It seems that the AFC East is always hit or miss with their teams. The last time all teams were at or over .500 was at the end of the 2002 season. Since then, they have been taking turns at the top of the standings.
While New England has dominated the AFC East during this decade, the Miami Dolphins won the division in 2008, their first division title since 2000. Call me a homer if you will, but I think that the Dolphins have a really good chance to win their second straight division title. Let’s discuss how they will accomplish this in a tough AFC East.
Offense: I expect for Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown, and Ricky Williams to continue where they left off last season. While teams will gear their defensive to prevent the wildcat formation, this trio will have just as much success in standard formation. The Dolphins had a solid 2009 NFL draft and bulked up on offense adding the versatile playmaker QB Pat White and WR’s Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner.
White is a running QB and will be a huge part of the wildcat offensive formation. Of the two WR’s drafted, Hartline looks to start opposite of Ted Ginn Jr. The duo of Ginn and Hartline should be solid as they played opposite each other at Ohio State in 2006.
Defense: The 2008 Dolphins had their best defensive team in years and as a result of the draft and free agency, they should improve on their 2008 defensive performance. The Dolphins drafted CB’s Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, and picked up LB Jason Taylor and FS Gibril Wilson via free agency. In addition, they did not lose any key players.
Summary: The Dolphins improved their team during the off season through the draft and free agency and Head Coach Tony Sparano is getting more comfortable with the organization. As a result, 12-4 and a division title are not out of the question.
Outlook: 11-5 first in the AFC East
New England Patriots
Offense: This year it seems as if Brady will be healthy, as long as his shoulder is in fact 100 percent. The downfall of the Patriots this season will be their running game. Yes, the six RB’s that rotated rushed for 1,988 yards. While this number is pretty good on paper, what would happen if they lost a RB to injury?
This year they will rotate six RB’s and as a result, they will lose continuity at the position. Keep in mind that three of the six RB’s are prone to injuries.
Defense: The Patriots have always had a solid defensive unit, but this season there will be a slight drop off. The Patriots lost veterans Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Delthea O’Neal, and Ellis Hobbs, but did not improve very much via the draft and free agency.
The Patriots gained Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden via free agency and SS Patrick Chung via the NFL draft. They have a lot of young players with potential, but I doubt we will see them make an impact this season.
Summary: The Patriots start the 2009 season with a healthy Tom Brady, but the lack of continuity at RB and their lack of depth on defense will hurt their chances this season.
Outlook: 11-5 second in the AFC East
Offense: The Bills vastly improved their offense this year with the acquisition of Terrell Owens. Yes, he has the habit of becoming a distraction, but you have to remember that he is the only “prima dona” on the team. In Dallas, he had to fight over that status with Tony Romo and Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia.
The three game suspension of Marshawn Lynch will hurt this team more than most people may realize. While Fred Jackson will fill in for lynch, I am not sold that he can produce as expected. The most carries he has had was the last game of last season as Buffalo was out of the playoffs. When he has gained decent yards, it came against an inferior team or a team that was not playing their starters.
Defense: The defense will win the Bills more games than the offense. While the team had a solid draft, Aaron Maybin will be their only starter, but he will at most split time with Aaron Schobel. T
he defense did not lose any key players due to free agency, but they will get a healthy Aaron Schobel back from a foot injury. One thing the Bills defense will not do is guarantee victory as Donte Whitner did in 2008.
Summary: The Bills should show a slight improvement in 2009, but will not have a chance at the division title. While a wild card berth may be in reach, you should temper your expectations.
Outlook: 9-7 third in the AFC East
Offense: Now that Eric Mangini has been shown the door, the Jets can finally take some chances on offense. The highlight of the off-season was No. 1 pick Mark Sanchez who was named the starter during week two of the preseason. While Sanchez is an improvement over Brett Favre, you will not likely see an immediate improvement.
I do not expect for Sanchez to be an immediate star like Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. He will more than likely experience some growing pains, but next year will be a different story.
Defense: Like the Bills, the Jets defense will win and keep them in games this season. The Jets had a fair draft, but they really scored points during free agency. The Jets picks up CB Lito Sheppard from Philadelphia and LB Bart Scott and Justin Loenhard from Baltimore.
The key thing to keep in mind is that Rex Ryan is a defensive minded coach who came from Baltimore and coached Scott and Leonhard. If their defense can step up and play as a unit, they may be able to pull out a win or two.
Summary: The Jets will struggle at times on offense with a rookie QB, but their defense should be solid. If their defense can play as a team and limit their mistakes, the outlook of 8-8 may be improved by a game or two. Either way, a division title is not in the cards, but a wild card berth is not out of the question.
Outlook: 8-8 fourth in the AFC East
While some of you may think I am a homer that is off my rocker by selecting Miami to win the division two years in a row, especially with a healthy Tom Brady in the mix. Keep in mind that I am making this decision from a football fan standpoint and not from a Miami Dolphins fan standpoint. I will write a follow up to this article at the conclusion of the 2009 season and we will see who is the homer that is off his rocker.