For the past several years, the AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots. However, the Miami Dolphins won the division last year and proved they can compete with some of the best teams in the league.
2009 should be the year that the AFC East finally demands respect from around the league. Here I'll discuss each team's offseason transactions, including rookies taken in the draft. I will also take a look at each team's success last year and try to determine if that will translate over to 2009. I will give each team a grade and compare the division to the rest of the top divisions in the NFL.
The Bills made one of the most talked about transactions of the offseason with the acquisition of Terrell Owens. Owens will line up opposite Lee Evans, giving Evans a lot more room to operate downfield and go against single coverages. This will also spread the field for running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson to catch balls out of the backfield.
Trent Edwards is entering his third season in the NFL. The Stanford graduate still has a lot of room for improvement and the addition of Owens will only help. One of Edward's biggest problems last year was his offensive line. They hardly gave him much time to make decisions in the pocket. By trading their best offensive lineman from last year, Jason Peters, they will continue to struggle blocking for him. If the offensive line can step up this year and let Edwards make some accurate throws in the pocket, he could be in line for a sleeper year.
The Bills' defense raises a lot of concerns. They made a good pick in the draft by selecting the defensive end out of Penn State, Aaron Maybin. He should be able to add much-needed pressure from the outside. He's not known for his success against the run and the Bills linebacker core isn't either.
Depending on the status of safeties, Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson, the Bills could actually field a very underrated secondary this year. Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin are solid corner backs and Ashton Youboty is a young, talented back up.
Last year, the Bills finished the season 7-9. Their notable wins were against the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The Bills started off the season with a 4-0 record, leading many to believe this was their year to finally make the playoffs.
I am giving the Buffalo Bills a C. Although they will field a better team then they did last year, their schedule is much tougher. They will keep a lot of games close, but I only see them winning five or six games this year.
The New York Jets had an amazing offseason. Drafting Mark Sanchez number five overall was a great move. I don't think Sanchez is as good as Matt Ryan was last year coming out of college, but he should have a quality season. He ran an NFL-style offense at USC and played against NFL-caliber defenders. He has tremendous accuracy on the run, which will help him progress quickly in the big leagues.
The Jets' key loss was wide receiver, Laveranues Coles. Chansi Stuckey is currently the Jets' number two wideout, with Brad Smith and David Clowney third and fourth. They also lost their second tight end, Dustin Baker. This won't help Sanchez along with his development. I expect to see them utilize their strong running game, led by Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and rookie Shonn Greene.
Their offensive line is big, fast, and powerful. Ferguson, Faneca, and Mangold will manhandle opposing defenses on the left side. Brandon Moore and Damiem Woody will hold their own on the right side.
They also just added blocking specialist Tony Richardson. He helped Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson run for crazy yardage totals back in Kansas City. His presence will be big.
The Jets finished last season with a 9-7 record, with Brett Favre completely falling apart at the end. It's hard to predict how much better Sanchez will do, but I see them producing a similar record this year. Their schedule isn't too hard. I give the New York Jets a B, and predict they will win ten games this season.
The Miami Dolphins are the most over-rated team in the division. They had what I would call a 'fluke' year last season. They shocked the rest of the league with their wildcat formation and gained a lot of success with it. This year, the Dolphins will come back down to earth and prove they are not a playoff team. Miami had a very easy schedule last year, and won a lot of very close games. This year they have a much tougher schedule in store.
They also had the worst offseason of any team in the division. They did not acquire any big names from free agency and reached for every pick they made in the draft. Their first pick, Vontae Davis, will either prove to be a boom or a bust. He has all of the physical attributes needed to succeed at this level, but I'm not convinced he has the right mindset to do it, especially if he follows the footsteps of his brother, Vernon. They are probably going to use Pat White as a wildcat formation player, and as a wide receiver. Teams are eventually going to catch on to their tactics, and shut them down.
Ted Ginn Jr. needs to step up as a quality No. 1 receiver. He has let those who had high hopes for him down. Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess haven't impressed much either.
Once again, the Dolphins will need to rely on their rushing attack, led by Ronnie Brown. He's a stud running back and running behind the mammoth, Jake Long, sure does make it easier. The tandem of Brown and Ricky Williams proved to be hard to stop last year. I think they will only get better this year behind an improved offensive line.
Miami's defense surprised a lot of people last year. Joey Porter is a beast in the middle and can disrupt almost any play he gets around. Miami has also talked about bringing back all-pro end, Jason Taylor. This would add even more pressure from the outside. Adding Gibril Wilson will also add help to the secondary.
I am giving Miami a C. They are equally as talented as the Buffalo Bills and face a very similar schedule, playing in the same division. They will have similar records, winning a maximum of seven games this year.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are going to win the AFC East with ease this year. Their starting roster is simply too strong for the rest of this division to compete with.
Tom Brady is a huge upgrade over Matt Cassel. Cassel did a good job last year at what he was asked to do, but this is Brady's team and no one knows how to operate this offense like him. He makes every pass look so effortless. He demands the opposing defense to respect the pass, opening up large running lanes. He has enough weapons surrounding him this year to once again lead the league in touchdown passes.
They literally filled all of their holes from last year during a very productive off season. Signing Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Fred Taylor, Joey Galloway, and Greg Lewis was simply unrivalled. Coach Belichick knows exactly what he needs to do to assemble another championship team.
The Patriots' secondary is now loaded with with a mix of experience and young talent. Brandon Merriweather will probably be asked to step up and be the leader of that secondary.
They also have a lot of team leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Tedy Bruschi demands respect from anyone in the middle of the field and JeRod Mayo and Adalius Thomas will be ruthless defenders on the outside.
Vince Wilfork will be playing for a new contract this year, so expect monster numbers out of him. He will be able to clog the up the middle running lanes with the best of the best.
The Patriots are my favorite to win the Superbowl this year. I predict they will win 12 or 13 games this season. I give them an A. This team is poised for greatness.
There is a lot of talk that the AFC East is going to be a very tough division this year, but I disagree. This year is not this division's peak.
Buffalo has way too many question marks on the defensive side of the ball and Trent Edwards is not yet good enough to make up for it.
Miami had a breakout season last year with one of the easiest schedules in the league, but they will come back down to earth this year. When Ted Ginn Jr. is your No.1 receiver, you know you will have some problems against the best teams in the league. Their defense is good, not great.
New York is the biggest question mark in the division. Their team success pretty much revolves around the success of rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. If he has a Matt Ryan-type season, which is unlikely, the Jets will have a very good season. If he plays like an average rookie quarterback, they will be an above-average team at most.
New England has its question marks also. I am assuming Tom Brady will be 100% at the start of the season, like all clues indicate. If Brady falls again, the Pats will fall like a pile of crumbling rocks. They will have an average season, primarily because of their coach, Mr. Belichick. If Brady stays healthy, he will be adding another ring to his hand this year.