In 2009, there may not be a more competitive or intriguing division in all of football than the AFC East.
Can the Miami Dolphins defend their 2008 crown, or will Tom Brady and the Patriots return to the top? Will the Terrell Owens and Mark Sanchez gambles pay off for the Bills and Jets? We'll find out in September.
Until then, the Bleacher Report takes a look at each team's offseason moves and potential strengths and weaknesses heading into 2009. On a scale of 1-10, we rate their chances to walk away with a division crown and that all-important home playoff game.
We start with last season's champs, the Miami Dolphins.
Whey the Dolphins will win the AFC East in 2009:
The Dolphins are one of the best-managed teams in football, both on and off the field. Bill Parcells calls the shots in the front office, and Tony Sparano makes the most of his players' abilities. Together, they're a well-oiled machine that's always chugging towards the end zone.
This offseason, Miami didn't add any major pieces. But more importantly, they didn't lose any major pieces. That's good news for a team coming off a division championship in 2008.
The Dolphins used their first round draft pick on Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis, a playmaker who slid because of character concerns. However, there's no doubt that Parcells and Sparano will keep Davis in check.
In the second round, the Dolphins took prototypical Wildcat quarterback Pat White. His athleticism and combination of run/pass skills will bring an explosive element to Miami's offense.
In free agency, the Dolphins' only notable move was the re-signing of Jason Taylor. However, the signing speaks volumes about the organization. Despite a bitter split in 2008, Taylor took a pay cut of $7 million to rejoin the Dolphins.
With Taylor and Joey Porter rushing the edge, Miami's defense will have quarterbacks looking over their shoulder on every play.
Why they won't win:
Last season, Miami came out of nowhere to capture the AFC East division title.
This year, they won't have the element of surprise on their side. They also won't have the benefit of an easy schedule. Miami plays the Steelers, Panthers, Titans, and Colts in 2009.
Those teams have two things in common: they play ferocious defense and they aren't easily fooled. In 2008, Baltimore proved that an elite defense could effectively shut down the Wildcat.
Tony Sparano and his staff must work a few more wrinkles into their offensive game plan to keep defenses from keying on the Wildcat.
Another factor that could prevent Miami from repeating as division champs is a lack of proven depth behind Chad Pennington. The Dolphins' quarterback had a stellar year in 2008, with nearly 3,600 yards and 19 touchdowns.
But Pennington's injury history is far from flawless, and if recent history holds true, he will not make it through 2009. In his 10 year career, Pennington has never played a full 16 games in back-to-back seasons.
The 32-year-old has undergone multiple surgeries on his throwing shoulder, and the team has very little experience behind him. Chad Henne, entering his second NFL season, has only thrown 12 passes. Rookie Pat White rounds out the team's quarterback depth.
Chances of winning the AFC East in 2009: 6 out of 10
Why the Patriots will win the AFC East in 2009:
Two words: Tom. Brady. When Bill Belichick traded Matt Cassel in February, he all but guaranteed that Brady will be back on the field this season.
The 2007 NFL MVP will allow New England to recapture its deep passing game, something the Patriots lost in 2008 due to Cassel's questionable arm strength.
Brady's presence should also help cut down on the number of sacks New England gives up in 2009. During Brady's last full season in 2007, the Patriots allowed only 21 sacks. Behind the same offensive line in 2008, Cassel was sacked 48 times.
Another reason the Patriots will walk away with the AFC East in 2009 is their dramatically overhauled defensive backfield.
The team wasn't able to replace Asante Samuel last season, and their pass defense suffered because of it, dropping from fifth in 2007 to 21st in 2008 in average yards allowed per pass.
This offseason, New England addressed the defensive backfield with the additions of Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, Patrick Chung, and Darius Butler. The influx of youth and talent should make New England's secondary a fearsome one in 2009.
Why they won't win:
As it stands, New England has one glaring weakness entering 2009: outside linebacker. The Patriots gambled big on Jason Taylor this offseason, passing up on players like Clay Matthews and Everette Brown in the draft.
When Taylor signed with the Dolphins, that left Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain as New England's outside linebacker depth behind Adalius Thomas.
Not exactly names that strike fear into the heart of an offense. If the Patriots can't get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they will certainly struggle against the pass again in 2009.
A second factor that could keep New England from reclaiming the AFC East crown is the offensive line's ability to protect Brady. In 2008, the unit struggled against fast, aggressive defenses such as Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
No one knows yet how Brady's mobility has been affected by surgery. The last time his mobility was limited in Super Bowl XLII, Brady was unable to avoid the Giants' overwhelming pass rush.
If Brady does get hurt again in 2009, New England will likely thrust Kevin O'Connell, another untested young quarterback, into the fire. However, the odds of repeating Matt Cassel's success are practically impossible. With several fierce defenses on the schedule for 2009, keeping Brady upright is a must.
