Things have been relatively quiet in New England thus far. One May 28 headline actually painted the following thrilling picture: “Brady throws, stretches in light rain.”
But the rest of the AFC East is in mid-season blow-hard mode already, and Terrell Owens hasn’t even opened his mouth yet.
Whether or not the division got any more competitive during the offseason remains to be determined. There’s no doubt it got a lot mouthier; with Owens’ addition in Buffalo and the New York Jets hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach, Miami linebacker Joey Porter may actually have some competition for the title of the division’s biggest buffoon.
That race has already begun, as a matter of fact, and Porter wasn’t exactly slow out of the blocks.
The first salvo was fired by Ryan, who brings a cocky “toughness”—and one of the more remarkable pot bellies in professional sports—sure to inject some new juice in the Patriots-Jets rivalry. With no provocation from Foxboro, Ryan recently declared that he didn’t come to New York to “kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.”
Not long thereafter it was Porter running his big yap, expressing disgust with the fact that the Dolphins weren’t the favorites to win the division after taking the title last year.
“The AFC East comes through Miami,” he said. “I don't see how you can put someone in front of us when we're the AFC champs."
Here’s the formula, in case you were wondering Joey; take an 11-win team, add a healthy quarterback who happens to be the best player in professional football, sprinkle a dash of savvy offseason free agent moves and glaze with a healthy dose of depth-related draft picks.
Voila—AFC East championship stew.
What’s funny is that Owens has been as silent as a walk in Buffalo snow. One can only imagine the decibel level in the division once he hits his trash-talking stride.
The Patriots, meanwhile, remain consistently tight-lipped, as has been the tradition under Belichick, who is long recognized as the master of mum. But the "King of the Cutoff Hoodie" won’t have to say much at this rate—the bulletin board material will be draped around the locker room like Christmas garland.
Not that the Pats need any of it.
They had their pride bruised in the Super Bowl two seasons ago; not having a legitimate chance to erase that bitter taste last fall will only further stoke the fire. Patriot fans know how the team plays with a chip on its collective shoulder—and that should strike fear in the first six or eight opponents on the schedule this year.
An undefeated record is probably asking too much. But given that Brady is back, the offense added insurance at running back in Fred Taylor and wideout in Joey Galloway. The secondary was retooled with free agents, Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, and draft picks Patrick Chung and Darius Butler, there’s no reason to expect anything less than a 12-win season and a division title.
It’s been a long time since the Pats had this much motivation.
What’s more, the fact that the rest of the division is already taking cheap shots tells me one thing and one thing only—they know what’s coming. False bravado aside, if the Jets and Bills are this concerned while everyone’s wearing sweatpants, the Pats have already won the first battle.
Personally, I’d be surprised, maybe even shocked, if the Patriots weren’t the last team standing in the conference. Regardless of what Porter says, the division goes through Gillette Stadium.
But no matter where the division starts or ends, it’s going to be a loud, loud ride. Given that we are still nearly three months from kickoff and the rest of the crowd is already throwing rocks at New England, I’d turn up the volume and settle in for a six-month roller coaster ride.
In fact, perhaps the silent philosopher Owens put it best himself.
Get your popcorn ready.
(This article originally appeared at Examiner.com,where Keith Testa writes as the New England Pro Sports Examiner. Visit his other articles here)