A rookie quarterback in the Big Apple. An 11-5 team missing the playoffs. The greatest turnaround in NFL history. A mid season collapse. A late season collapse.
The AFC East abounds with storylines heading into the 2009 season, and what was the toughest division in the conference last year should prove to be so once again thanks to a cavalcade of talented players and coaches…and the fact that these teams hate each other.
Ok, hate may be a strong word, but there will be more animosity this season than in year’s past. Let’s take a look at each team and see what makes them so good and who they have to loathe in the division.
Buffalo Bills: Buffalo made the first splash of the off season by signing Terrell Owens.
Yes, T.O’s numbers fell off last year (catching ten touchdowns for 1,052 yards as opposed to 15 TDs for 1,355 yards in 2007), but remember he didn’t have Tony Romo throwing to him for three games, and during that time Owens caught just one touchdown pass and totaled one-hundred yards (compare that with touchdown and two-hundred and thirteen yards he racked up during week twelve).
Owens will provide a much needed complement to Lee Evans, who had five of Buffalo’s fourteen (yes, fourteen) receiving touchdowns last year. Despite the improved offense, the division’s worst quarterback (sorry Trent) and a mediocre defense make the Bills the odds on favorite to finish last again, but they should by no means be a pushover.
Who they hate: Recently, Buffalo hasn’t had as much to do with the division’s rivalries, mainly because they’ve played so poorly. This year however is different for one reason: Terrell Owens. Besides the fact that he will probably flap his gums about every other AFC East team, football fans will get to see Owens vs. Randy Moss twice during the regular season, adding a flare to the usually uninteresting Bills-Patriots games.
Miami Dolphins: The biggest NFL surprise from last year returns many of the same key players this season. Even so, another successful season is very iffy and depends on a lot of factors.
First, Chad Pennington has never had back to back seasons where he’s started at least ten games. Pennington was the lynchpin to the Dolphins’ success and neither Chad Henne nor Pat White can be counted on to bring Pennington-like stability.
Second, now that the league has seen the wildcat offense, there is no guarantee it will be as successful. Miami might have to rely on some conventional offense this year, which depends heavily on the continued growth of Ronnie Brown and their receiving corps.
Finally, the defense will need to put up some more impressive performances if the Dolphins hope to return to the playoffs.
Who they hate: With the Dolphins, it’s not so much them hating other teams as other teams hating them.
The AFC East has been run by the Patriots for most of this decade, and the Dolphins snatched it away this year. New England is looking to recapture their division.
And then there are the Jets. All Miami did was hire their ex-head coach to run the team, sign their ex-quarterback, win the division and defeat them in the final game of the regular season, ending any slim hopes of a playoff birth. The Jets-Dolphins feud, which lost some of its luster recently, was reignited this past year, and the two matchups this season figure to be heated and passionate.
New England Patriots: The Patriots traded away a quarterback who threw for 3,693 yards and twenty-one touchdowns and won ten game, yet they are still the favorite to win the AFC East.
Pats fans believed in Matt Cassel and he rewarded them, coming up just short of a playoff birth. Now the franchise gets back their golden boy in Tom Brady, who is coming off surgery on his ACL and MCL.
While his recovery is still on schedule, questions will remain all season about his performance until Brady proves everyone wrong, which he probably will. Still, the fact that Cassel got sacked a league leading forty-seven times last year doesn’t bode well for someone coming off major surgery.
If last year proved anything, it’s that the New England system is greater than any one of their players, so another division title is in the cards. Adding Fred Taylor, having three strong receivers in Randy Moss, Wes Walker and Joey Galloway, and a stifling defense doesn’t hurt either.
Who they hate: Besides the aforementioned budding rivalry with Miami, the Jets-Patriots feud is still going strong, even with the departure of Eric Mangini (as long as Belichick is around, these teams will hate each other). New England’s week eleven overtime loss to Gang Green was a significant factor in the Patriots watching the post season from the couch. Revenge will certainly be on their minds, not as if they need a reason to dominate an opponent.
New York Jets: New York shook up a lot this off season. Since Parcells left after the 2000 season, the Jets have had three Head Coaches (four if you count Belichick for a day), so Rex Ryan has a lot to prove. Only time will tell if his success in Baltimore will translate into victories.
The other big acquisition was Mark Sanchez. It seems increasingly likely that the former Trojan will be under center during week one, especially with the success that Joe Flacco had in Baltimore.
The difference is, you could always count on the Ravens for a solid defensive performance, which you can’t say the same about the Jets. Sanchez is also without a complementary receiver to Jerricho Cotchery (Dustin Keller by himself just won’t cut it) and the running back situation is still sticky, with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington asking for new contracts. Still, if Sanchez can hold his own, New York has the pieces to put together another good year.
Who they hate: After falling apart at the end of last year with their destiny in their own hands, the Jets hate everyone. They have chips on their shoulders and something to prove.
Predictions: The AFC East will shape up like this
- New England (13-3)
- New York (10-6)
- Miami (9-7)
- Buffalo (7-9)
New England once again has all the tools to run away with the division, and could even possibly come away with only one in division loss.
The Jets playoff future comes down to a wild card spot, and with Baltimore/Pittsburgh and Indianapolis/Tennessee to possibly contend with, New York could possibly be on the outside looking in.
Miami will fall victim to a more difficult schedule but still will be a tough opponent for everyone in the division. Buffalo, despite the great Terrell Owens, will post another 7-9 year.