AFC East Will Be Too Tough for Young Jets
In the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 season, a major shift happened in the AFC East. Tom Brady, a two time Super Bowl MVP for the New England Patriots, went down in a heap with a severe knee injury that knocked him out for the season.
For the New York Jets, it provided an opportunity. They had Brett Favre, Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, and Calvin Pace as their major off season additions to help the team improve from a 4-12 disaster in 2007. Surely, the Jets would win the division. But no, the Jets blew that golden opportunity when they lost four of their last five games of the season to finish 9-7. Instead, the Miami Dolphins led by former Jets castaway Chad Pennington captured the AFC East with an 11-5 record, one of the best turnarounds for a team that had gone 1-15 the year before.
Now Brady will be back, and so should the Patriots this season. Add that to the fact that the Buffalo Bills have acquired Terrell Owens and the fact that the Jets are going with a new youth movement on the offensive side of the ball, it obvious that it will be hard for Gang Green to make much of a move in the division.
Here is a breakdown of the moves by the Jets' AFC East rivals.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: The Patriots were pleased with the yeoman-like effort of quarterback Matt Cassell last year, as the young man led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. But with Tom Brady ready to go, the Patriots should be back to their usual unstoppable selves.
Everyone remembers what the Patriots offense did in 2007 as they lead the NFL in points scored and passing yards. Brady had the year of his life, throwing for 50 touchdowns and a mere 8 interceptions, while making Wes Welker into a mega threat, and revitalizing the career of Randy Moss. It was Brady's ability to spread the field with his cannon arm and the superior abilities of Moss, Welker, Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth that made the Patriots 16-0 in the regular season, clearly the best in the NFL.
Even without Brady, Welker and Moss had big years in 2008. Welker had 111 catches for 1,165 yards; while Moss had only 69 catches but still had 1,008 yards in the effort. With Brady back, expect those numbers to be about the same, if not greater than those numbers in 2008. The only difference might be that Brady won't throw for 50 touchdowns, but 30 to 35, which is not too shabby either.
On the ground, the Patriots have always had success without a great running game, but if Laurence Maroney can return to his 2007 form where he accrued 835 yards on 185 carries, then the Patriots will have a pretty formidable ground attack to go along with that great passing game.
Defensively, the Patriots still show a lot of age. Richard Seymour, Teddy Bruschi and Vince Wilfork are still the faces of the Pats D after all this time, but, with the emergence of second year linebacker Jerrod Mayo, who had 128 tackles last year, and any contributions from rookie corners Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, the Patriots should enjoy a top 10 defense in the NFL for another season.
BUFFALO BILLS: The Bills are a strange team to figure. Last season, the Bills opened up at 5-1, with Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch lighting things up, but injuries to Edwards and inconsistent play from the offense, combined with poor tackling defensively, spelled the end of the Bills as they collapsed to a 7-9 finish.
Even with the horrible finish, the Bills placed their confidence in Head Coach Dick Jauron, who has only one winning season as a head coach in his coaching career (13-3 with the Chicago Bears in 2002). There will be pressure on Jauron to win this season, especially with the addition of the biggest mouth in football,Terrell Owens.
For all the problems that Owens can cause off the field for the team he plays for, he will add a dimension to an already talented Bills offense. Lee Evans (63 catches, 1,017 yards) and Josh Reed (56 catches, 597 yards) were the leading receivers for the Bills in 2008. Both possess good speed but lack the quality size necessary for jumping for balls in the corner of the end zone. Owens has the ability with his 6'3" frame. Owens' ability to also break through coverage and leave corners and safeties in the dust is something that will make the Bills extremely scary in 2009.
Now, with Owens on the team, expect defenses to try to double cover him, leaving either Evans or Reed in single one-on-one coverage where they can make plays on slants or crossing patterns. In short, Trent Edwards could have a lot of fun throwing the football if his stays healthy.
The Bills believe that Edwards is their guy. He is smart and has a decent arm. He threw for 2,699 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2008. Expect those numbers to go up this year, big time.
