances this season. Their defense was already 7th in the NFL, allowing 19.8 points per game last season, and they’re unlikely to be better. The unit that needs to improve is their offense, which averaged just 18.0 points per game last season, 27th in the NFL. They’ve improved their supporting cast, but they still have a lot of problems around the quarterback and Tannehill will need to significantly improve his level of play if this team is going to make good on their playoff expectations. As a rookie, he completed just 58.3% of his passes for an average of 6.8 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
He definitely flashed at times and ProFootballFocus thought he was much better than his raw numbers, as they ranked him 13th among quarterbacks throwing the ball on tape. He also ranked 16th in their adjusted QB rating, which takes into account drops, throw aways, hit as thrown, spikes, and yards in the air. There’s definitely upside here, but he was an incredibly raw quarterback coming out of Texas A&M and I don’t see him being significantly better this season, at least not enough to lead the team into the post-season.
I’ve already mentioned the tackles Martin and Clabo. On the interior of the offensive line, things aren’t great either. They have a 4 way competition for the 2 guard spots. John Jerry and Richie Incognito are the incumbents, but neither fit the zone blocking scheme the Dolphins coaching staff is trying to transition them to. Jerry graded out below average last season, as he was throughout his earlier career as a reserve, while Incognito once again graded out above average.
They’ll face competition from 3rd round rookie Dallas Thomas and free agent acquisition Lance Louis, both of whom are better fits for a zone blocking scheme. However, it’s very tough to count on 3rd round rookies as starters and Louis has been a below average player throughout his career with the Bears and he’s also coming off of a torn ACL, suffered last November. Either one of them winning the starting job wouldn’t be a good thing, but that might be the case considering the schematic direction the Dolphins are attempting to go on the offensive line. Incognito could be a final cut, as the Dolphins could save 4.3 million against the cap and 4 million in pure cash by cutting him, as he goes into his age 30 season.
Along with Clabo, center Mike Pouncey is the saving grace of this offensive line. Best known as Maurkice’s twin brother, the 2011 1st round pick improved off of a nondescript rookie year by grading out better than Maurkice ever has in 2012, as he ranked 8th at his position in ProFootballFocus. Clearly a natural talent as he was the highest drafted interior offensive lineman in roughly 15 years when the Dolphins took him 15th overall, Pouncey could continue to improve in 2013 and emerge as one of the better centers in the NFL. Unfortunately, it’s overall a weak offensive line, especially at the all-important blindside position. They ranked 24th in pass blocking and 23rd in run blocking last season and could be even worse this season.
As I mentioned, Lamar Miller will take over as the starting running back this season and I do think there’s some serious breakout potential here so the Dolphins could continue to have a solid running game. When the Miami Dolphins moved up to take Lamar Miller in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, many didn’t understand the move. The receiver needy Dolphins had yet to take a receiver and running back wasn’t an immediate need and didn’t seem worth moving up to fill. The Dolphins had Reggie Bush as the lead back and had just used a 2nd round pick the draft prior on Daniel Thomas, to add to their running back corps.
However, clearly the Dolphins saw the local kid Miller, out of the University of Miami, as too good to pass on, which makes sense. After all, he was widely projected as a 1st or 2nd round talent, who didn’t have a legitimate reason for falling, other than some maturity concerns and durability issues. The 5-11 212 pound back showed tremendous speed for his size, running a 4.40 40 at The Combine and had an excellent 2011 season, rushing for 1272 yards and 9 touchdowns on 227 carries as a mere redshirt sophomore.
Though he was only a one year starter, that’s seen as more of a positive than a negative for a running back because of how short their career spans are. A running back who can catch the attention of the scouts without accumulating a lot of tread on his tires in college tends to be a sought after commodity on draft day. Besides, Miller had just turned 21 and seemed to have a very bright future.
Reggie Bush was heading into the final year of his deal and Thomas struggled as a rookie and the new Dolphins coaching staff clearly didn’t see the plodding Thomas as a good fit for their offense. The smaller, quicker Miller was a much better fit and after not doing much as the 3rd string back as a rookie (250 yards and a touchdown on 51 carries), Miller now seems poised for a breakout year as Miami’s feature back in 2013, replacing the departed Reggie Bush.
