2009 Division Winners: New England Patriots
The AFC East has been Tom Brady’s stomping ground for much of the last decade. This year should be no different.
The bottom feeding Bills made some head-scratching choices this offseason, letting Pro bowl tackle Jason Peters leave, which does not bode well for a struggling offensive line, or a QB named Trent Edwards who will no doubt be begging for protection as the Bills will be forced to become more of the pass0happy team they were in the 90’s and begin to lean less on the running game.
The free agent signing of Terrell Owens no doubt helps prove my point, as the Bills are looking for a real possession receiver to take attention away from speedsters Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish.
Robert Royal continues to impress as he matures, making the Bills a good pick for a sleeper, as long as you ignore their defense and lack of a consistent ground game.
One might argue that the Bills do have a consistent ground game with Marshawn Lynch, but how much of a compelling argument could you really make? Lynch finds himself suspended for the first month of the season, or four total games. Four potential losses if the passing offense does not establish itself early and often.
And then, even if the passing game does launch effectively, what if they cannot outscore their opponents? The Bills live in a division housing the pass happy Patriots, who managed to dismantle them last year without Tom Brady.
The Bills lack a consistently great pass rusher, can't come up with a real playmaker from their linebacking corps, and they don't exactly have a mouth-watering secondary.
Combine these critical factors and you have a recipe for disaster in your own backyard.
Even if T.O. can produce 10 T.D.s all by his lonesome, who will deliver alongside him? You cannot honestly tell me that Fred Davis is the guy you want getting 10-20 carries a game, and Lee Evans has never shown he can carry a team week in and week out.
So that leaves?
Big target James Hardy proved he wasn’t ready as a rookie, and leaves little evidence he will be ready this season. Roscoe Parrish is small and injury prone, and the front office didn’t do a whole lot to even make a patchwork offensive line, meaning even if someone besides T.O. is ready to step up, Trent Edwards may not have the time to throw the ball.
Look for lots of sacks, turnovers, and maybe even a sub .500 season. No playoffs, and if T.O. struggles, he may not get an extension on his one year deal.
The Jets do have a lot of on-paper talent, but that has led to minimal success the past several years. This team has changed coaches three times in nine years, and I have no reason to believe a quick turnaround is in the cards.
Rex Ryan goes from Defensive guru in Baltimore to first time head coach in New Jersey. He has three rookie QB’s (a loss-heavy starting record and one concussion does not qualify Kellen Clemens as a “seasoned veteran” in my book) a very good stable of running backs, and an above average receiving corps.
This will only translate into offensive success if whomever Rex deems the capable heir to Chad and Brett can move the ball with the passing game.
The running game can only take you so far, as Tennessee was kind enough to demonstrate last season. You need a playmaking QB to win consistently in this league.
Miracles do happen, as the fates would allow for Baltimore and Trent Dilfer in 2000 and Tampa Bay and Brad Johnson in 2002. Neither team has made a serious run at the championship before or since, and that is in large part to inconsistent QB play (or poor head coaching on the part of Billeck and Gruden, you decide. Maybe it is a combination).
The Jets’ defense is neither dominant nor dormant, but it will only take the team so far, as once again Tennessee was kind enough to demonstrate last season.
I cannot say without seeing him outside his previous system how effective Bart Scott will be. He never made my list of Raven’s MVP’s, and was the only one to leave so quickly. Bart may be more about the money than about the scheme. New coaches often make the mistake of bringing guys that made their old team’s system effective, even if it is not the playmaker(s) they wanted.
(You cannot honestly say that Rex would prefer Scott over Suggs or even old man Ray Lewis).
Keep in mind the Jets traded two defensive starters to the Browns for the right to draft Mark Sanchez, who walks into a shaky situation at best. Whoever starts, look for this to be a run first, smash mouth team, much like the Patriots and Steelers of the early 00’s. Laveranues Coles left at first chance, and no one can predict whether this team can succeed with no true number one wideout.
No matter what this team should finish with a .500 record or better, but if they could not get to the postseason with Favre, I don’t see them getting there this year either.
The Dolphins are a tough team to predict. In 2007 they brought in Cam Cameron to transfer his record setting run game from San Diego into Miami TD’s. After a 1-15 campaign, it is tough not to be strict with Cam.
It was clear last year in Baltimore that his system is only as effective as his playmakers, which can be said of any offensive coordinator. Miami had rookie Ted Ginn Jr., fresh off surgery for his first NFL season. He had trouble early and often, and rarely produced.
