The AFC East had some shakeups last season. Quarterback Tom Brady went down with a knee injury. Brett Favre led the New York Jets. Chad Pennington surprisingly rocked with the Miami Dolphins and led them to a division championship.
Last season was strange but competitive. This year, it will continue to be a challenging division for the teams involved. The teams are pretty equal, and it will be a tough fight for the division championship.
Who will win the AFC East? Here are my predictions.
Fourth Place: New York Jets
This will be a bit of a rebuilding/building for the future year for the New York Jets. With QB Mark Sanchez taking over the team as a rookie, there will be some growing pains. Sanchez will do well but may not lead the team to the championship.
He has good wide receivers in Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey. They will help Sanchez feel more comfortable in the pocket.
Running back Thomas Jones will take some pressure off Sanchez. The Jets will probably run a few more running plays to ease Sanchez into his new role.
The defense is led by their big men up front. Marques Douglas, Kris Jenkins, and Shaun Ellis lead the 3-4 defense. The defense looks good under new defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan but will face a speed bump in Week One because Ellis has been suspended for the first game.
Losing the first game will not kill the Jets' season. They were seventh against the rush last year and should be up there again this year.
With a young offense full of potential and a head coach with a sense for the defensive side of the ball, the Jets should fare well considering it is a rebuilding year.
Third Place: Buffalo Bills
The big offseason pick-up this year was wide receiver Terrell Owens. He looks to make an impact opposite Lee Evans. With two speedy receivers, Trent Edwards should have a better passer rating this year.
The reason the Bills will finish third is partly due to the fact that Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season. Fred Jackson is a solid No. 2 running back but missing Lynch for three games will hurt the Bills. Three weeks is not quite a quarter of the season, but enough to make a significantly negative impact for Dick Jauron's boys.
The defense was 13th against the pass last year. Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Bryan Scott, and Donte Whitner will start in the secondary this season. Last year, they all started in almost all the games they played in.
They missed a few games, but still had decent numbers. As for their rush defense, the Bills drafted Aaron Maybin from Penn State to help in that facet of the game. They finished 22nd last year and are looking to improve.
Their schedule is reasonably favorable. The Bills travel to Carolina, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Atlanta. Most of these games are in the second half of the season.
The first half of the season features a lot of home games. The Bills host Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Cleveland, Houston, and Indianapolis.
Second Place: Miami Dolphins
Chad Pennington stepped into the starting role last year and proved he still has a lot left. He will have the explosive Ted Ginn Jr. to throw to again this year. On the other side will be second year receiver Davone Bess.
In the backfield, Pennington has the support of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Ricky Williams will not do much but can be a good supporting blocker and extra receiver.
The Dolphins run a 3-4 on defense. Jason Taylor returns to the Dolphins this year in a slightly different role. He will be a linebacker that comes up on blitzes for the 3-4. Taylor joins other linebackers Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, and Joey Porter.
As for their schedule, the Dolphins do not have it too tough. They head to Atlanta, San Diego, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. That sounds like a tough road schedule but the Dolphins should have an upset or two in that mix.
Heading to Miami are Indianapolis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Houston, and Pittsburgh. They play the defending Super Bowl champs near the end of the season, so there's a chance one of those teams will be fighting for their playoff lives once that game comes around.
AFC East Champions: New England Patriots
The only way they will win the division is if Tom Brady stays healthy. No offense to Brian Hoyer, but he will not lead them to many wins this year if Brady gets hurt.
Brady returns to Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Joey Galloway who will serve as a backup and slot receiver. With Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and Fred Taylor in the backfield, Brady has plenty of support. No matter which back is behind him, Brady has a solid backfield.
Their schedule is the easiest of the division. The Patriots travel to Denver, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Houston. Denver, Tampa Bay, and Houston are not going to be as good as they were last year.
As for their home schedule, the Patriots host Atlanta, Baltimore, Tennessee, Carolina, and Jacksonville. These teams are tough, but the Patriots have good home-field advantage at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
With a healthy offense, Brady and the Patriots could show the flashes of brilliance they demonstrated during the 2007 regular season.