Improved AFC East: It's Anybody's Division

Michael McMastersCorrespondent IJune 26, 2009

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 02:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets speaks to the media during minicamp on May 2, 2009 at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Okay, I read Tom Casale’s recent article "Improved AFC East Is Still Patriots’ Division To Lose" and it just didn’t sit right with me.

I mean really? Last I checked, the Dolphins were in the playoffs last year, not the Patriots. Last I checked, except for the Bills, every team split in the win loss column in the division.

It doesn’t really matter to me that Matt Cassel was the QB and if it was Tom Brady they would’ve dominated. That’s not what happened. Yes, Brady may be the best QB of this decade and maybe even all time, but how much could he have done getting sacked 47 times like Cassel did?

It’s obvious that the Giants figured out how to beat Brady; bring the heat.  They exploited something in the Patriots. Their offensive line is getting old and it just isn’t as good as it used to be. 

There is no denying that they were still good enough to be ranked fifth in total offense, but you have to believe teams game-plans changed when Brady was out of the line-up. The heat will be coming this year though.

You could argue New England’s dominance over this decade as the sure fire team to beat, but there are lingering questions. Like will Tom Brady be 100 percent at the start of the season? Can the offensive line hold up? What about the defense? Isn’t it getting a little old?

So among all these questions, what did Bill Belichick do to improve his team for 2009?

Well, they brought in Fred Taylor, who is on the back end of his career.  He might be able to produce for a year or two, but the main thing they are getting out of him is putting Lawrence Maroney and his putrid 3.3 YPC on the bench.

They also brought in Joey Galloway, who although is up there in years, still has speed and can be an effective decoy. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are extremely dangerous and unless these guys break their legs are going to dominate.

What about defensive pressure? Richard Seymour topped the team with eight sacks. No wonder they were trying to pull Julius Peppers away from Carolina.

They drafted a solid safety in Patrick Chung, but I’ve never heard of any of their other draft choices.  I’m no expert, so I really can’t say too much on their draft.

So what does Rex Ryan the new head coach for the Jets have to say about all this?  "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings, I came here to win, let's put it that way...I'm certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.”

And why should he be? For the past couple of years he has been running the defense for one of the best defensive teams in the league. Granted, he doesn’t have the personnel that he had in Baltimore, but he shouldn’t have any trouble getting his hybrid scheme up and running.

There certainly is a long uphill battle that the Jets will be facing this year. Mark Sanchez should be the starter week one and its way to early to tell whether he can carry this team. This team could struggle mightily. 

For this reason and this reason alone the Jets need to establish a strong running game early. Drafting Shonn Greene should help alleviate some of the pressure off of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Greene could be Jones' eventual replacement.

It will take pressure off Sanchez, who needs to develop a strong rapport with Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey. He should be looking Dustin Keller’s way as well.

Defensively the Jets need to work on their pass rush. They drafted Vernon Gholston last year and he has been a bit of a disappointment so far. Nobody on their roster topped ten sacks and they could really use somebody.

You can’t say the secondary has been a disappointment though. Darrelle Revis is a standout player and should be for many years to come. Kerry Rhodes has been dominant as well. The addition of Lito Sheppard certainly doesn’t hurt either.

David Harris and Brian Scott should make an imposing any RB trying to run the football. Kris Jenkins isn't exactly a pushover either. 

The Jets can definitely contend this year. They just have to play smart fundamental football.

On to the team that is flying under the radar the Buffalo Bills. Let's be honest here, nobody expects Buffalo to do anything. A lot of the experts are pegging another 7-9 finish. Really, it’s gotten bad in Buffalo.

With no play-off appearances this decade they have been the definite bottom feeders in this division.

So what did Buffalo do? They made some serious noise. Inking Terrell Owens to a one year deal worth $6.5 million, but that’s not all. 

They went and got the pass rusher with the quickest step in Aaron Maybin via the draft. Buffalo needs a pass rush in the worst way. Their top sack man last year Ryan Denney isn’t even a starter. He finished with four sacks. That’s embarrassing.

They totally dismantled their offensive line. Every guy lining up for them will be in a different position that they did the previous year. Well not Geoff Hangartner, the Bills' other free agency pick up. 

Not to mention two of the guys starting, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, are rookies.This could be a recipe for disaster or it could pan out. It has to if Trent Edwards wants to survive the season.

The most positive thing that can be said about Buffalo right now hangs on how the line holds up. Terrell Owens and Lee Evans on the same squad, need I say more? 

Even if Buffalo falls out of contention early they should be fun to watch. It shouldn’t be typical boring Dick Jauron football this season.

Last year this time if you asked me if I thought the Dolphins would be the AFC East champs, I would have said yea right.

Yet, first year head coach Tony Sparano found a way to make arguably the best turnaround for a team in NFL history, and he did it playing smart fundamental football. They controlled the clock, kept Chad Pennington on his feet and didn’t turn the ball over. 

The biggest weakness on this squad was their secondary, and now with Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Chris Clemons, this secondary should have a better handle on playing the Bills and Patriots plethora of receivers.

It helps that they got pressure on opposing QBs, tallying 40 sacks on the year.  Joey Porter had his best year as a pro at the age of 31. Something tells me that Porter wouldn’t be happy with Casale’s article. “You've got to beat somebody to be the champs. We had to beat somebody to be the champs."

The defense should be much improved if Porter performs like he did last year.  Every other team in the division should be worried. Oh, and Jason Taylor is back. Things are going to be nasty.

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams effectively ran the Wild Cat last year and now Pat White is on the squad. Jeeze Louise. 

After looking at the Dolphins squad I’m just not ready to anoint the Patriots the AFC East crown just yet, even if the Dolphins have a weak receiver group.

Channing Crowder has thoughts of his own as well, The Jets "didn't even win the division and now they're all talking about how [the AFC East] goes through New England,'' Crowder said Tuesday. "That's what gets me bothered. I don't care about the other stuff, but don't say the division goes through New England.

"It goes through Miami."

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting ready for a dog-fight for the AFC East.