Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

AFC East Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 26, 2009

We’re about halfway through the preaseason, and that means it’s about time for me to make my predictions on the season.  I will point out last year was just flat dismal for yours truly in this regard.   Neither of my two Super Bowl picks even made the playoffs,  and in fact I missed on half of the playoff teams.  Heck, I was 0 for 4 on conference championship game picks.  (If you’re still reading with baited breath to see what I’m picking this year I am stunned).  Nevertheless, I will attempt to do better this year.  On the plus side, I had a roughly 68 percent success rate on individual games last season, and that’s not bad considering how tough it is to pick today’s NFL.  In an effort to do justice to each team before the season, we will look at one division at a time, and wrap things up right before the season with the full unveiling of wild card and Super Bowl picks.  Today we look at the AFC East, with teams listed in predicted order of finish.

1. New England Patriots – Last year the Patriots got flat robbed.  Despite finishing 11-5, winning their final four games in the process (including a 47-7 thrashing of NFC champ Arizona), they missed the playoffs, while 8-8 San Diego got in.  Oh, and they still posted a good record despite losing Tom Brady to injury in week one.  Brady is back, and that alone has the Patriots poised to retake this division and maybe return to the top of the AFC elite.

Brady’s return should mean better numbers for Randy Moss.  While Matt Cassel did an admirable job filling in, his arm isn’t that of Brady’s.  I expect a big bounce back year for Moss, and I once again expect the big play to be an important part of New England’s attack.  Wes Welker should also benefit from Brady’s return, and could well top 100 catches again in the slot.  The Patriots also got a boost in the running game with the signing of Fred Taylor, who while aged is still very capable, and should take some pressure off Laurence Maroney.  The offensive line remains solid as well with few changes from last year’s unit that paved the way for 2,278 rushing yards last year, the most for the Patriots since 1985.  If the Patriots can also get solid tight end production from Benjamin Watson and trade acquisition Alex Smith, the offense could return to the scary good levels of 2007.  New England did lose their play caller from last year, as Josh McDaniels is now the head coach in Denver, but that shouldn’t prove to be much of a problem.  Remember the Patriots replaced Charlie Weis too after he took the Notre Dame head coaching job.

Defensively, the Patriots must stay healthy to be effective.  This is true for any team of course, but in New England’s case they are battling age and a lack of depth in this area.  The 3-4 defense favored by Bill Belichick relies on solid pressure, particularly from the nose tackle.  New England has a solid one there in Vince Wilfork, but ends Ty Warren and Richard Seymour both battled injury last season.  If both are healthy, the Patriots should be able to get the rush they need.  If not, the pressure will be on a linebacking core that lost Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs.  There is no reason to think that Jerrod Mayo shouldn’t duplicate his outstanding rookie season, but he can’t do it all by himself.  New England may need one of their young unknowns to step up.  The Patriots added Shawn Springs in the secondary, but that could still be question mark for a unit that gave up 27 touchdown passes last season, second most in the NFL.

New England’s special teams remains solid with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punt Chris Hanson.  Kickoff returns could be an issue after the loss of Ellis Hobbs (traded to Philadelphia). New England also has a new long snapper after the departure of Lonie Paxton to Denver.

Overall expect a big year for the Patriots.  It will be a major upset if they don’t make the playoffs, particularly after they missed them last year.  Five of their first eight games are at home, but four of their final six are on the road.  New England also plays in London this year against Tampa Bay.

2. Buffalo Bills – The good people of Buffalo have had a tough decade.  The Bills have missed the playoffs nine years in a row and the fans have had very little to cheer about.  Despite a promising 5-1 start last year, they flamed out and finished 7-9, losing four of their final five games.  In an effort to turn their fortunes around, the Bills had a very active offseason.  I think it will be an improvement, but will it be enough to get them back in the playoffs?

Trent Edwards is a good quarterback when he is healthy.  His record as a starter is just 12-11, but I think he showed improvement in several areas last year, and this year he might finally have the weapons to really help him.  The Bills made perhaps the league’s biggest splash by bringing in Terrell Owens.  While Owens certainly has his problems, he does have a proven track record of being extremely successful his first year in a new place.  Hence, the genius of the Bills to sign him to a one year contract.  With Owens around, defenses can’t key on Lee Evans anymore.  Factor in Josh Reed, and suddenly the Bills have a very dangerous trio of wideouts.  I think Owens’ impact will be staggering, not only for his own numbers but for his impact on the rest of the offense.  Unfortunately for the Bills, running back Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season, but I expect a big year from him once he is in the lineup.  Until then, Fred Jackson should help provide some depth, and new acquisition Dominic Rhodes should be good for a handful of carries as well.  Buffalo also will have a completely retooled offensive line, so it remains to be seen if those changes will be good or bad, particularly the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to the Eagles.

The defense should be improved, if nothing else because most of the players are back and should have a better grasp of the Tampa 2 scheme.  Marcus Stroud is a good a defensive tackle as there is in the league, but the Bills will need to get better pressure on the quarterback.  Last year they accounted for just 46 sacks and takeaways, which ranked near the bottom of the NFL.  The addition of first round draft pick Aaron Maybin of Penn State could provide a big impact in this area.  That is, if he’s not too far behind after a lengthy holdout.  I really like their linebackers, particularly Paul Posluszky, who returns after suffering a broken arm last season.  The secondary has talent, but they will need an improved pass rush in order to see better interception totals.

The special teams is a good as any around.  Returners Leodis McKelvin and Roscoe Parrish can be scary returning punts or kickoffs, Kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman are also very solid.

If the Bills don’t get walloped  and get their confidence shattered in a week one Monday nighter at New England, their schedule might just be conducive for a playoff run.  However, their fate may hinge on a tough final three games: home vs. New England, at Atlanta, and home vs. the Colts.