Chances of winning the AFC East in 2009: 8 out of 10
Why the Jets will win the AFC East in 2009:
This offseason, Jets' head coach Rex Ryan made it clear that his team would be built on great defense. He signed stud linebacker Bart Scott, versatile safety Jim Leonhard, and traded for cornerback Lito Sheppard.
The Jets must get big contributions from all three of these additions in order to improve their pass defense, which ranked 29th in the NFL last season.
Scott and Leonhard are familiar with Ryan's defensive scheme, having played under him in 2008 with Baltimore. Sheppard languished on the bench in 2008 after a bitter public squabble with Eagles' management.
However, he's a talented corner who played outstanding football from 2004-2007.
New York's punishing running game also gives fans reason to believe. The Jets finished ninth in the league in rushing yards per game and fifth in average gain per rushing play. The offensive line had no trouble clearing holes for Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.
Talented rookie Shonn Greene will add yet another dimension to New York's already strong rushing attack.
Perhaps the most important key to New York's 2009 season is the team's attitude. Former coach Eric Mangini could never be called passionate, and many observers believe the team took on its coach's vanilla personality.
New coach Rex Ryan is Mangini's polar opposite. Ryan's outspoken persona and confident swagger rubbed off on his defense in Baltimore. Ryan needs to instill that attitude in his new team if he expects success in 2009. If he does, the Jets could end up on top of the AFC East in 2009.
Why they won't win:
New York's offense has no clear leader at quarterback. Rookie Mark Sanchez appears primed to lead the team, but underclassmen quarterbacks fail more often than they succeed in the NFL.
Of all underclassmen quarterbacks drafted since 1990, only Ben Roethlisberger and Trent Dilfer have started and won Super Bowls. For every Roethlisberger, there are three Ryan Leafs.
Sanchez, playing in the NFL's biggest media market, has an enormous amount of pressure on his inexperienced shoulders. If he tries to do too much or can't handle the spotlight, it could be a long season of growing pains for New York.
The Jets must build a ball control offense around Sanchez to hide his flaws. In 2008, they were 14th in time of possession and 19th in turnover edge with an experienced quarterback. The team must improve on those numbers while Sanchez matures in 2009.
As it stands, the Jets don't have enough offensive firepower to compete with New England, Buffalo and Miami in the AFC East. The team never replaced Laveranues Coles, who left in free agency. As a result, New York has a big void at receiver opposite Jerricho Cotchery.
The Jets' premier candidates for number two receiver are Brad Smith and Chansi Stuckey, who combined for 44 catches and 423 yards in 2008. Opposing teams will likely focus on Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller.
If neither Stuckey nor Smith can emerge as a viable option, Sanchez will have a difficult time finding open receivers in 2009.
Chances of winning the AFC East in 2009: 5 out of 10
Why the Bills will win the AFC East in 2009:
The addition of Terrell Owens is Buffalo's biggest key to success in 2009. Recent history says that T.O.'s first year with a new team is all good news. In 2004, he took Philadelphia to the Super Bowl, and in 2007, T.O. helped the Cowboys win 13 games and the NFC East.
Despite his me-first attitude and off-field distractions, Owens has proven himself as one of the NFL's biggest playmakers. His presence will greatly reduce the amount of double-teams faced by Lee Evans and open up the running game for Marshawn Lynch.
If young quarterback Trent Edwards continues to mature, Buffalo's offense should keep scoreboard operators busy in 2009.
Buffalo's vastly improved pass rush is another reason to think they can take the AFC East in 2009. After finishing 28th in the league in sacks last season, the Bills drafted pass-rushing demon Aaron Maybin to get after the quarterback.
Maybin should team with Aaron Schobel, who missed 11 games in 2008 due to injury. Schobel averaged nearly 10.5 sacks per season from 2003-2007, and the team expects him to approach that figure again in 2009.
Besides their first name, Maybin and Schobel share an explosive first step and a talent for bringing down quarterbacks. They should make up one of the NFL's premier sack tandems in 2009.
Why they won't win:
All the offensive weapons on Earth won't help Buffalo if Trent Edwards has no time to throw. The Bills lost their two best offensive linemen this offseason, trading tackle Jason Peters to Philadelphia and releasing guard Derrick Dockery.
Those losses won't help an offensive line that ranked 22nd in sacks allowed last season.
The Bills will also play their first three games of 2009 without star running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for multiple violations of the league's personal conduct policy.
Lynch has run for at least a thousand yards in each of his two seasons, and his absence leaves a gaping hole behind Trent Edwards. Backup Fred Jackson performed well last season, but has yet to show that he can carry a heavy load on a consistent basis.
Buffalo starts the season against New England, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Miami. It will be difficult for them to get off to a fast start without Lynch, and it will be impossible to win the division if they lose to New England and Miami so early in the season.
Chances of winning the AFC East in 2009: 4 out of 10.