What you need to know about AFCNFC East

What you need to know about AFCNFC East

AFC East - What you need to know

New England Patriots (13-3, 513 Points For, lost in Super Bowl): While all three of Tom Brady's titles came in the first half of his career, it's the second act that's been most impressive. He was arguably a game-manager for two of his titles, but he's been the driver of this offense since 2007, grabbing two MVPs along the way (and, as it turns out, a pair of Super Bowl losses). The gravy train should continue in 2012, with well-respected OC Josh McDaniels calling the shots and Brandon Lloyd imported to run deep routes. Opponents are going to have nightmares trying to figure how they cover Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker on all passing downs. Gronkowski's 18 touchdowns don't seem repeatable, but his overunder is probably 11.5 or so. He's a safe Top 12-15 pick, and worth considering late in the first round if you miss out on your preferred targets. Stevan Ridley is the most exciting running back on the roster but be careful with the price tag; the Patriots love backfield platoons, so Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead are unlikely to disappear. The Patriots haven't had a star running back since the Corey Dillon days.

New York Jets (8-8, 377 PF):  Although Mark Sanchez collected 32 total touchdowns last year, the New York organization insists on giving him the McKayla Maroney "not impressed" treatment. The club added Tim Tebow in the spring - a gigantic distraction, not to mention a rep-eater in practice - but didn't make major improvements to the skill talent. And the offensive line could be somewhat overrated as well, though the demotion of RT Wayne Turner is a step in the right direction. Santonio Holmes is desperately needed to be the team's No. 1 target, but he's a mercurial type who already has a bunch of nagging summer injuries (back, hamstring, ribs). Rookie Stephen Hill might be good enough to play immediately, so put him on your deep-sleeper list. Shonn Greene hasn't turned into a difference-making back, though the Jets will continue to feed him 15-18 touches in most weeks. At least there's no one special pushing him. If the Jets are going to be a contender in 2012, it will be on the heels of its strong defense. Any opposing No. 1 receiver is a risky play the moment he matches up with shutdown CB Darrelle Revis.  

Buffalo Bills (6-10, 372 PF): The Bills were the NFL's darlings for about one-third of 2011, but injuries to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and running back Fred Jackson wrecked the story around midseason. Everyone is healthy and happy this summer, though, and head coach Chan Gailey is having fun with his creative spread packages. Although Jackson will cede some snaps to third-year runner C.J. Spiller, he's still the fulcrum of the offense and a solid Top 40 selection for fantasy. Stevie Johnson belongs in your Top 20 at wide receiver, despite a focus drop here and there. What would really make this offense sing is a difference maker opposite Johnson; perhaps tight end Scott Chandler will finally see a bump in targets. Buffalo probably won't get into the playoffs, but this could be a very entertaining 8-8 club.

Miami Dolphins (6-10, 329 PF): Give major props to HBO for its Hard Knocks series. The network has somehow made this Dolphins team seem interesting and worth watching. Rookie Ryan Tannenhill knows Mike Sherman's offense well - they were together at Texas A&M - but the kid is also a converted wideout with limited QB experience. Good luck making that work right away. The Miami wideouts are far and away the weakest group in the AFC, and there's no one we'd bother selecting in a standard 10-team league. Maybe Davone Bess crawls his way to 65 receptions, if that matters to you. The backfield does offer two players worth knowing, however: Reggie Bush is an unsexy-but-steady pick, especially in PPR leagues given that he can catch the ball and play in spread formations. And second-year runner Daniel Thomas is a late-round lottery ticket worth considering, a post-hype pick if you will. But this team is going to struggle to score all season, and seems destined for a last-place finish in the division.

