Why the AFC East Will Be the NFL's Toughest Division in 2009
The AFC East has been a joke in recent years, with the Patriots dominating the division with little resistance from the other three teams. Last year, the division was tough, with the Dolphins and Jets having similar records to the Patriots. With the downfall of the Jets, though, it was between the Dolphins and Patriots.
The Jets didn't put up much of a fight against the Dolphins in the final game of the season, resulting in the Patriots missing the playoffs for the first time in years. The Bills also started off strong, but got lost along the way throughout the season.
During the offseason, a lot of talented players and coaches signed with AFC East teams. Rex Ryan was a big addition to the Jets, and will help out the defense a lot. Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard followed Ryan from the Ravens to the Jets.
The Jets traded for troubled cornerback Lito Sheppard from the Eagles, who should play well alongside Darrelle Revis. They also traded up to the fifth pick in the draft (which really surprised me and made me mad at the same time) to select their signal caller of the future—Mark Sanchez.
The Jets already have a good defense as it is, with players like David Harris, Darrelle Revis, Kerry Rhodes, Calvin Pace, Dwight Lowery, Kris Jenkins, Shaun Ellis, and not to mention Vernon Gholston, who Rex Ryan will turn into the next great outside linebacker in his defensive scheme.
The Jets will have the toughest defense this year, and it will be very interesting to see Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick try to out-wit each other on Sundays. The Jets also have a decent offense with Mark Sanchez, Thomas Jones, Dustin Keller, Leon Washington, Jerricho Cotchery, and of course their offensive line of all first-round draft picks.
The Dolphins had a great season last year. After going 1-15 the previous season, Bill Parcells has turned the franchise around and keeps on finding hidden gems in the draft to start for the Dolphins.
During the offseason, Parcells signed safety Gibril Wilson after the Oakland Raiders released him. The Dolphins will be tough to play against on running plays and passes over the middle because of hammers like Yeremiah Bell and Wilson.
The Dolphins also selected cornerbacks Vontae Davis (in the first round of the draft) and Sean Smith, who is a physical freak at corner, standing at 6'4" and 214 pounds. Both should play well along side veteran Will Allen.
Chris Clemons is another defensive player the Dolphins drafted that could be dangerous, because many scouts and analysts have compared his hitting style to Rodney Harrison.
The Dolphins have a good quarterback in Chad Pennington, and the offense is better because of it. Ronnie Brown is a good running back, too, and can be a pain to play against. Anthony Fasano was brought over from the Cowboys when Bill Parcells came to the Dolphins and has played well.
Ted Ginn, Jr. is a dangerous return specialist, and is taking a larger role in the offense now. Greg Camarillo is not a burner by any means, but is still dangerous because he has good hands and makes a lot of catches.
The Dolphins added wide receivers Patrick Turner, Pat White, and Brian Hartline. It will be interesting to see what the Dolphins do with White in their Wildcat offense that took the NFL by storm in 2008.
The Bills will be one of the toughest teams to play against (aside from the Patriots) in 2009 because of all their additions during the offseason and in the draft. The Bills have a good quarterback in Trent Edwards, but he still needs to mature in the offense.
With the addition of Terrell Owens during the offseason, Edwards should have plenty of targets to throw to. As of right now, the Bills have wide receivers Terrell Owens, Lee Evans, James Hardy, Josh Reed, and Roscoe Parrish, whom the Bills are trying to trade because of all the wide receivers they have.
The Bills also drafted tight end Shawn Nelson, who is the second-best blocking tight end in the draft behind Brandon Pettigrew. The Bills drafted Aaron Maybin in the first round, but it's unknown whether he can produce the numbers he did in college because of the speed of the NFL.
Marcus Stroud, Terrence McGee, Paul Posluszny, Donte Whitner, Kawika Mitchell, and Aaron Schobel are all good starters, and Maybin should become another sold starter.
With the return of Tom Brady from injury, the Patriots are yet again a favorite to make it to the Super Bowl. Brady will be throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker again, which will be scary to see if they can break their previous records from 2007.
During the offseason, the Patriots added speedster Joey Galloway. He may be up there in age, but he is still a speed burner and a deep threat.
The Patriots also traded for wide receiver Greg Lewis, and picked up tight end Chris Baker after the Jets had released him. Baker will most likely be the starting tight end, because he's more of a blocking tight end. This will let Benjamin Watson get more involved in the passing game.
The Patriots picked up running back Fred Taylor, who should play well for the Patriots, and should put up Corey Dillon-type numbers from his time with the Patriots. The Patriots' defense got a shot of youth in the draft when the Patriots selected Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Ron Brace, and Tyrone McKenzie.
They also picked up cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, after they were released form their respective teams. Bodden is not a typical Patriots corner because he's not short. He should take the starting job, unless Butler or second-year cornerbacks Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite progress more in training camp.
Chung should compete for the starting job against Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, but if Chung doesn't start, he still adds talented depth to the secondary.
The Patriots defensive line received depth with the addition of Brace, who will play in a rotation with Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Mike Wright, and Jarvis Green.
Bill Belichick also brought back outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who's a good pass rusher, but failed for the 49ers because they didn't have a coach like Belichick to maximize his skill.
It will be interesting to see how McKenzie plays, too, because the other outside linebacker position is still a question mark with Banta-Cain, Rosevelt Colvin, Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, and Vince Redd.
In all, the AFC East in 2009 should be the most dangerous because all the teams have explosive offenses and talented defenses.
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