Daniel Thomas has shown very little in his two years as a pro, rushing for 906 yards on 256 carries (just 3.5 YPC) and the coaching staff that drafted him is gone. Miller is the clear starter at this point in the off-season and that does not figure to change. Thomas’ best role moving forward would appear to be as a pure short yardage change of pace back and a goal line hammer. Miller could easily have a 1000+ yard plus breakout year for the Dolphins this season. Thomas, meanwhile, will compete with 5th round rookie Mike Gillislee for the backup job and he could easily lose that competition.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
I already mentioned why Wallace is overrated, but he’ll provide an upgrade on the outside opposite Brian Hartline in a receiving corps that saw just 3 receivers play more than 160 pass snaps last season (Hartline, Davone Bess, and tight end Anthony Fasano). He’ll also take some of the defense’s attention off of Hartline and allow Hartline to eat up underneath targets, which will be good for him, at least until defenses realize they no longer have to double team Wallace downfield (see DeSean Jackson circa 2011).
Hartline caught 74 passes for 1083 yards in the 2009 4th round pick’s breakout 4th season, but he did benefit from being targeted on 118 throws, 23.4% of the Dolphins’ pass attempts. He also scored just once, compared to 3 interceptions when thrown to, and averaged just 3.2 yards after catch per catch and graded out 26th on ProFootballFocus in pass catching grade among wide receivers. He also had close to a quarter of his production in one 253 yard game week 4 and caught 2 or fewer passes on 5 separate occasions. He’s a solid secondary receiver, but nothing more. He could still lead the team in receiving, with Wallace serving more as a downfield decoy. He does have greater familiarity with the quarterback and the playbook.
Also as I mentioned, the Dolphins paid 10 million over 3 years to downgrade the slot receiver position. Gibson will allow them to run more 3-wide receiver sets and they’ll probably pass more than the 504 times they did last season, but he won’t be a very efficient receiver and I don’t know if a more pass heavy offense is in their best interests. Gibson has graded out below average in 3 of his first 4 seasons in the league and, as I mentioned, is very inexperienced as a slot receiver.
Dustin Keller will probably be Tannehill’s primary over the middle target. He caught just 28 passes for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, but he missed 8 games and was limited in others with injury. In 2011, caught 65 passes for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns, despite having Mark Sanchez as his quarterback and the games he missed last season were the first of his career. There’s serious bounce back potential here and he was well worth the 4.25 million over 1 year they gave him, especially considering Anthony Fasano, the marginal tight end he replaces, got 16 million over 4 years from the Chiefs. He does struggle with blocking though, unlike Fasano. Dion Sims, a massive 6-5 262 pound 4th round rookie will be the blocking specialist.
The Dolphins didn’t just make big splashes in free agency. They also made a big splash on draft day, packaging together their first and second round pick and sending them to Oakland to move up from 12 to 3 in the first round and select Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. Jordan has a ton of upside, but is incredibly raw and probably would have gone in the teens most years. This draft class just had a serious lack of top level talent so taking a risk on a high upside kid like Jordan that early makes sense. However, he’s unlikely to have a serious impact this season. He won’t start and will be a passing down specialist as a rookie and he’s also an odd fit for a 4-3 because it doesn’t give him the opportunity to display his best skill, his sideline to sideline ability. He could have an impact, but not a huge one.
Olivier Vernon will get the start at defensive end instead of Jordan. He’ll play in Jared Odrick’s old spot. Odrick struggled mightily last season in his first season as a 4-3 defensive end. The 305 pounder set the edge well as a run stopper, but struggled mightily to get any sort of pass rush, with just 6 sacks, 10 hits, and 21 hurries on 566 pass rush snaps, a 6.5% pass rush rate. Overall, he had the 3rd worst pass rush grade and 4th worst overall grade among 4-3 defensive ends. Odrick was a 3-4 end in his first two years in the league and a defensive tackle in college and is clearly an unnatural fit at 4-3 end. He may be moving back inside this season, but one thing is clear: he will not continue starting outside. To this point in his career, Odrick looks like a bust as a 1st round pick in 2010. He missed most of his rookie year with an injury, before playing sparingly in 2011 and struggling in 2012.
Vernon, meanwhile, was a 2012 3rd round pick and saw a situational pass rush role as a rookie. He played 445 snaps, 102 on running plays and 343 on passing plays (he dropped into coverage on 54 of those snaps), but ironically graded out better as a run stopper. They’ll need him to continue doing that this season as a starter. He did struggle as a pass rusher, with just 3 sacks, 7 hits, and 11 hurries on 289 pass rush snaps, a 7.3% pass rush rate, but overall graded out about average. He has plenty of upside, but is really raw after declaring early in college and barely playing during his final season for a variety of reasons. The 6-2 261 pounder ran a 4.80 at the Combine and threw up 30 reps of 225.
