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2008 Preview: AFC East

August 18, 2008

The AFC East is a division where only one team’s final position is actually known, that being the Patriots, who are surely heavy favourites to win the division once again.

Last season, the AFC East produced the league’s best regular season team – the aforementioned Patriots – and the worst, the 1-15 Miami Dolphins. After a busy offseason the division will get a lot closer, but it’s a big task for anyone except New England to make the playoffs in the competitive AFC.

Buffalo Bills

Prediction: 9-7, 2nd in division

The Bills were injury-prone in 2007 and it’s a testament to Dick Jauron that they managed a respectable 7-9. They’ve added a number of quality players in free agency and the draft, and this young team has got massive potential for 2008 and beyond.

Marshawn Lynch had a huge rookie year but was under the radar as ‘All Day’ Peterson torched everyone in his way. The bruising back out of Cal is going to be the linchpin (no pun intended) of the offense, but the Bills have done well to improve his supporting cast.

After a turbulent season at quarterback in 2007 the team chose Trent Edwards as their starter over the seriously erratic JP Losman. Lee Evans will once again be the focal point of the passing game, but by drafting Indiana’s rangy 6’6 wideout James Hardy Buffalo has added a redzone threat and someone to alleviate the pressure on Evans, who I expect to have a big year. They’re just a third playmaker away from being an elite unit.

Defensively, 2007 was miraculous for the Bills, who for weeks were without all three starting linebackers and were picking up guys off the street to fill holes. With a now-healthy linebacking corps, this defense could be one of the surprises of this year. The secondary is young and quick, and they added a superb cornerback in Leodis McKelvin in the draft to go with an already excellent rotation. The Bills’ biggest (literally) acquisition in the offseason was former Jags defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. At 6’6 and 340+ pounds, he has the bulk to clog blockers in the middle and allow Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay to rush one-on-one.

Not quite ready for the big time, but one more offensive threat and they will be a team to watch.

Miami Dolphins

Prediction: 4-12, 4th in division

The good thing for the Dolphins is that things can’t really get worse. After finishing 1-15, there has been a mass exodus of players and coaches alike, as Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano put their mark on an ailing franchise.

Offensively, the Dolphins were dire last season after Ronnie Brown injured his ACL, though he was on a terrific pace before he got hurt. He’s back this year, but knee injuries take time to fully heal, so expect the Fins to be cautious with him. Ricky Williams has apparently looked very good in camp, so he could be a serious surprise given his bizarre history. Remember that Sparano was Dallas’ offensive line coach, so expect a solid rushing O.

Parcells has loaded this team with quarterbacks, adding Chad Pennington, Josh McCown and Chad Henne. Pennington will start, and he’s an accurate passer who’ll use short routes to move the chains. Expect Ted Ginn to become the Wes Welker of this offense, turning short grabs into long gains with his blistering pace as Ernest Wilford stretches the field vertically with his 6’4 frame.

On the defensive side, the Big Tuna brought across his 3-4 scheme from his Dallas days and added a number of ex-Cowboys. Jason Ferguson, Keith Davis and Akin Ayodele will all start and use their veteran leadership to replace the lockerroom void left by Jason Taylor’s departure. Without Taylor, the pass-rush will obviously lose a big step, but the team will take at least one year to adjust fully to the complex 3-4 regardless, so it’s not as big a loss as it could be.

It’s a rebuilding year without a doubt, but expect Miami to improve, at least a little bit.

New England Patriots

Prediction: 13-3, 1st in division.

How do get better from here? This is a team that was one incredible play by David Tyree away from being the first perfect squad since the ’73 Dolphins. However, this season will be a lot tougher.

Tom Brady + Randy Moss = touchdowns. That’s an equation the NFL learned the hard way last year, as the pair romped through defenses and set records thought untouchable. But don’t expect the duo to repeat this feat in 2008, as every team saw how the Giants shut them both down in SB XLII and will look to replicate that brilliant display. However, expect Brady to throw at least 15 TDs to Moss because the sheer athleticism of the former Marshall man is too much for 90% of NFL cornerbacks.

This offense will again be excellent as they retained Brady, Moss and Welker, but the loss of Donte’ Stallworth will hurt as they must find a true starting receiver opposite #81. The Patriots will have to run the ball more and won’t be able to equal their stunning feats of last year, but expect very good things, instead of great ones. However, if Brady gets injured the wheels will totally come off the wagon, so New England must protect their prize posession.

The front seven will remain largely unchanged this year, as the likes of Bruschi, Vrabel, Thomas, Wilfork and Seymour return. Jerod Mayo will see sporadic playing time, but it’ll be tough to unseat anyone as a starter. The big story has been the secondary for the Pats this offseason, as Asante Samuel (Eagles), Randall Gay (Saints) and Eugene Wilson (Bucs) all left. Belichick is the master of replacing almost anyone but the secondary will definitely be worse as new players get used to new roles.

The only way the Pats don’t win the division is an injury to Brady. Still the team to beat in the AFC.

New York Jets

Prediction: 7-9, 3rd in division.

Eric Mangini’s second year in charge was a good deal tougher than his first. But can a hyperactive offseason re-establish this team as a playoff candidate? Personally, I don’t think so.

Brett Favre joined the team amid much controversy and media hoop-la, but at 38 he is clearly not the long-term answer at QB for this team, indicating that the front office believes the Jets can win right now. Favre had a wonderful ’07, but in the 2 years prior to that he had more interceptions than touchdowns (INTs is also a category in which Favre is the all-time leader), so it’s hard to expect much. By the end of ’08, I think the J-E-T-S will wish he’d stayed retired.

Aside from the addition of #4, the offense added Alan Faneca, whose presence alongside Nick Mangold and best-name-in-the-NFL D’Brickashaw Ferguson will bolster a running attack led by Thomas Jones, who should have a productive year. At receiver, the lightning-quick Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery will be the main attractions, and rightly so as there are few other options.

Kris Jenkins and Calvin Pace have been added to help the Gang Green get more pressure on the QB, and they should have a positive effect, although let us not forget that Pace wasn’t outstanding in the average NFC West and Jenkins has had 2 major knee surgeries. Darelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes anchor a solid secondary which needs to create more turnovers behind a good linebacking group led by last year’s rookie sensation David Harris.

The Jets will be better in 2008, but big name signings do not a good team make.

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