NFL Audibles: Taking a Look at the AFC East
Every year around this time, critics try to really break down the NFL. Who won in the offseason? Who failed miserably at the Draft? Which teams will bounce back from defeat a year ago?
Some are easier said then done.
The Patriots weren't expected to run the table all the way up into the Super Bowl. 13-3 would be considered a successful regular season.
And how 'bout dem Jets? Yes, the J-E-T-S. Who saw through the smokescreen of a ridiculously easy schedule a year before? I didn't at the time, but halfway in, it became apparent that some changes needed to be made in the Big Apple, and boy was there ever change.
The same could be said about the Dolphins. The 'Fins floundered their way to a 1-15 season, whom some would considered the worst ever. If it weren't for a flashy over the top pass from Cleo Lemon against a depleted Ravens' defense, we could be sitting here discussing why the Dolphins have gone both undefeated and winless. Scary.
Buffalo see-sawed their way through a decent season, certainly an improvement over the 2006 campaign. Marshawn Lynch didn't looked like a reach, he carried most of the Bills' rushing attack, and it took some heat off of Lee Evans, who was subpar all year. The Bills made a few good moves at the Draft, and made a couple decent signings as well.
So what does this year bring? Can "The Big Tuna" bring the 'Fins out of the basement of the NFL? Will the Bills elevate their game and bring them into the upper echelon of the AFC? Who wins the starting job in New York, an relatively untested Kellen Clemens, or injury-riddled veteran Chad Pennington?
So many questions, and the answers are right around the corner. So what do I think of the AFC East this year?
1. New England Patriots—13-3
I think there is a little more gas left in the tank for Bill Belichick and his Patriots. I don't think Spygate will affect them, it's in the back of their minds. Can Randy Moss and Tom Brady duplicate their amazing success they had last year? I'm leaning towards doubtful.
I fully believe they can put up Pro-Bowl numbers still, but with teams in the NFL learning that you need three corners to survive against the pass-happy Patriots (or any team, for that matter), and with teams learning how to really stop Moss, there's really little doubt in my mind that Randy Moss will not put up another season of record-smashing numbers.
Where do I see this team? A tougher schedule, all three teams in the East got stronger one way or another. The Colts will visit Foxboro, and so will another division where all three teams significantly improved. 13-3 should be a good pace setter for the playoffs.
2. Buffalo Bills—10-6
The Bills narrowly missed the playoffs last year. The team was in it untill I believe the final three weeks. The rushing attack got scary over the course of the year, and you have to believe that James Hardy (father beating aside) will provide the perfect compliment to Lee Evans, who will surely bounce back.
Paul Posluszny is like giving the Bills another pick in this draft, and he will revitalize a somewhat boring defense. No. 1 pick Leodis McKelvin will surely shore up the pass defence, and the addition of Marcus Stroud makes the run defense a lot more dangerous. I like the direction the Bills' are headed. Too bad they aren't coming to western Canada to play some ball.
3. New York Jets—7-9
It could be either another dismal year, or a bounce back year and possibly a playoff appearance. Okay, maybe I am taking it a little too far, but some of the moves the Jets made to get better should make the fans happy, and let them know they are at least trying to win.
Alan Faneca could be just what the doctor ordered for Nick Mangold and D'Brickshaw Ferguson. Tony Richardson could prove vital for the blocking as well. A big question mark is the receiving corps. Is Jerricho Cotchery ready to step into the No. 1 role ahead of Lavernaus Coles, at the end or near the end of the year? Coles isn't getting any younger, and looks to be declining fast. It seems like a classic case of "So many questions, so little answers".
4. Miami Dolphins—5-11
I don't think there is any possible way a Parcells' lead team could do any worse than the sad-sack team did last year. Many new faces were brought in, and not just on the field.
Let's see how Tony Sparano does in his first head-coaching job. For being a rebuilding franchise, a 5-11 mark isn't bad, not bad at all. This should be a transition year for the team, but they do have some talent.
Who starts? Do you give John Beck a few more chances to prove himself, or does Chad Henne get the job right out of Michigan? How have Hagan and Ginn Jr. developed over the offseason?
I have little faith in the secondary too, outside of Will Allen, there really is no presence of an elite player. The loss of Zach Thomas is going to sting a lot more than people think as well. The Dolphins could challenge the Jets for the cellar of the East, but it's not likely.
It may not be a competitive division, but in the next few seasons, I think you're going to see a changing of the guard. The Patriots, I think, are going to start seeing their talent decline as the team gets older and older. The Bills should keep building, and will challenge for the Wild Card. The Jets and Dolphins could challenge for the Wild Card, or could challenge for the No. 1 overall pick. Lots of question will be answered in the upcoming year.
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