Opposite him, Cameron Wake will start and he’s one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL. He was ProFootballFocus’ #1 ranked 4-3 defensive end last season and prior to that he was the #1 3-4 outside linebacker in 2011 and the #3 3-4 outside linebacker in 2010. In 2009, his first season over from Canada, he played just 167 snaps, but somehow would have graded out as the #3 3-4 defensive end at his position if he had been eligible. He had an absurd 7 sacks, 6 hits, and 20 hurries on 134 pass rush snaps, a 24.6% pass rush rate.
Last season, he had 17 sacks, 23 hits, and 46 hurries on 558 pass rush snaps, a 15.4% pass rush rate. His 12.9 pass rush productivity (sacks + .75 hits +.75 hurries * 100 / snaps played) was second in the NFL and first among players who played as many snaps as he did. He also graded out well against the run, making him one of just 3 4-3 defensive ends to rank in the top-10 at their position both against the run and rushing the passer. Overall, he was ProFootballFocus’ 4th ranked defensive player at any position. The only issue is he’s going into his age 31 season, but he certainly has shown no signs of slowing down and being anything less than one of the best. With him, Vernon, and Jordan, the Dolphins have a solid trio of defensive ends.
The Dolphins have solid defensive tackles as well. Randy Starks was franchised this off-season, which makes sense as you want to be wary of giving players long-term deals heading into their age 30 season, but they couldn’t afford to lose him. He’s graded out well above average in each of the last 5 seasons and last year was actually his worst of the bunch, though he wasn’t bad at all. Playing 4-3 defensive tackle for the first time in a while, Starks struggled a little bit against the run, but continued to produce as a pass rusher with 4 sacks, 11 hits, and 21 hurries on 488 pass rush snaps, a 7.4% pass rush rate. He graded out 16th at his position rushing the passer, but a poor run grade hurt his overall grade. Prior to last season, he had been a top-9 3-4 defensive end in each of the last 4 seasons, topping out at #2 in 2009. Only Justin Smith also maintained that kind of consistent success over that time period.
Starks will once again start opposite Paul Soliai. Soliai was once franchised and then subsequently given a fairly lucrative two-year deal (which he’s in the 2nd season of now), but he’s struggled to live up to his 2010 season, when he graded out 12th at his position. He’s been just about average in each of the last 2 seasons and is merely a two-down base package run stuffer. He’s graded out below average rushing the passer in both seasons and played more run snaps than pass snaps in both seasons.
Odrick should continue playing inside on passing downs regardless of whether or not he remains a defensive end. He’s alright in that capacity as his 6.5% pass rush rate isn’t horrible for a defensive tackle, but he tends to get washed against the run while playing inside. He’s only a situational inside player, which is not what they were hoping from him when they drafted him. Overall though, it’s a deep and talented defensive line and the strength of what was a very solid defense last year.
I already went into detail about the Dolphins’ two new every down linebackers, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Both remain one year wonders who, best case scenario, will adequately replace the level of play of their predecessors. They’re unlikely to upgrade this defense. Koa Misi is the 3rd linebacker, playing solely as two-down run stuffing in base packages and coming off the field for a 5th defensive back on passing downs. He’s a solid run stopper and plays that role well. He also sees a little bit of time on the defensive line as a pass rush specialist, but struggled in that role last season, grading out below average. He’ll probably do less of that this season with Jordan in the mix.
The Dolphins also locked up one of their own for big money this off-season, re-signing safety Reshad Jones to a 4-year, 30 million dollar deal recently, before he could hit his contract year this season. Reshad Jones might not be that well known to the common fan, but the 3rd year safety broke out in relative obscurity last season in Miami, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 3rd ranked safety. He was solid against the run, but was most valuable in coverage, where he allowed just 19 catches on 39 attempts for 247 receiving yards, 1 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while deflecting 4 passes and committing just 1 penalty. His 38.0 QB rating allowed was best at his position among full-time safeties.
If he continues to play this well, he’s well worth the 30 million over 4 years this contract gives him, with north of 15 million guaranteed. It makes him the 5th highest paid safety in the NFL, behind Troy Polamalu, Eric Berry, Dashon Goldson, and Eric Weddle. However, it is a risk giving him this kind of money after just one season, especially after he graded out below average in his first season as a starter in 2011, after being drafted in the 5th round in 2010.
