Many New Faces in AFC East, But None Prettier Than Tom Brady
Entering last season the Patriots were coming of a year in which they accumulated 16 regular season wins. The other three teams in the division combined for 12 regular season wins. Even with the Pats posting 16 wins, the AFC East had the 3rd worst win total of any division in the NFL.
Seventeen weeks later though, the division won 38 games, which tied for the 2nd highest total in the league. This year the division will again be one of the toughest in football, but don't expect any new names atop the standings.
After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season the Patriots didn't sit on their hands this offseason. They filled the hole at cornerback by signing Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs.
Through the draft this year the Pats again injected youth into its defense. Not to mention Tom Brady is making his return to the team.
All of this adds up to a likely division title for New England, but the rest of the division has maintained its effort to close the gap.
Beginning with the team who finished last in the AFC East a season ago, the Buffalo Bills have had an intriguing offseason. Buffalo seemed to be in rebuilding mode when it released guard Derrick Dockery and then traded Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters to the Eagles.
Then the team signed wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is seen as the biggest clubhouse cancer in sports. A team under construction doesn't sign Owens though, so the Bills must feel they are contenders.
And why not? Buffalo began last season 5-1, only to limp home with a 2-8 record in the final ten games.
The addition of Owens should create more stability on an already dynamic Bills offense. Not many in the league can boast an attack with receivers Lee Evans and Owens plus running back Marshawn Lynch.
However the offense will have to do without Lynch for the first three games of the season after the running back was arrested on a misdemeanor gun charge on February 11th. He was suspended for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
As for Owens, he won't be a problem. If he wants a huge contract at the end of the season, he knows he has to be on his best behavior even if things aren't going well.
But even with the offseason additions including a solid draft class, the Bills are still the 4th best team in the division. A 4th straight 7-9 finish isn't out of the question, with perhaps a goal aimed at .500.
Working up to the Jets who began last season at 8-3, but stumbled home to finish 9-7. It cost head coach Eric Mangini his job and now former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is at the helm.
The Jets and their new coach were very busy this offseason. The crown jewel of New York's offseason was Bart Scott. The linebacker started every game for the last three seasons in Baltimore, racking up 12 sacks and over 200 tackles during that span.
In addition to Scott, the Jets headcoach also brought in familiar faces safety Jim Leonhard and defensive end Marques Douglas from Baltimore.
The overhaul wasn't done there. Cornerback Lito Shepard from the Eagles, linebacker/special teamer Larry Izzo from the Patriots, and Howard Green from the Seahawks all signed with the Jets and will dawn green next year.
But the player who carries the Jets' hopes on his back this year is first round draft pick Mark Sanchez. The reason the Jets got off to the start they did last year was due to the play of then-quarterback Brett Favre.
In the NFL you need a quarterback to lead you to the promise land, especially in the AFC. The last six AFC representatives in the Super Bowl have all had very good quarterbacks: the Steelers, Colts, and Patriots.
Asking Sanchez to play like a Brady, Manning, or Roethlisberger in his first season is too much to ask of any rookie. With an 8-8 or another 9-7 season, Jets fans should be happy.
Finally to the team who won the AFC East last year, the Dolphins. The team who again looks to be the biggest hurdle for the Patriots.
Miami had a very quiet offseason that finished with a bang bringing back defensive end Jason Taylor. The move also kept Taylor away from the Patriots, the likely destination if he had not signed with the Dolphins.
Vice President of Player Operations, Bill Parcells continues to bolster the trenches as five of the seven new players acquired play on the offensive or defensive line.
Again the issue for Miami, like New York, is their quarterback. The question is if Can Chad Pennington produce like he did last year or not. Some even think another Chad, Chad Henne, will be the man under center for the Dolphins by the end of the year.
It could even be Pat White, one of the most intriguing picks of the NFL draft this year. Miami's second round selection was the quarterback out of West Virginia. He was picked as a wide out but insists he will play QB.
The Dolphins shredded teams like the Patriots with the wildcat offense and White is a perfect signal caller to step into that offense.
Miami was the only team to take advantage of a Tom Brady-less division last year, but as he returns so will the Patriots' dominance. Playoffs aren't out of the question for the Dolphins, but a division title is.
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