NFC East - What you need to know

New York Giants (9-7, 394 Points For, won Super Bowl): Eli Manning's pass attempts have risen for three straight years and he's coming off an 8.4 YPA, best of his career. Forget balance in New York, this is Manning's team now, a pass-first scheme. Hakeem Nicks is recovering quickly from his foot injury - don't worry about picking him in the Top 3-4 rounds - and Victor Cruz looks capable of playing outside the formation as well as he does in the slot. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is one of the toughest backs in the league, but the laundry list of injuries will take a tax eventually. The Giants selected RB David Wilson in the first round, looking to give Bradshaw a caddy. Holdover D.J. Ware has some skills, too. Bottom line, when you look at Big Blue for fantasy purposes, focus on the passing game. Manning, Nicks and Cruz have been surprisingly affordable in most standard leagues this month.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-8, 396 PF): The Eagles looked like a sneaky breakout pick a couple of months ago, given that they won their last four games last year and don't have gigantic public pressure entering 2012. But if Michael Vick's thumb and rib injuries aren't fully healed by opening day, all bets are off. Vick only scored one rushing touchdown last year after nine the previous campaign; split the difference and you still get a nice fantasy kickback. But expecting a full season from him is a fool's errand; he's done it once in nine pro seasons. LeSean McCoy is an elite running back and worthy of a Top 3 overall pick, though his best game comes as a counter-punch to Vick (scrambling quarterbacks create wide defenses and rushing lanes). Jeremy Maclin is the receiver you want in Philly, more reliable than explosive-but-combustible DeSean Jackson.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8, 369 PF): Under most circumstances we'd be on board with Tony Romo, but everything on this offense seems to be crumbling around him. Jason Witten has a spleen injury (push him out of the Top 10 at tight end), Miles Austin's hamstrings are barking, and Dez Bryant has been a high-maintenance act his entire career. The Dallas offensive line also looks like a hot mess, which limits the buzz for second-year back DeMarco Murray. The Pokes have finally moved on from Felix Jones; he's a secondary piece at most, and isn't even guaranteed to make the team. The Cowboys fantasy defense has some sleeper value, given the presence of sack-master DeMarco Ware.

Washington Redskins (5-11, 288 PF): Ah, the poor Redskins. Even when they do something right, it turns into a rocky road. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin certainly appears ready to play right away, though Kirk Cousins is also showing a strong camp and has his supporters as well. The money invested in Griffin will secure him the gig, and it's the right choice; don't look for a Cam Newton breakout, but he can be a Top 12-15 fantasy QB right away. The receiving group is surprisingly deep, with Pierre Garcon coming over to team with experienced Santana Moss and intriguing Leonard Hankerson. Tight end Fred Davis is an intermediate threat as well. But forget the backfield, where Mike Shanahan can't be trusted (and several options loom). Roy Helu still looks like the best talent of the lot, but the club seems taken by Evan Royster right now, and Alfred Morris and Tim Hightower complicate the situation.

Pro Football Focus: Khalil Mack is NFL’s most valuable edge rusher

Pro Football Focus: Khalil Mack is NFL’s most valuable edge rusher

It didn’t take the Bears long to see how valuable Khalil Mack is to their defense, elevating the group from the moment he first stepped on the field.

He’s been among the league’s best outside linebackers since he first broke out in 2015, and the analytics back up the eye test.

He was the highest edge defender on Pro Football Focus’ list of the top 50 players in the NFL, and their “wins above replacement” metric shows why.

It’s Mack and Von Miller, then everyone else.

“Foremost, Mack is a slightly more complete player than Miller when it comes to defending the run,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote. “Yes, run defense is significantly less important than an edge rusher’s ability to disrupt the quarterback, but with so little difference between the players, everything gets put under the magnifying glass.”

Over the past four seasons, both players have exactly 49 sacks, although Mack missed two games over that span. The Bears outside linebacker has the edge in interceptions, forced fumbles and tackles for loss, most coming with a lower quality defense around him than what Miller has had in Denver.

It’s no surprise Ryan Pace was willing to trade multiple first-round picks to make Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. He’s the best in the league.

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With breakout homestand in the books, The Eloy Jimenez Show heads to Wrigley Field

With breakout homestand in the books, The Eloy Jimenez Show heads to Wrigley Field

Eloy Jimenez’s hot stretch dates a little further back than just the beginning of the just completed six-game homestand. You’ll remember the ball he hit to the other side of I-70 in Kansas City.

