“I love this time of year. Everyone’s offense is going to be much better with added wrinkles and more ball distribution. Every defense has a new secret plan to pressure the passer and unleash hybrid players. Every rookie is going to put their team over the top. Every player who struggled last year is poised to bounce back. Every coach who botched his team’s preparation has discovered the secret texts of Vince Lombardi. And then early October rolls around, and half the league starts eyeing the off-season to start the process over again. That time, it’s going to work.”
—- Greg Bedard, Sports Illustrated
For pro-football fans of every team this is the dreaded quiet time until training camps open and there is positive meaningful news available to boast about on their favorite team to fuel hopes of a good season ahead. Positive meaningful news is a pretty subjective term to begin with and more confusing as the threshold to be considered meaningful varies with the fan base. For some fans it’s easy to find positive news, for others nothing truly meaningful is expected for months. In the AFCE the range is as wide as any division in the NFL making the training camp to mid-season exciting for some and almost boring for others. Who has it easy and who has a long wait until the season really takes shape?
Last 5 seasons (6-10) (7-9) (8-8) (8-8) (6-10) Last Playoff Appearance 2008 Last Playoff Win 2000
Dolphin fans have the easiest search for meaningful positive news. Having chosen a team that seems to drift aimlessly from pressing need to pressing need without being particularly good at anything, all that’s required to increase optimism is change in any form. In 2016 there’s the big coaching change ushering in the Adam Gase era which will finally trigger Tannehill’s breakout year by improving the accuracy of his passes? The Fins are also hyping the “best” receiving corps of Tannehill’s tenure since Mike Wallace came and went and the replacement of LM-2K with Ajayi-3K. Throw in the fact Laremy Tunsil’s career is bound to be better than his draft day and everything is coming up roses in Miami. All things point to a great pre-season build up until the season starts and then defense becomes an issue. With a schedule handing the Dolphins a (2-6) or (3-5) start to the season grab the positives early and talk big before the real games start.
Last 5 Seasons (6-10) (6-10) (6-10) (9-7 no playoffs)(8-8) Last Playoff Appearance 1999 Last Playoff Win 1995
Bills fans may even have it easier than Dolphins fans to find good news as the Bills actually have talent spread throughout the roster and it will take so little to make them happy. Its only knowing that at some time, someway, somehow, something will probably happen that ruins the season and the “wait until next year banners” will be unfurled, that keeps them from 1st place. In 2016 there weren’t any sweeping change in Buffalo and the goal is simply do the same things as last year just a little better and make the playoffs. (Big Hint) Players spending a little time with the rulebook to decrease penalties would go a long way. Never mind that win first then talk stuff, the team has starters that weren’t alive the last time the Bills won anything and all things point to the fans of the Bills to enter the pre-season talking as big as ever and their schedule should permit them doing so most of the year as they hang around the .500 mark. Flip a coin in December and 9-7 could get them into the playoffs…. or not…., but having games matter into December gives them a good 5 months of staying interested.
New York Jets:
Last 5 seasons: 2011 (8-8) 2012 (6-10) 2013 (8-8) 2014 (4-12) 2015 (10-6) Last Playoff Appearance 2010 Last Playoff Win 2010
Jets fans are in a solid 3rd place in the search for meaningful positive news when the topic is short term hype but those looking long term the arrow is pointing up. Having figured out that Rex Ryan and a salary cap equals losing seasons they are moving ahead with more discipline and the Todd Bowles/Chan Gailey combo is a keeper. Bowles may be the only NFL coach who thinks Belichick talks too much but his silence kept the players focused on winning. 10-6 is a great start but building a great team is an ongoing process sometimes requiring current season sacrifice. The teams handling of the Fitzpatrick holdout indicates the team fully understands this and won’t mortgage the future with a bad win now move. Providing a serviceable quarterback shows up the Jets have loads of offensive talent which will be needed for the AFCE team with the toughest slate of opponents. It’s going to be a long nail biter of a season but the fans should be watching with interest through December with a good chance of some January football. Less Rex Ryan, Less talk, more winning.
New England Patriots:
2011 (13-3) Lost Super Bowl, 2012 (12-4) Lost AFCCG, 2013 (12-4) Lost AFCCG, 2014 (12-4) Won Super Bowl, 2015 (12-4) Lost AFCCG
In last place searching for excitement you have to pity the poor fans of the Patriots who find it difficult finding anything exciting during training camp, pre-seasons games, and two thirds of the season. No first round draft pick, lousy overall draft (Belichick could draft Disney cartoon characters and still win the division this year), 4 game suspension for Brady and none of it matters. There is Martellus Bennett to watch and Receiver Chris Hogan who has secretly been a better WR than Sammy Watkins all along but the rest is just not worth following. The Patriots hold training camp and show up for all the pre-season games, Mike Reiss reports on the progress of everyone, tells us about the new standouts, unexpected roster battles, front runners and disappointments all of which are ignored and seem to have nothing to do with who makes the team. The one guy you liked and followed through it all made the final cut but was just let go for some guy from Mars that Belichick pulled from the Vikings practice squad. Of course there are always a few games (vs Steelers for example) in the early season to get excited about just not the excitement of a half dozen “must win” matches the other fans get. Patriot fans have to wait until December for meaningful football on a weekly basis when they can start identifying the other contenders for the conference title and how the now injury depleted roster matches up. So that’s it for poor Patriot fans, it’s another 12-4 season and the Conference Championship is played on January 22nd.