I've read about 20 or so 2009 preseason predictions. I have even written an article questioning the rationale for these predictions.
All the predictions I've read suggest the New England Patriots will retake the AFC East. I agree with this.
By the way, I am a fan of the Miami Dolphins since the beginning of the Shula Era.
Still, I DO think the Pats will retake the AFC East, and this has nothing to do with Miami's poor showing against the Ravens in the wild-card round of the 2008-9 playoffs. It has everything to do with the notion that the Patriots players and especially their coaches know, maybe instinctively, that the Pats' decade-long era of AFC East domination is coming to a close, with the "Sparanos" firing the first warning salvo this past season.
It is also because I believe the Dolphins, the second or third youngest team in the NFL, have their best days—maybe their best days ever—ahead of them. Further, I simply do not believe the Jets nor the Bills will improve as much as their fans think they will in 2009 to take up the slack. The Jets' defense will improve under Rex Ryan. Favre really is supposedly retiring, so they have this QB problem. The Bills will get better, but maybe not good enough.
The Pats will get old, and they know it. This is why the Brady Bunch MUST win back the AFC East while they still can as the 'Fins keep improving. Besides, the Dolphins can't go to the Super Bowl next year: Who ever heard of a home team playing in the Super Bowl?
Note to fellow Dol-fans: The Dolphins WILL make the playoffs next year as a wild card team. As will the Texans. These are the only "early" predictions I'm willing to make.
So now, I will actually list the reasons the Pats will be division champs next year.
1. Tom Brady is returning.
2. Belichick will not stop doing whatever it is he does until the Pats retake the division.
3. The Pats will continue to draft well even without Pioli in there so that, even though the bulk of the team is aging, they should be able to get another Jerod Mayo or two this year.
4. There is probably no way the Pats will suffer even half as many injuries as they suffered in 2008.
5. The Dolphins are still a player or two away from elite status. They MUST get a WR that can draw double coverage, such as Anquan Boldin. They MUST also get an ILB better than Crowder even if they keep him (but it looks as if they will let Crowder go. That is unfortunate, but Parcells usually seems to know what he's doing.) And they MUST also draft another Jake Long-caliber offensive lineman, preferably guard or center.
6. Not knowing who the Jets will have at QB really takes the Jets out of the equation for the division title at this point, because (I've noticed recently) a team without a good QB cannot win a division or get a playoff spot.
7. Dick Jauron has not proved yet that he can bring the Bills up to snuff, so I cannot include the Bills in the equation either.
8. The Patriots' players, coaches, and ownership-management believe to a man they were robbed of the playoffs last year. It doesn't matter if this is true or not; the fact is, they believe this. So, they will exact some sort of revenge in 2009.
9. If any team ever believed they really were a "dynasty," the Pats are it. Even the Steelers, who rightfully have been called a dynasty, don't get all that worked up over whether they are considered a "dynasty" or not. In other words, I think the Pats are too full of themselves to stop short of retaking the division.
10. The 2008 Dolphins surprised everybody. Well, the surprise factor is gone, and other teams will be gunning for them. Can they handle it?
That defies prediction.