Trent Green suffered a season ending neck injury, even after several tough (albeit close) losses. Ronnie Brown suffered a season ending knee injury, and that pretty much sums up the offensive playmakers. After that, Cleo Lemon spent most of the season running for his life, trying to get the ball to receivers whose last name I cannot and do not want to try to spell.
The Dolphins narrowly avoided beating Detroit to the "worst team in NFL history" trophy presentation, and it took overtime to do so. Needless to say, Cam Cameron was not invited back for an encore. The only lighters out in the open were not to toast his one success, so much as to torch his contract.
Miami then brought in Bill Parcells and his subordinates.
He rebuilt via the draft and free agency, anchored the offensive line with Michigan LT Jake Long, and installed a run first offense that would protect both new QB Chad Pennington as well as surgically repaired Ronnie Brown.
To best his former protégé, Parcells installed a version of the wishbone offense to throw off would-be defenders. Ronnie Brown ran and passed wild, and the fish were able to stomp all over the Patriots.
So called “Noodle-armed” Chad proved he can be as accurate as ever, spreading the ball around and blocking effectively when the “wildcat” offense was called in. The season finished on a high note as Parcells and company dismantled his former protégé’s protégé, and Chad got revenge against his former team and current replacement, Brett Favre.
Brett finished the season leading the league in turnovers, while Chad finished first in completion percentage, first in turnover ratio, and in the top ten in overall rating. The season was a success, but ended on a low note when Chad threw four int’s in a postseason loss to Baltimore.
This year should be about the same.
The Fins have to contend with a healthy Patriots squad, and have made minimal changes to their own team. They still lack a true long term solution at QB, and the wildcat is no longer fooling teams. Parcells has proven he knows how to turn a franchise around, but has had trouble getting back to Super Bowl without top rate assistants (His last trip was 13 years ago and four teams ago).
Even with the continued maturation of Ted Ginn and even younger players such as Jhavid Bess and Greg Camarillo, the Fins are still looking for the replacement to the guy that should never have been allowed to leave: specialist Wes Welker. Camarillo may be the guy, but until we see him in 16 straight games we may never know.
Look for a record in the 10 win stages, but probably an early playoff exit if they make the cut at all.
The Patriots will be very hungry this year. Tom Brady is not getting younger, and neither is Randy Moss. Moss probably added years to his career life by taking plays off in Minnesota and Oakland, but that doesn’t work in a spread scheme.
If you are out on the field, run your hardest, take fast cuts, and just go, baby, go. Randy Moss has been a workhorse since he arrived in 2007, as has Wes Welker. There will be a new offensive coordinator this year, but as long as the playmakers are there, I do not foresee any slowing down.
Moss and Welker add another year of experience in a complicated scheme, and after Brady’s season-long vacation, may even be on the same page. Can you imagine if there were miscues in the 2007 campaign, just how dominant this trio might be this year with no further mistakes?
Granted, they no longer have a great third option since the Patriots were foolish enough to let Dante Stallworth go, but even if he had stayed there are no guarantees that he would not have run over some poor guy after drinking all night in a Miami hotel.
Stallworth plays for Cleveland, so there is no evidence he would not have been there regardless of what team he was representing. He is now suspended indefinitely, and might be playing for no team in 2009, which means he will just about match his production from 2008.
The Patriots made some nice upgrades on defense, bringing in Jerod Mayo last season and hard hitting safety Patrick Cheung this year. The loss of Rodney Harrison seems tough, but his age and lack of speed were holding the team back more than he was helping out. Even the worst safeties are effective in run support, but to be a truly great cover safety you need fresh legs, which rarely happens as you approach your 40’s.
The Patriots may not put up record setting points or go undefeated, but they will not face such a cupcake schedule as they did in 2007. The entire league has a blueprint for how to rush them, so look for Tom Brady to take more hits, hopefully not to his knee on a dead play like last season.
The annual Colts vs. Patriots showdown should be much better than last season, as it will actually be a showdown and not some tune-up game for Peyton Manning to get more practice in with whoever was filling in for the struggling Marvin Harrison that week.
Belichick will be more protective of Brady this year, and look to sit him if the game is out of reach on either end. That means fewer points, and probably less victories, especially if these guys secure a first round bye and have nothing to play for.
If Belichick can return to the days of winning without spite, this team should coast to the playoffs. Once there, unless they face an extra hungry Chargers or Colts team, look for the Patriots to get their fourth ring of the decade.
They should, at the very least, split the season series with each team, and in some cases sweep. This is the clear winner, and the return of Brady should regain the AFC its pride and competitiveness.
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