3. Miami Dolphins – There is no doubt that Miami made one of the most staggering turnarounds in NFL history last season, recovering from a 1-15 finish in 2007 to an 11-5 effort last year and a division championship.  However, reality hit when they were waxed by the Ravens at home in the first round of the playoffs.  Miami introduced the Wildcat formation to the league with tremendous success, and it appears that the culture is changed in South Florida for the better.  Now they face the task of doing it again.

Miami had to be pleasantly surprised by the play of Chad Pennington at quarterback last season.  It’s funny that if the Jets didn’t sign Brett Favre before last season, Pennington never would have been available.  While Pennington is successful for now, the shadows of Chad Henne, Miami’s QB of the future, and of Pat White, Miami’s second round pick out of West Virginia, loom large especially if Pennington struggles early.  The running game is very solid with Ronnie Brown and a much more focused Ricky Williams.  Brown’s presence and ability to throw should make the Wildcat effective for Miami again this year should they choose to use it.  There are some questions about the receivers.  Ted Ginn Jr. has shown promise but has not played to anywhere near the potential he showed at Ohio State, and Greg Camarillo, while capable, doesn’t strike fear into opponents the way many other receivers do.  The Dolphins should have a good offensive line if they’re healthy, especially since a solid line is a trademark of teams run by Bill Parcells.

The Dolphins released veteran Vonnie Holliday, but should benefit along the defensive line from the return of Jason Taylor.  Taylor played in Washington last year after falling out of favor with Parcells, but is now back in Miami, and if he’s his old self, Miami should see improved sack totals.  Miami also needs a great year from start linebacker Joey Porter.  Porter was a force last year with 17.5 sacks, and with Taylor’s presence it might even open up him for more sack chances.  The Dolphins secondary is young, but the Dolphins feel they should be upgraded last year with the return of Will Allen and the additions of draft picks Vontae Davis from Illinois and Sean Smith from Utah.

Miami has unknowns at kicker (Dan Carpenter) and punter (Brandon Fields) but both did a very serviceable job last season.  The Dolphins really need more out of the return game, especially from Ginn Jr.  The Dolphins drafted him 10th overall in 2007 in large part because of his return ability.  He needs to start showing that in order for the Dolphins to really justify that pick.

The pressure is on for the Dolphins to return to the playoffs and take the next step.  Their first three games (at Atlanta, home vs. Indy, and at San Diego) will make a good start difficult.  Not to mention their last game against Pittsburgh could prove to be a tough hurdle to overcome for a playoff spot.

4. New York Jets – The Jets were off to the races at the start of last year.  At one point they sat 8-3 after two big roads wins over the Patriots and Titans, and were poised to make a playoff run behind Brett Favre.  Suddenly Favre stumbled, the Jets lost four of their last five, and they missed the playoffs.  Certainly not what they envisioned after surrendering three first round picks to get Favre.  Favre is gone, and so is coach Eric Mangini.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan takes over as head coach, and the Jets hope he can make the defense as nasty as unit in Baltimore has been for years.  One of the first things Ryan did though was address the other side of the ball, trading up to take USC quarterback Mark Sanchez fourth overall in the draft.  The Jets hope that a recipe of a rookie coach and quarterback will mean success, as it did for Atlanta and Baltimore last season.  After what those teams did last year, I’m not going to discount anything.  However, rookie coaches and quarterbacks together generally aren’t a very good combination, and last year for the Falcons and Ravens seems to be the exception, not the rule.  That being said, Sanchez has a rocket arm and he’ll be the starter at some point this year, and he should have it week one based on his preseason performance over Kellen Clemens.  New York does have an excellent running game with the physical Thomas Jones and the speedy Leon Washington, and both of them running behind fullback Tony Richardson, who has several Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.  What has caused me serious head scratching is the Jets’ receiving core.  For some reason they dumped Laveraneus Coles and tight end Chris Baker, and didn’t really replace either.  They still have Jerricho Cotchery, but when David Clowney is listed as a starting wideout on the depth chart, that’s not a good sign.  New starting tight end Dustin Keller can catch, but isn’t near the blocker Baker is.  That means Keller isn’t really a good fit for smashmouth style that Ryan wants to implement.  The good news for the Jets is they have a very good offensive line, led by Alan Faneca and Damien Woody.

Defensively, the Jets could well show their age along the line.  The Jets will play a 3-4 under Ryan, and all three starting defensive linemen are over 30.  Granted, Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins can still play, but the Jets’ lack of depth behind them is almost alarming considering their age.  Rex Ryan did raid his old defense in Baltimore for linebacker Bart Scott, who is a tackling machine and should prove to be an excellent leader in Ryan’s new defense.  New York’s other linebackers are underrated and could really benefit from the new scheme, particularly Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas.  Ryan also overhauled the secondary, highlighted by the acquisition of cornerback Lito Shepherd from the Eagles.  Shepherd was in Andy Reid’s doghouse in Philly, but could benefit from a fresh start.

The Jets do have a decent kicker in  Jay Feely, and their return game is among the league’s best with Washington back there, but their biggest question mark is punter.  Right now that position is still unsettled.  It might seem insignificant, but if the Jets fail to move the ball offensively, the lack of a good punter could prove to be a real problem.

I think the Jets are in a rebuilding year.  The running game is good and the defense should be improved, but I just don’t like the idea of a rookie quarterback in New York without reliable targets to throw to.  I think Sanchez could well have an excellent career, but I think the Jets are a year away from contending again.  They tried to win with Favre last year and it backfired, and now they have to pick up the pieces.  A rigorous schedule doesn’t help either.

Coming Next: the NFC East.

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