No where to go but up? Sure, but it won’t be that easy.
In six games against the AFC East in 2008, the Bills held leads in three of them. Their opponents held the ball longer in all but two of them and were out-gained yardage-wise in all but one of them. In fact, the AFC East averaged 320.5 net yards-per-game against Buffalo to 257.3.
The Patriots will welcome the return of Tom Brady; the Dolphins return the “Wildcat” and the Jets debut Mark Sanchez. And while the Bills added T.O. and the Jets sent Brett Favre packing, New York also adds veterans like Bart Scott and Lito Sheppard.
Meanwhile the Pats look like they could regenerate their offense to be even better than their 2007 version.
But given an early glance, it still looks as though the Bills will be chasing the rest of their division rivals.
Here’s a capsule look at the updated AFC East, and how each team’s moves impacts the Bills going forward into the 2009 season;
Key Additions:Jason Taylor (DE/OLB), Gibril Wilson (FS), Vontae Davis (CB), Pat White (WR/QB)
Key Deletions:Vonnie Holiday (DE), John Beck (QB), Tony McDaniel (DT)
Last year’s Dolphins went from the 1-15 outhouse in 2007 to the 11-5 penthouse winning the AFC East crown. Coach Tony Sparano oversaw the rejuvenation of quarterback Chad Pennington while installing the “Wildcat” offense.
Meanwhile Chad Henne is waiting in the wings for his shot while the ‘Fins took West Virginia QB Pat White who should be a perfect fit for the Wildcat, though RB Ronnie Brown (916 yards) was still under center in the Wildcat during the first day of OTAs.
Miami solidified its defensive backfield by selecting Vontae Davis and Sean Smith while re-signing Will Allen to a two-year extension. Gibril Wilson adds a solid physical presence and 13 career picks to the group.
Impact on the Bills:
Clearly the Dolphins felt as though they needed to reinforce their defensive backs in a division that now not only features the likes of Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, but Randy Moss, Joey Galloway and Jericho Cotchery.
Jason Taylor returns to augment a unit that had 40 quarterback sacks last year—and that means more pressure on the Bills’ young, developing O-line. On offense, the “Wildcat” offense helped the ‘Fins rack up 730-net yards in two games against the Bills.
The pressure will be on defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to best utilize inside backers Paul Pozluszny and Kawika Mitchell to cage the “Wildcat”.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Key Additions: Joey Galloway (WR), Fred Taylor (RB), Shaun Springs (DB), Chris Baker (TE), Greg Lewis (WR).
Key Deletions: Matt Cassell (QB), Ellis Hobbs (DB), Junior Seau (LB), Rodney Harrison (DB), Jabar Gaffney (WR), LaMont Jordan (RB).
Ralph C. Wilson may own the franchise, but Bill Belichik and the Patriots own the Bills. Of course, the true “key” addition to the ‘09 Patriots will be the return of All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady who missed all of 2008 with a torn ACL injury suffered in Week One.
Brady, entering his ninth season, has a career completion figure of 63 percent with over 26,000 career yards passing and is three TD passes shy of 200 for his career – oh and then there’s those three Vince Lombardi trophies—and Giselle. Life is good.
Almost as a “Welcome back, Tom” gift, the Patriots went out and got their super-QB a new set of toys to play with—veteran wideout Galloway (Tampa Bay) to complement All-World WR Moss—producing a receiving tandem that is among just nine NFL receivers with 10,000 or more career receiving yards.
Tight end Chris Baker (Jets) and WR Greg Lewis (Eagles) also join the receiving corps. Former Jags RB Fred Taylor joins a backfield with Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney, who is coming off IR.
Impact on the Bills:
It’s hard not to just write, “Katie, bar the doors!” or to suggest the Bills give the Pats’ bus driver wrong directions to Ralph Wilson Stadium (besides, that would only work during home games) … but really. New England has defeated the Bills in 16-of-17 including their last 11 straight.
Last year, Matt Cassell managed to throw for 234 yards against them in a 20-10 win— Brady has averaged 260.5 yards passing and 3.25 touchdown passes-per-game against the Bills since Fewell has been defensive coordinator.
Simply put, the match-ups just aren’t there for Buffaloand the numbers don’t bode well for Bills fans, but the formula is out there—the Giants formula—keep the score low and you might have a chance. The trick for Fewell is, how do you stay close?
Meanwhile, Trent Edwards is 37-for-68 lifetime vs. the Pats with one TD, three interceptions, and five sacks. Oh, AND the Bills open up the season on a Monday night … at Gillette Stadium … on the night of Brady’s return. … “Katie !!!”
NEW YORK JETS
Key Additions: Rex Ryan (head coach), Mark Sanchez (QB), Bart Scott (LB), Lito Sheppard, (DB), Larry Izzo (LB), Marques Douglas (DE)
Key Deletions: Eric Mangini (head coach), Brett Favre (QB), Laveranues Coles (WR), Chris Baker (TE), Hank Poteat (DB), Eric Barton (LB).
With the addition of head coach Rex Ryan, the Jets look to bring an aggressive, in-your-face look to the defensive side of the ball. The Jets recorded 41 sacks and brought in free agent Bart Scott (Ravens) with recorded 65 tackles with 1.5 sacks.
Meanwhile running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington have been no-shows for off-season workouts, though Jones showed up for Wednesday's OTA session. Both backs are looking for extensions of their current deals or new contracts altogether.
Of course, a team breaking in a rookie quarterback like Sanchez—with lots of hype but precious little on-field experience—needs to have the kind of solid running game that tandem would provide.
Jones, who led the AFC in rushing last year (1,312 yards) is entering the third-year of a four-year deal worth $20 million and is slated to earn $900,000 this year. Washington gained 448 yards in 16 games and is due to earn $535,000.
Impact on the Bills:
If the key to the Bills season is keeping Edwards healthy, then it’s conceivable that the Jets pose the biggest in-division threat to that success.
Last season, the Jets recorded eight sacks against Bills quarterbacks and the addition of Scott, Marques Douglas and Ryan’s defensive philosophy—speed and athleticism and attacking the quarterback—again puts pressure on Buffalo’s young, revamped O-line.