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32 Teams. 32 Answers. Part I – AFC

I won’t try to bore you with hundreds of numbers, averages and probability rates. We are all searching for answers when it comes to making hard and fast decisions concerning our fantasy teams. There is no magic formula to winning your league (unless your magic formula is to just consistently be luckier than your competition). There is, however, one sure-fire way to create a competitive team year in and year out; and that is very simply having more hits than misses in your draft relative to your league-mates. You can find hundreds, even thousands these days, of opinions regarding every skill player in the NFL. Some fantasy ‘experts’ swear by analytics, some use past stats to project highest possible future outcomes – I on the other hand lean towards the film, scheme and on-field realistic results. Let’s get started.

AFC WEST

Kansas City Chiefs

Jeremy Maclin signed a big contract with the Chiefs this past spring and many are projecting a major regression from his career year for Philadelphia in 2014. The regression won’t be nearly as steep as the ‘average joe’ is projecting. This season is make-or-break for Alex Smith, and coach Andy Reid is demanding a more aggressive player under center. Alex Smith will never be Andrew Luck, but the pressure to not make mistakes is off of his shoulders. His conservative style will top the Chiefs ceiling at the divisional round in the AFC playoffs. Maclin arrives at the perfect time to be the Chiefs leading receiver.

Oakland Raiders

It’s highly unlikely we will ever see the 2012 version of Michael Crabtree, but on opening day he will still be only 27 years old. Where he wins vs. single coverage falls right in line with Derek Carr’s strengths, and trust me when I say he won’t see a single double-team all season after defensive coordinators realize one defensive back will not be enough to stop Amari Cooper. Cooper’s fluid athleticism, route running prowess and explosiveness will have him soar over 1,000 yards as a rookie on a team with a weak defense who will still see plenty of time behind on the scoreboard in the second half of games.

San Diego Chargers

Melvin Gordon may not be able to pass block at the level needed to become a third down back as a rookie, but he should stabilize an offense that I felt lacked the back to give the offense any kind of identity other than Philip Rivers heaving the ball around the yard. Rivers will still put up plenty of numbers again with the acquisition of an underrated Stevie Johnson and as Keenan Allen progresses into a true NFL WR1, which he will be considered as after this season. What you see is what you get with this offense and Danny Woodhead will maintain his much-needed role as will the talented Malcom Floyd who stretches the field at a 17-yard per reception clip in his career.

Denver Broncos

After the Broncos got blown out by New England in Week 9 last season, and followed that up with a beating in St. Louis at the hands of the Rams two weeks later, the Broncos made an organizational shift to a balanced offense featuring the running game on early downs. Peyton Manning threw 111 passes in those two aforementioned losses alone, and while some point to the injury for this shift, general manager John Elway has already made it known what the plan is for 2015. Denver ran the ball exactly 400 times a year ago and passed it almost 600 times. I very much expect that number to be much closer to 50/50 now as protecting Peyton Manning and having him fresh and healthy for the playoffs should be the only focus of this franchise.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots

If you want to be the guy that wins your league, grab Tom Brady in your draft one round earlier than you are expecting him to go, wherever that may be. He threw 29 touchdowns in his last 12 games a year ago, and you can expect that kind of production upon his return in Week 6 against Indianapolis. Brady will have a full complement of weapons at his disposal, mainly Rob Gronkowski, for those 12 games and the Patriots pass defense will undoubtedly take a step back for coach Bill Belichick. Not only will Brady and the Patriots want to prove a point, however the legal proceedings shake out, but the likelihood of several games ending in shootouts is very high.

Buffalo Bills

Any defense with enough talent to hold Aaron Rodgers to 17-of-42 for 185 yards is going to be one that keeps the entire team in games no matter how poor the offense performs. LeSean McCoy is going to get every opportunity to carry a load that almost always equates to top-10 running back numbers. He took 315 carries a year ago with a better offensive line and still failed to reach the top 10. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has not shown the creativity that is conducive to using McCoy, Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins in the manner that projects to fantasy success. Tyrod Taylor will be the quartrback who ends up giving this team the best chance to win, and Roman will have to implement a system very similar to the one he used in the playoffs with Colin Kaepernick back in 2013. It’s a risky endeavor when it comes to keeping your quarterback healthy, but that is what it’ll take for this team to push for a Wild Card berth.

Miami Dolphins

It’s virtually impossible to project a regression for a quarterback who threw for over 4,000 yards a year ago in this circumstance. Kenny Stills is a true vertical threat and has perfected the art of the comeback as well. It is a very simple role, yet an extremely important one because it will open up so much of the offense for second-year stud Jarvis Landry. Landry is a playmaker in the making, but without elite speed and quickness, he will have to learn his craft a bit better before he takes that next step, which very well could be 2015. Add in solid veteran Greg Jennings, the best fifth receiver in football Rishard Matthews and potentially a game-changing tight end in Jordan Cameron; I simply won’t be on the wrong side of history by predicting Ryan Tannehill outside of the top-6 quarterbacks. His two-thirds completion rate may dip a bit because if this team is going to move up a rung on the AFC ladder, Tannehill will have to play a more aggressive style getting these weapons the football. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention the eventual return of a future superstar wide receiver DeVante Parker. Watch out.

New York Jets

This will be the best defense in the NFL when Sheldon Richardson returns from suspension. That defense will buy Geno Smith time to develop further, which is all I believe he needs. Smith is willing to play from the pocket and has the ability to make all the throws, especially the deep ball. We have yet to see it come to fruition in the NFL, but I don’t just watch college tape for the fun of it, I don’t forget. Devin Smith could have really been a defense lifting boost to the offense before his rib injury, but regardless, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will provide plenty of throwing lanes for the third-year quarterback. I expect both Marshall and Decker to provide top-30 wide receiver production with whichever guy is more of the focus in the red zone to push for a top-20 finish at their position. It will be something I will be keeping a close eye on in the preseason.

About John Lanfranca