That being said, this deal could be well worth it. If he has another season like 2012 again in 2013, he’d position himself going into free agency next off-season to get a contract similar to the one Eric Weddle (5 years, 40 million with 19 million guaranteed) or Dashon Goldson (5 years, 41.25 million with 22 million guaranteed) got. This could prove to be a bargain compared to those deals. It also prevented him from being unhappy, after the Dolphins spent tons of money on outside players before taking care of their own this off-season. He only reported to OTAs last month because the Dolphins promised him contract negotiations.
Jones will continue to start next to Chris Clemons at safety, after he was brought back on a 1-year deal. Clemons graded out above average last season, playing well against the run and in coverage, but prior to last season, he played just 22 snaps as a reserve in 2011 and struggled as a starter in 2010. We’ll have to see if the 2009 5th round pick can keep it up. He could regress, but he could also improve and I think overall he should continue to be an asset for the Dolphins in the secondary. He’s an average starter, even conservatively speaking.
At cornerback, the Dolphins brought in Brent Grimes to replace Sean Smith, as I mentioned. Grimes was a top-10 cornerback on ProFootballFocus in both 2010 and 2011, including a #3 rank in 2011, but he missed most of last season with a torn Achilles and has played in just 13 games over the past 2 seasons. His former team, the Falcons, didn’t seem too interested in keeping him around this off-season and going into his age 30 season, his best days could be behind him. It was worth the risk though for a cornerback needy Dolphins team.
After him, the cornerback position remains a weakness on this defense. 2nd round pick Jamar Taylor was penciled in as a rookie starter, but hernia surgery caused him to miss a lot of practice and left him behind the 8-ball. Veterans Dimitri Patterson and Richard Marshall are ahead of him for now. Marshall was once a decent starter, before signing with the Dolphins last off-season. In 2012, he was limited to 241 snaps because of serious back problems, which he says are behind him now.
Patterson, meanwhile, was claimed off waivers from Cleveland late in the season. Patterson has always been a decent slot cornerback, but struggled mightily when forced to play outside. The fact that the defensive back needy Browns waived him is telling. Both are owed fairly substantial salaries as both are scheduled to make 5.3 million this season. That’s a lot of money to pay for 2 average at best players, so it would be in the Dolphins’ best financial interest if Taylor could lock up either the #2 or #3 cornerback job and at least play outside in sub packages with either Marshall or Patterson on the slot. It’s tough to count on rookies though, especially defensive backs, and especially non-1st rounders.
The jury is still out in Joe Philbin, who is going into his 2nd year with the team. It’s tough to grade Head Coaches either way based off of one season, but the Dolphins do seem to have more hope now than when he took over, which has to count for something. I’d also say he exceeded expectations in his first season with the team, winning 7 games with a team that was supposed to be one of the NFL’s bottom feeders. We’ll see what year 2 has in store.
The Dolphins’ defense was 7th in the NFL, allowing 19.8 points per game last season. I don’t think they’ll be improved and they could be a little worse. Wheeler and Ellerbe are relatively unproven and replace equally talented and more proven players. Jordan gets added to the mix, but he won’t see a huge role as a rookie and the secondary still has issues. They should continue allowing around 20 points per game.
Offensively, they scored just 18.0 points per game last season. They should be improved, but the Mike Wallace addition is not as big as it seems and they still have a huge hole at left tackle. A Ryan Tannehill breakout out would obviously get this team into the playoffs, but I think it’s more likely that they score right around 20 points per game, roughly as many as they allow and even out as an average team.
One thing that could help is they should recover more fumbles, as they recovered just 37.5% of fumbles that hit the ground last season, leading to a -7 fumble margin, which lead to a -10 turnover margin. However, I think it’s unlikely to have a huge effect. At the same time, they could suffer more injuries than the 7th adjusted games lost they had last season. They also have a tougher schedule, trading out the NFC West (good) and the AFC South (bad) for the AFC North (good) and the NFC South (good). They’ll be somewhere in the 7-9 wins range on the outside of the post-season.
I think they’re the 2nd best team in their division and they should win at least 3 division games because they get 4 games against the Jets and Bills, but the Patriots are still way ahead of them. 3-3 in the division is reasonable and an improvement over last year’s 2-4 record. Outside of the division, they host Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Carolina. San Diego should be a very winnable game, but the other 4 will be tough. 2 or 3 wins in those 5 seems reasonable. They also go to Cleveland, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh. New Orleans will be a very tough place to win, as is Pittsburgh, but they could win 2 of the other 3. I have them at 8-8, very much average.
Projection: 8-8 2nd in AFC East