My team, the New England Patriots, is out. So although I'll have fun rooting against teams and individuals that made it to the playoffs, I'm more interested in next year.
Here is my early prediction of what we will be looking at at the end of the 2009 regular season, starting here with the AFC East.
New England Patriots
The Patriots bounce back from their inadequate 11-5 2008 season to go 11-5 in 2009, but win the division easily this time.
If Pioli and/or McDaniels leaves, c'est la vie. Not to say they are not huge assets to the team, as they are, but Bill Belichick is the franchise. He has been preparing for the departure of these guys for a couple of years now, and I'm sure he will have a plan to move forward with out them.
The offense, lead by Tom Brady or Matt Cassel, is in the top five in the league with the pro-bowl receivers, excellent line play and depth, and Kevin Faulk's critical contributions.
The defensive front seven will be excellent. The secondary will be a question mark as it has been for this entire decade, but we have several good, young guys who know the system and hopefully enough of them can stay healthy next year to give some stability to the group.
Time will tell as to whether Brady is back in week one or not, but either way, Cassel is on the team to going into the 2009 season. He might get traded, which would be great for the Patriots as that would indicate that both Brady is healthy and that O'Connell is going to be as good.
We will miss Cassel when he does leave. He's a great story and appears that he will be an elite QB. Hopefully he ends up in the NFC.
The Bills are a good team. They will finish second to the Patriots next year but will likely miss the playoffs yet again. They have a solid line, an outstanding backfield, and with Reed, Parrish, and Evans healthy, they can have a deceptively good passing game, assuming J.P. is on the bench and Edwards continues his growth.
The starting defense is outstanding, and if they draft a pass rusher that can make a splash on third downs, they will be a tough team to beat.
That said, the AFC East has a hard road to hoe next season as they play AFC South and the NFC South, therefore, they will come up short again, and that will likely cost Jauron his job 2010 as there will be some big name coaches looking for jobs (Holmgren, Cowher, Shanahan, and more).
Drafting a pass rushing end who has an immediate impact across from Schobel on 3rd downs.
Although the Dolphins earned what they achieved this year, they simply are not that good, had a lot of favorable situations, and will be on the decline talent wise next year.
Brady getting hurt, concealing the Wildcat fad until facing the Patriots, and a very weak schedule, all aided the Dolphins run to the playoffs.
Next year, the Dolphins won't be able to compete with the Patriots, their first place schedule against tougher divisions, and the fact that the Williams/Brown tandem won't be nearly as good next year as they were this year, means the Dolphins will find it tough to win a lot of games in 2009.
Chad is an outstanding competitor and leader, but he doesn't carry a team slinging it around, and they will need a lot more of that next year against the physical teams they will be facing off against regularly next season.
Parcells sticking around to manage the team under the new ownership.
The wings came off this year, and things won't be fixed anytime soon. If they had beat the Dolphins, Mangini is still there and the Jets can move forward next year. But losing 4 of the last 5, including a must win against the Dolphins, the coach had to go.
I don't think Mangini was that good or that bad, but having to get a new coach, a new quarterback (or even worse and having Favre back), and a new system for whomever the QB is, means the Jets struggle next season.
Besides the obvious challenges, the way they lost, the fact they are in New York, and the fact that the Giants are organizationally solid, puts a lot of additional pressure on the franchise. The kind of pressure that typical clouds your judgement and results in poor decision making.
Hiring of their coach, who releases Favre if he doesn't have the smarts to simply retire.
In summary, the AFC East will be a lot like it has been for the past seven years not including this year. The Patriots, in spite of a lot of change, dominate, the Bills compete but come up short, the Dolphins stink, and the Jets wallow in green envy of the Patriots, making one bad move after another trying to find the quick fix to get even with Kraft.
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