There will be a lot of interesting divisional games in the 2016 NFL season.
A lot of players have changed teams this offseason, and many of them are playing for former division rivals. Some of these players have been released and were picked up by another team in their division. Some of them were signed as free agents and some are returning to the division where they started their career but playing for a different team.
These five players are the most likely to make an impact against their old teams.
No. 5: Mike Wallace
While the Steelers basically hold an open audition to find someone to replace suspended Martavis Bryant as their No. 2 receiver, Mike Wallace is changing shades of purple and going from the Vikings to the Ravens.
After catching a career-high 73 passes for the Dolphins in 2013, Wallace caught 67 in 2014 then was traded to the Vikings. He caught just 39 passes last season and was released.
Wallace will be 30 next season and isn’t the deep threat that he was in Pittsburgh. He averaged 17.2 yards per reception in his four years as a Steeler and 12.7 in his three seasons since then. It’s possible Wallace is on the decline and doesn’t have much left to contribute in Baltimore.
However, assuming Joe Flacco recovers from his knee injury he’ll be the best quarterback Wallace has worked with since Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have lost five of their last six games to the Ravens and unless they improve their 30th-ranked pass defense Wallace could torch them for a big play or two.
No. 4: Mario Williams
Mario Williams had 38 sacks in his first three seasons in Buffalo, then had five last season.
He blamed Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense while teammates complained about his lack of effort. The Bills were 31st in the NFL last season with 21 sacks. Before Ryan arrived, they were first with 54 sacks in 2014 and second with 57 in 2013. So Williams was only part of the problem.
Bovada over/under on total sacks 2016 regular season. Olivier Vernon = 7.5 Mario Williams = 10.5
— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) March 24, 2016
Williams will be back in a 4-3 scheme with the Dolphins. Ryan said this week that Williams should be happy in Miami and also hinted that the Bills’ games against the Dolphins will be “circled” on his calendar.
There are a couple of reasons why Williams isn’t higher on this list. He’s 31 and his 2015 season could be a sign that he’s lost his edge. Also, it’s hard to believe any offseason move the Dolphins make will have an impact until it actually happens.
No. 3: Sean Smith
Cornerback Sean Smith went from the Chiefs to the Raiders and little-used wide receiver Rod Streater went from the Raiders to the Chiefs. The Raiders got the better of that free agent exchange.
Smith has 10 career interceptions and at least 12 passes defended in each of the last four seasons. He’s presumably covered Jeremy Maclin and other Chiefs receivers in practice. He could use that experience to shut them down when the division rivals meet in 2016.
Smith’s departure leaves the Chiefs with Marcus Peters leading a corps of cornerbacks that also includes Phillip Gaines, who missed 13 games last season with a torn ACL. Peters led the NFL with eight interceptions as a rookie, but if he experiences any kind of sophomore slump and no one behind him steps up, Smith could haunt the Chiefs just by being productive in Oakland.
No. 2: Chris Hogan
Former Bills wide receiver Chris Hogan joins a stable of intermediate-range pass catchers in New England. He caught 41 passes at a rate of 10.4 yards per reception in 2014 and caught 36 passes at a 12.4-yards-per-reception clip last season.
While defenses try to figure out how to stop the two-headed tight end monster of Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, Hogan could fill a role similar to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. According to Pro Football Talk, Amendola could be pressured to take a pay cut to stay in New England. If Amendola leaves, that could elevate Hogan in the Patriots’ offense.
Regardless of how it shakes out, Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan never pass up an opportunity to tweak each other. When the Patriots and Bills meet, Hogan could see a few extra targets.
No. 1: Alfred Morris
Since running for 1,613 yards as a rookie in 2012, Alfred Morris’ total yardage and yards per carry have gone down every year. He bottomed out at 751 yards and 3.7 yards per carry in 2015.
Morris wasn’t the only Redskins running back who struggled, however. Washington averaged 3.7 yards per carry as a team. In Dallas, Morris will be running behind an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked first overall and first in run-blocking in 2015. He’ll probably have to share carries with Darren McFadden, but don’t be surprised if the 27-year-old is a significant part of the game plan when the Cowboys face the Redskins in 2016.