But playing before big crowds of White Sox faithful, Jimenez announced his arrival as the kind of slugger everyone’s been waiting to see.

Until recently, the biggest positive surrounding Jimenez was simply that he was a big leaguer. He wasn’t yet a terribly effective big leaguer, he spent a long time on the injured list and was routinely making onlookers worry with his play in left field.

But that’s not the case anymore. Jimenez blasted his first homer on the South Side in Tuesday’s game against the Washington Nationals, an absolute bomb that touched down on the fan deck. Three nights later, he hit a pair of three-run homers to power a win over the New York Yankees. All in all, he went 7-for-21 on the homestand, with three homers, a double, eight RBIs, six runs scored and three walks.

“I was very impatient,” Jimenez said Saturday of what was going wrong earlier in the season. “Now, I'm more patient at the plate and I see the ball better. And I get more pitches to hit.

“This is the guy who I've always been. Right now, I feel that it's there. I'm seeing the ball well, hitting the ball really on the barrel right now. I'm taking more walks than the first two weeks. I feel really good.”

Indeed, this is the guy that generated all that hype, the guy that had fans demanding he be called up throughout the 2018 season. This is the guy that’s projected to spend the next decade in the middle of the White Sox lineup.

This is the guy White Sox fans have been waiting for since he was acquired in that 2017 trade with the Cubs.

“I know from the first moment we saw him in camp a few years ago, you could see that there was obviously a talent within this young man,” manager Rick Renteria said before Sunday’s game. “What I do see is the experience he's gaining at the major league level. He's starting to make adjustments in the box.

“The other things I see, though, is the work he's put in in the outfield. He's really starting to improve out there. I think his jumps, his line to the ball are very good. His all-around game is starting to get a little more comfortable at the major league level.

“You look at him and you forget he just turned 22. He's a youngster. He continues to get better, and hopefully it's an exponential growth here in the next month or two when we really see a lot of things happen.”

And for his next trick? He’s going to Wrigley Field.

White Sox fans are annually jazzed for the Crosstown series, and there’s no doubt it’s a fun time of the year. But this season’s edition will pack a little extra punch. Not only are the White Sox playing a lot better baseball than they have in recent seasons, seasons during which the Cubs have been World Series contenders — and one of the main drivers of that, Lucas Giolito, gets the ball in Wednesday’s game — but Jimenez is now a major leaguer.

The headlining return piece in the Jose Quintana trade has looked like a bit of a steal for a while now, considering the prospect rankings and all the hype that came with them. But now Jimenez will square off against the team that signed him, in the park he always assumed he’d call his major league home.

The fun-loving Jimenez doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to hold a grudge or want to show the Cubs what they traded away, but he might end up doing the latter anyway.

Imagine the frenzy White Sox fans will be whipped into if Jimenez parks one on Waveland Avenue.

“Everybody gets excited about going over to that part of town,” Renteria said. “For him, in specific, coming from the organization originally, I'm sure he wants to go out there and show them what he's made of. And hopefully it's something pretty solid.

“He'll be able to control himself. The excitement will maybe play in his favor, assuming it's contained and directed in the right place.”

There were bright spots all over this organization before Jimenez started swinging a hot bat. Giolito’s been a Cy Young candidate through the season’s first two and a half months. Tim Anderson still boasts one of the highest batting averages in the American league. Yoan Moncada is much improved from his disappointing 2018 season. James McCann has been one heck of a discovery at catcher.

But Jimenez represented and continues to represent the bright future of this organization more than any of them. And now that he’s one of those 2019 bright spots, too, that future looks more realistic than ever before.

It doesn’t really matter who Jimenez homers against. But if he can do it against the Cubs, at Wrigley Field, his permanent smile might grow a little bigger. And he won’t be the only South Sider with a big smile if the ball hawks at Wrigley are tracking down a mammoth homer off a White Sox bat.

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