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AFC East preview - UPDATED

Not long now until the start of the new NFL season and the battle for Superbowl XYZABCVII. Once again, I've called upon the services of NFL tragic and shrewd analyst, Ian Steven. Follow him on Twitter @deevo82.

In the run-up to the opening games, we'll get all the divisional previews, or at least all the ones worth a wager.



AFC East preview

New England Patriots
If you have not been voraciously consuming every morsel of Deflategate then I don’t blame you. Basically, the NFL has stated that Tom Brady’s balls were too small in the AFC Championship game against the Colts in January and that he is to be suspended for the first four games of the regular season. The Patriots have appealed the decision and as I write, we still don’t have the foggiest idea what is going to happen. The Pats kick off against the Steelers on Thursday the 10th September and if Bill Belichick’s men don’t have one of the greatest players to ever step on a gridiron then there will be a lot of furious recalculation of odds.

Since 2001, only the Jets in 2002 and the Dolphins in 2008 have managed to knock the Pats off the top spot. It’s not going to happen this season either if Brady escapes suspension. If Tom is unable to go then in steps Jimmy Garappolo – a player who has only thrown six regular season passes – but Belichick does have a habit of turning his back up quarterbacks into enticing trade back.

The rest of the offense returns a lot of their stars from last year’s Super Bowl with the potential Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne joining the ranks and leaving the Colts.

On defense, Vince Wilfork leaves a massive hole in the defensive line but Jerod Mayo is back from injury and leads a very solid linebacking corps. Perhaps the biggest question is the secondary who lost Darrelle Revis to free agency to the Jets and replaced him with Bradley Fletcher – who was atrocious for the Eagles last season.

Miami Dolphins The Fish appear to be the heirs apparent to the Patriots should they self-implode simply because they are the only other team in the division to boast a competent quarterback. Ryan Tannehill has slowly metamorphosed into a decent signal caller. The quarterback has finally got some weapons to play with and there is real excitement in South Florida about their chances this season.

Lamar Miller had a break out year at running back in 2014, hurdling the 1,000 yard barrier and providing a ground game that had been sorely missing. Jay Ajayi was drafted from Boise State this year and he could prove to be a steal (and will be a Sky Sports darling as he was born in London.)

Greg Jennings joined as a free agent to add some much needed quality at wide receiver and DeVante Parker became the first Louisville wide receiver to go in the first round since Miami’s very own mark Clayton in 1983. Parker is a very big body and could quickly become a favourite target of Tannenhill. Completing the troops is Jordan Cameron, a free agent signing from Cleveland at tight end who could find himself in line for a lot of targets if the play action game is working well.

On defense, the Fins signed the most expensive free agent in Ndamukong Suh, who unlike previous multi-millionaire defensive tackle free agent Albert Haynesworth, Suh actually has a work ethic and looks to already be a force at tackle.

The Fish will need Suh to push the pocket, and for Cameron Wake to get pressure off the edge as the secondary is definitely the weak point of this side. If opposing quarterbacks get time to throw then they will get picked apart, especially since free safety Louis Delmas is residing on injured reserve.

Buffalo Bills
Rex Ryan is the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills so this should at least be an entertaining ride for the New York franchise. Rex knows the division inside out and has a solid defense to work with, but will the son of Buddy provide the Orchard Park faithful with the playoff spot that they yearn for?

Pre-season has certainly been eventful with Rex trading away their best linebacker in Kiko Alonso to pick up the fleet-footed LeSean McCoy from Philly. Ryan has always been a smashmouth football coach so it will be interesting to see how the ballerina style of McCoy meshes with his new coach.

Not adverse to controversy, Ryan elected to pick Tyrod Taylor as his starting quarterback over Matt Cassell and EJ Manuel which has raised a few eyebrows. The Bills certainly have a good group of receivers in Robert Woods, Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins but whether Taylor has the composure to consistently send the ball past the line of scrimmage is another matter.

The chances are that the Bills will need to rely on their defense to keep them in games and they have an awesome defensive line to help them do that. Marcell Dareus could be second only to Ndamakong Suh as to who is the best DT in the league. Kyle Williams was a first team All-Pro last season whilst Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams are forces on the edge.

Much like the Dolphins, the secondary is the big question mark for the Bills, putting a lot of pressure on the defensive line to disrupt the opposition. If they give up a lot of big plays and find themselves behind on the scoreboard, the offense might not have the explosiveness to haul themselves back into contention.

NY Jets
Are we looking at the worst team in the NFL in the NY Jets? We could well be. With Ryan Fitzpatrick as the signal caller for first year coach Todd Bowles, it is going to be a long season in New Jersey.

Let’s get through this quickly as it is depressing reading - their quarterback is average, poor running backs, one good receiver in Brandon Marshall but who has a personality disorder, average tight ends, good offensive line but they are pushing on a bit in age. In short – they are not moving the ball.

On defense it is a lot brighter. Muhammed Wilkerson is a stout defensive tackle and he is joined by draft pick Leonard Williams who could well win the Defensive Rookie Of The Year Award. Sheldon Richardson would also have fitted into the mix but he has been suspended for being a bit of an (expletive).

The Jets have consistently lacked and edge rusher and their woes will continue this season but the good news is with Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Calvin Pryor in the secondary, they could well create a lot of coverage sacks – or at least push the pocket from the interior which affects a quarterback’s composure.

Basically, if you are a Jets fan, watch a lot of college football to see who you could take high in the draft in 2016.

You can get odds on New England of 1.83 (5/6) and that is better than you have had in the past. You are taking a kind of gamble with that price as it will go up or down with conformation of what happens with Brady. If Garappolo does have to play four games this season, it will be against the Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys. I’d wait till after the Bills game to make a move as the Pats could well be 0-2 at that point and their price will go up. If you think Brady will play the full season, I’d go with 4 points on New England @1.83 with Ladbrokes.

UPDATE - Brady now allowed to play full season so odds have dropped to 1.57 Stan James/Coral/Ladbrokes.

Pats still to win division but dropping stake from 4 pts to 2 pts at that price.


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Melbourne Cup preview

I was going to pen a lengthy analytical preview for the Race That Stops The Nation but that was rendered futile when I got the email notification for this magnificent piece of work - Andrew Hawkins' Complete Guide to the 2017 Melbourne Cup. For all the background, all the detail, video links, back stories (read the one about Tiberian especially), go there, you won't find a better analysis anywhere.

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AU$6 million
Group 1 Handicap, 3200m
1500 local, 0400 GMT

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