In as interesting a division as any this year, there will be a lot of stories to watch in the AFC East.
From Tom Brady rejoining the Pats, Mark Sanchez taking over the Jets, or the increased sales of popcorn in Buffalo, there seems to be a lot of high expectations for each team in the division. Last year Miami shocked everyone and took advantage of Brady’s knee injury and Favre’s shoulder falling apart and somehow won the division.
This year I don’t see the planets aligning for the Fins again with Brady back in the mold, and oh yeah, Chad Pennington is still their QB.
Teams are presented in the order I believe they will finish the division along with their predicted record.
New England Patriots, 13-3
The nightmare that had made Patriots Nation lose countless hours of sleep, Brady’s nearly career ending knee injury, is long gone. Everyone will sleep easy this season replacing that nightmare with being able to count touchdown passes from Brady to Randy Moss as they doze peacefully asleep.
Barring any significant injury to the Pats' star QB, the Patriots should roll over the AFC East this year. Granted the division is better than it was in past years, but the Patriots have something to prove going back to the ‘07 Super Bowl. They have been dwelling on that now for two years. And if you think the Patriots don’t mean business, think again.
Their offense is even more explosive than the ‘07 campaign with the additions of Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis to their receiving core and the aging Fred Taylor to the clustered backfield. Don’t forget the most consistent wideout of the past two years in Wes Welker is still running the slot.
With all those weapons, defenses will be going crazy trying to game plan against them. It’s now virtually impossible to have a consistent double team on Moss so that will open up more chances for him.
The defense is getting younger by the minute. With the heartfelt retirement of The Ultimate Patriot Tedy Bruschi and the trade of Mike Vrabel, the Pats' young, fast linebackers have been given a chance to prove themselves.
Look for a monster season from Jerod Mayo, the returning defensive rookie of the year, and also watch out for Gary Guyton and Pierre Woods. They are two young, fast, smart, and hard hitting linebackers that will thrive in Belichick’s defense.
The biggest question mark for the Pats will be their secondary. They have a slew of rookie or second-year corners with a lot of upside mixed with questionable veterans. There is no one they can really count on with the recent departure of Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel.
The leader of the young secondary will have to be safety Brandon Meriweather, he needs to step up and have a huge season for the Patriots to slow down opposing passing attacks. The Pats gave up 27 touchdown passes last season the second most in the NFL.
Fantasy Studs- Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker
Fantasy Sleepers – Laurence Maroney, Greg Lewis, Chris Baker
New York Jets, 10-6
Well, now that the Favre experiment is long gone and the Jets had great success in the draft, there is a lot of excitement surrounding this team in 2009.
The team's inability to have a reliable quarterback over the last couple of years has been the eventual downfall for a talented bunch of playmakers on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
Mark Sanchez will take the helm as a rookie and as the reincarnation of Broadway Joe himself. The expectations are so high for this kid, but it doesn’t seem to be getting to him. And it helps to know that there isn’t anyone behind him to really compete for the starting job. I think everyone has seen enough Kellen Clemons out on the field to last a lifetime.
Look for Sanchez to have a great rookie year, not like Matt Ryan of a year ago, but just under the mark set for rookie success. The only reason he won’t be putting up the types of consistent number Ryan did is the lack-luster receivers he has to throw to. Yes, Jerricho Cotchery has made strides over the past few seasons but do the Jets really have that much faith in Chansi Stuckey to be a solid contributor week in and week out? I mean he’s named after a Pokémon…and its not even Charizard!
The two breakout stars in this offense this season will be tight end Dustin Keller and running back Leon Washington. Keller is an absolute stud waiting to happen. His athletic ability mixed with great hands and sense of the game give Sanchez a solid option which will be key for the rookie QB.
Leon Washington is the most underrated player in the league. He is a spark plug anytime he gets the ball whether it’s on kick offs, running the ball, or catching it out of the backfield he is sure to amaze. Last year he averaged 5.9 YPC and scored six rushing TDs. Hmm...sound similar to another back up running back a few years ago? Michael Turner anyone? If Thomas Jones goes down look for Leon Washington to have a HUGE year.
The Jets D will be what gives this team ten wins on the year. This defense may be the best in the AFC East just over the Patriots because of the accomplished corners they have.
Their secondary might be among the top in the league with Darrelle Revis and Lito Sheppard locking down and I love the pick up of Jim Leonhard. Rex Ryan’s defensive schemes from Baltimore will help this team greatly and don’t be surprised to see this defense in the top three at the end of the season.
Fantasy Studs- NYJ Def
Fantasy Sleepers – Mark Sanchez, Leon Washington, Dustin Keller
Buffalo Bills, 7-9
Terrell Owens is now a Buffalo Bill. OK. Lets go over the Pros and Cons of this move. Pros: getting a future Hall of Fame Wide Receiver whose down years will still be a vast improvement to the Bills passing game. Cons: Buffalo will now most likely have to deal with Tia and Tamara or whatever those annoying females' names are that make his reality show unbearable to watch.
On the field T.O. will be fine. The biggest question mark this team has this year is Trent Edwards.
The young quarterback just hasn’t looked comfortable with running an offense the past few years. However, if he can learn how to be a leader and not make many mistakes, the Bills will be in wild card contention for at least most of the season.
Their running game is very deep and that will be a great help for Edwards. Even though Marshawn Lynch will be out for the first three games, they have a more than suitable back up in Fred Jackson, and veteran Dominic Rhodes to pick up carries when needed. The offense will score points this year but I don’t see this team really threatening the Jets or Patriots in the division.
Buffalo's defense looks like it will be decent again this year with returning stud middle linebacker Paul Posluszny who led the team in tackles last year with 110. They also still have Patriots killer Aaron Schobel who seems to get to Tom Brady every time they meet. He has sacked the New England Patriot quarterbacks a remarkable 11 times in the eight meetings between the two teams. With a shaky secondary and linebacker core this team is on its way to its fourth consecutive 7-9 season.
Fantasy Sleepers- Fred Jackson, Roscoe Parrish
Miami Dolphins, 6-10
From worst to first, Miami’s dream season last year was a great story.
Sadly, the clock has struck midnight, and, well, they are back to reality, and that reality is the cellar of the AFC East.
Hey, they had a good run last year but I really don’t see how they can compete in a division that is so stacked this year. The wild cat worked last year for them because it caught the league totally off guard. Now defensive masterminds like Belichick and Rex Ryan will have had a year to prepare and that’s never a good thing for the Dolphins.
Chad Pennington will probably not last the entire year as the starting QB as Chad Henne and Pat White are lurking in the shadows. Pennington was a savior to the Dolphins last season as he was probably the most stable guy they had there since Dan Marino. Who would have ever thought that?
A player that will have a monster season stats-wise will be Ronnie Brown. Look for him to gain his pre-knee surgery form and put up about 1,300 total yards with 10 TDs.
I am also high on Devone Bess succeeding Ted Ginn, Jr as the No. 1 receiver. Bess has better hands and is just a better football-minded player than Ginn. Ginn was drafted because of his remarkable athletic ability but his football instincts are lacking at times.
Their defense is respectable with Joey Porter still barking at opponents and Jason Taylor moving to linebacker. The most intriguing defensive match-up this year is going to be Channing Crowder up against Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light. I say at half time we let them go at it again, this time no helmets and bring in the octagon. I’ll take Light’s size over Crowder’s dreads any day.
Fantasy Studs- Ronnie Brown
That’s it for the AFC East Check out RGFFootball.com for more division previews as we count down the days to the NFL Regular Season Kickoff.