Two seasons ago, the AFC East was considered to be the weakest, most lopsided division in football. It showcased the premier team and the worst team in the league. It had a perennial .500 team and another team that seemed to be a contender on paper but ended up falling to 4-12.
The Patriots posted a 16-0 regular season record. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins combined for a total of 12 wins. Additionally, these totaled 0-6 against their division-rival Patriots.
Months away from the start to the 2009 NFL season, times have definitely changed. The Dolphins achieved the largest single-season turnaround in NFL history last year, improving from one win the year before to eleven in 2008.
The Jets fired their coach, hired one of the best defensive minds in football, and retooled with an increasingly dangerous defense and drafting their quarterback of the future.
The Bills have set their foundation with an influx of proven veterans, giving their offense more weapons with the signing of a controversial, but premier, big-time receiver, and continued to add speed to an already fast defense.
Two years ago, teams facing the AFC East only needed to circle the Patriots on their schedule with a cause for concern. Now, there are no freebies.
New York Jets
The signing of Rex Ryan to a four-year deal was a great move for the New York Jets. The former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens has had great success running their defense since being promoted in 2005 with the departure of Mike Nolan.
Last year, the Jets were able to sign DT Kris Jenkins and OLB Calvin Pace to help strengthen their defense. Also, CB Darrelle Revis emerged as one of the most dominant shutdown cornerbacks in the entire league. This offseason, Ryan has brought OLB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard.
They also traded to acquire CB Lito Shepard from the Eagles to line up opposite Revis. The free agent signing of Patriot captain and special teams stud, Larry Izzo, will help to provide veteran leadership in the locker room.
Many believe that the Jets were the ultimate winners of the 2009 NFL Draft, moving up to select QB Mark Sanchez from Southern California and drafting RB Shonn Green from Iowa. It may take another year or two for the team to gel, but this is a team that will continue to improve year-by-year, or even game-by-game.
The Buffalo Bills have not won a playoff game in the past 13 seasons. Although they have gone 7-9 the past three seasons, they have not made the playoffs since 1999. But, believe me when I say this, the Bills are getting better, even though their records may not show it.
The Bills’ backfield tandem of Marshawn Lynch (suspended first three games of season) and Fred Jackson is also a dangerous one. The Bills’ defense has improved significantly with the signing of DT Marcus Stroud last year, and a healthy Aaron Schobel should continue to make this unit better.
Jauron’s 4-3 is one of the fastest in the league. Although many members of the media predict this team to be the most improved in the AFC East, and some even argue for a playoff berth, I simply cannot see it and predict them to finish up similar to the past few years.
The 2008 Miami Dolphins were one of the hottest stories in the NFL after going from a single win in 2007 to eleven wins over the course of a year. They also clinched their first playoff berth since 2001. After the 2007 season, owner Wayne Huizenga named Bill Parcells VP of player personnel.
Parcells fired coach Cam Cameron soon after taking control and reunited himself with his assistant coach from Dallas, Tony Sparano. Parcells cleaned house, cutting players and signing others who he felt best fit the system which has proved successful for him over many years.
A versatile defense, led by emotional leader LB Joey Porter, proved to be more than many teams could handle. RB Ronnie Brown was able to resurrect his once promising career, and was an integral part in the success of the Wildcat offense.
QB Chad Pennington found new life after getting released by the Jets and efficiently guided the Dolphins offense to its best season in half a decade. No. 1 overall pick Jake Long proved his worth at weak-side tackle, earning Pro Bowl honors in his first season in the pros.
Parcells, and new GM Jeff Ireland, took CB Vontae Davis in the 2009 draft with hopes to fill the weakness which exists in their secondary. Just last week, former franchise player Jason Taylor took a pay cut to re-sign with his team of 11 seasons.
All indications point to the Dolphins remaining competitive, but I do not predict the team winning the conference or getting into the playoffs this upcoming season.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are favorites to win the AFC East in 2009. They are favored to win Super Bowl XLIV by odds-makers in Las Vegas, even though they failed to clinch a playoff berth in 2008. Tom Brady is coming off microscopic knee surgery, but he will be ready.
This year’s Patriots team will be much better than last years’ team, as they are once again playing with a chip on their shoulder. They have arguably the healthiest roster of contributing veterans since their first Super Bowl win. There is no reason why they should not be serious contenders for the Lombardi Trophy on February 7, 2010.
But, the New England Patriots have a difficult road ahead of them. Not only are they facing the third hardest schedule in the NFL this season, but the competition within their division has intensified significantly in the past couple seasons. Two years ago, they finished the year 6-0 in the conference. Last year, they were 2-4. What lies ahead for 2009?