The AFC East garnered a lot of headlines this offseason: Tom Brady’s return, Brett Favre’s departure, and T.O. now the show in Buffalo, while Miami, which welcomed back pass rusher Jason Taylor, remained pretty much the same.
Last season, the Dolphins took the AFC East title with an 11-5 record. The Patriots finished with the same record but stayed home for the post-season. The Jets, initially looking like the class of the division after Brady went down minutes into the season, crashed in the last five games, petering out at 9-7. The Bills started 5-1 then went 2-8 the rest of the way.
This being the NFL, what 2009 holds in store for the teams of the AFC East is anyone’s guess. After all, who foresaw the Dolphins’ 10-game turnaround this time last year? This much is known, based on last season’s records, the teams in the AFC East have four of the seven hardest schedules this year.
The Dolphins 2009 opponents had a combined 152-104 record with a .594 winning percentage last season, whereas in 2008 Miami had one of the league’s easiest schedules. The Patriots face a schedule with a combined .594 winning percentage, the fourth highest of all 30 teams.
The Bills and Jets follow in the sixth and seventh slots, opposing teams that won 146 and 145 games respectively, last year.
Though the AFC East had two teams, Miami and New England, with 11-5 records, only the Dolphins made the playoffs where they failed to get by Baltimore in the Wild Card round.
With Brady back under center, New England is an improved team. Period. Matt Cassel did a terrific job filling in for Brady last year, but Brady, love him or hate him, is a master, and his knee shouldn’t be an issue.
With him taking most snaps in the shotgun anyway, and with the implementation of the “Brady Rule,” No. 12 will be well protected and expect him to pick up where he left off in 2007.
Besides Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney and Ben Watson, New England, as is its trademark, has added old-but-effective veterans running back Fred Taylor and wide receiver Joey Galloway, who is still running 4.4's.
Despite the addition of Owens in Buffalo and linebacker Bart Scott in New York, those teams failed to markedly improve in the offseason. It can be argued the Jets got worse.
New York has no proven quarterback on its roster. It’ll be between Kellen Clemens and draft-day darling Mark Sanchez for the starting position. And though Atlanta and Baltimore had success last year with rookies Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco taking the snaps, that was more the exception than the rule.
Don’t expect the same from Sanchez, especially since New York lost its best receiver in Laverneous Coles and 30-something running back Thomas Jones is a year older.
The Bills finished 25th in total offense last year. At 35 years old, don’t expect Owens to improve that ranking dramatically. The only thing Buffalo really knows about 25-year-old QB Trent Edwards is that he’s not J.P. Losman, not a particularly encouraging fact.
Last year, Edwards threw just 11 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions). Owens had nearly that many touchdowns himself with 10. T.O.’s abysmal track record with quarterbacks, especially young ones, is well documented. Things could go bad fast for the Bills if Edwards starts erratically and Owens gets whiney.
Though it has the hardest schedule, Miami will do well because the Dolphins play solid, Bill Parcells football: tough running, tough defense, ball control, and minimal turnovers. Those tried and true aspects are a staple of any team the Tuna has been associated with and have proven again and again to be a successful formula.
There is one stat, above all, that is a direct predictor of any team’s success—takeaways/giveaways. With such parity in the league, turnovers are the name of the game. The teams that create the most and commit the least are the teams that win. It’s an immutable law.
With Tony Sparano at the helm finding turnovers unacceptable and the influence of Parcells backing him up, expect the Dolphins to be at the top of the takeaway/giveaway category again—and with New England at the top of the AFC East.
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