Any proclamations of a competitive AFC East have been greatly exaggerated. In a universe where Matt Cassel pilots the New England Patriot offense, this would be a perfectly reasonable sentiment.
Much to the dismay of AFC East division denizens though, Cassel has migrated west with former Patriot executive Scott Pioli, leaving New England’s offensive attack in the golden hands of Tom Brady.
While the division is infinitely more competent than in 2007, the question isn’t about improvement.
It’s about who can trade body shots and throw down with the division bully.
Below is a look at New England’s divisional rivals and their corresponding threat level to New England’s rightful place atop the AFC East.
Swapping Randy Mueller and Cam Cameron for Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano was akin to swapping Amy Winehouse for Angelina Jolie. In the spacing of a year, Parcells (with the help of Jeff Ireland) has salvaged the wasteland of talent that was the Dolphin roster and nurtured it into a plush garden of reasonably priced veterans and shrewd draft picks.
But as helpful as competent personnel moves are, the issue of stopping the explosive and retooled Patriot offense is a much more difficult topic altogether.
Gimmicks like the Wildcat formation work when there is a void of dynamical action within a game. An open seam here or a blown coverage there can be the decisive action in a contest between two mediocre offenses.
But if New England can approach the just under 37 PPG average of 2007, then the Wildcat is much less effective against New England’s unrelenting offensive production.
It goes from a game changer to a cute attempt at trickery.
Threat Level: Guarded
The Dolphins always play the Patriots well, but they won’t be able to score in bunches to keep up.
The shifting of regimes from Eric Mangini to Rex Ryan actually could be a huge boon for the Jets. During his time in New York, Mangini built a solid foundation through the draft and combined with some decent free agent signings; the Jets should field the best defense in the East.
The issue Ryan’s team will encounter will be a similar refrain from his time in Baltimore: a shaky offense. Regardless of who’s selected to lead the offense, (be it Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens) they will inherit a group that is light on playmakers.
While the Jets appear to have a very promising future, ‘09 should be a year of growing pains and not postseason plans.
Threat Level: Elevated
The Jet defense will present the best challenge to Brady and Friends, but Sanchez/Clemens don’t have the skill or weapons to keep up.
While the Bills should be commended on their foray into the media spotlight by signing Terrell Owens, the diva refugee shouldn’t be regarded as a cure for all of the team’s plights.
Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and Dominic Rhodes make for a terrific triumvirate at running back, but that’s where the positives end. The offensive line is still an enormous question mark after the Jason Peters trade, and Trent Edwards is a shaky peg to hinge a franchise’s future on.
Ko Simpson and Donte Whitner have been underwhelming in the defensive secondary and Leodis McKelvin has yet to explode onto the scene as a solid option at corner. The Bills should also be concerned about their LB group beyond Paul Posluszny.
Threat Level: Low
The Bills should offer some resistance to the Patriots—in the first quarter. They are simply not talented enough in the areas where the Patriots are vulnerable (defensive pass rush and offensive pass attack) to present any real problems.