Finally, if Lynch can rebound from a bad 2008, when he had only 1,036 yards rushing to become a good 1,300 yard rusher, the Bills could be a playoff team in 2009.
Defensively, the Bills will be happy to have Aaron Schobel back at full speed. In 2008, Schobel played in only five games due to injury, but, before that, he was one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. In 2007, Schobel had 6.5 sacks, and in 2006, he had 14 sacks and was a Pro Bowler. If Schobel can regain his old form and reak havoc with Marcus Stroud, rookie Aaron Maybin and Chris Kelsay then the Bills could have a ferocious front seven in 2009.
Miami Dolphins: 2008 was supposed to be a transition year for new coach Tony Sparano and Head of Football Operations Bill Parcells, but, as things turned out, it was the best turnaround for a Parcells team in all of the Tuna's stops.
Chad Pennington, who was left on the scrap heap by the Jets in favor of Brett Favre, lit it up last year for the first time in his nine year career. Pennington had his best season since 2002 when he broke in with the Jets. He threw for a career high in yards, 3,653, had the second best rating of his career, 97.4, and had his best touchdown season with 19. For a guy who has battled injuries and a weak throwing arm, Pennington displayed great poise and was exactly what a young Miami offense needed in 2008.
Can Pennington perform an encore? For a guy who has only two complete seasons under his nine year belt, it is hard to believe that Pennington can pull off a miracle for the second straight season. There is no telling when Pennington will get injured again, and, if history is any guide, the Dolphins better hope that back-up Chad Henne is ready to step in at a moment's notice.
One reason for the Dolphins success in 2008 was the Wild Cat offense. It was here that running back Ronnie Brown either took snaps from center and sprinted down the middle for quarterback scrambles, or Brown took the ball in running back option plays and threw the ball down the field to wide open receivers. It is hard to imagine that Brown will have similar success this year. Teams will be scheming for it this year and might even put an extra linebacker, or nickle back, on Brown in case he tries to throw.
That is probably why the Fish drafted quarterback Pat White, who was really successful running a Wild Cat style offense at West Virginia. White is not a great thrower, but he can run all over the place. Expect to see White have a big impact on the Dolphins plans as they try to confuse people again in 2009.
It probably will be hard for the Dolphins to compete this year. Unlike last season, the Dolphins play one of the league's toughest schedules. Just look at the opening three weeks: @ Atlanta, Indianapolis, and @ San Diego. The Dolphins could easily by 1-2 or 0-3 in a blink, so if the Fish have any plans of repeating as division champs, they better get off to a fast start.
The question remains, however, can the Jets compete in this division? Probably not. The Jets have some great talent on defense with Bart Scott, Jim Leonard, Darrell Revis and Kris Jenkins, and by adding Rex Ryan's blitzing 46 defense to the plans, the Jets should be in every game, but it will take time for them to gel.
The bigger concern is the offense. A rookie quarterback going up against a Patriots defense that lives off rookies may be too much for Mark Sanchez in year one. Bill Belichick is great at making a confusing game plan for a rookie quarterback, so much so that rookies usually find themselves looking through the ear-hole of their helmets. Don't expect the Jets to win a game from the Patriots at all in 2009 which will keep them from competing.
The Jets usually split a season series with the Bills, but in recent years, the series hasn't been as close; the Bills swept the Jets in 2007, with the Jets returning the favor in 2008. Expect Buffalo to have success in rushing Sanchez and forcing the quarterback into some major turnovers. The Jets will also have trouble covering all three prime receivers for the Bills, even with the additions of Donald Strickland, Jim Leonard and Lito Sheppard to help Darrell Revis in coverage.
Finally, the Dolphins might be the one team that the Jets should be able to beat at least once in 2009. The Dolphins should come back down to earth this year, and if they should have any injuries then the Jets can certainly take advantage of them.
It will be a tough year in the AFC East, but the Jets right now are nowhere close to competing with the Patriots, who are still the number one team in the East.
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