For additional division previews please find links at the bottom of this article for previews of the NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, NFC East, AFC South and AFC North divisions.
Miami Dolphins: 7
An extensive over hall to both the roster and coaching staffs after a 1-15 season in 2007 was supposed to lay the ground work for improvements in 2008 and beyond.
A quick 0-2 start to the 2008 season, and a 2-4 record by the end of Week Seven, had doubled the previous year’s win total already, yet none the less was hardly an inspiring start.
Miami would go on to win nine of their remaining 10 games, including a five-game winning streak to end the season, and stun NFL pundits everywhere by claiming supremacy in the AFC East.
For as impressive as Miami was with such a quick turnaround from a one-win season a year earlier, a closer look may prove that the Dolphins took advantage of a rather soft schedule.
Miami’s ’08 opponents only combined for 118 wins, coming in as the sixth fewest in the league. Of the Dolphins' 11 wins last year, only two came against teams with an above-.500 record.
When they made it into the Wildcard round of the playoffs, they turned the ball over five times, en route to a 27-9 thrashing by another 11-5 team, the Ravens.
Success is success though, and Miami got a full-team effort all around last year. Quite possibly their best statistic was their league-leading plus-17 turnover differential, which helped put them in a position to win many games.
They were strong overall offensively and solid vs. the run, but will need to improve upon their 25th ranking against the pass.
The team hopes re-acquiring Jason Taylor will provide depth on the d-line, that CFL star Cameron Wake can make a name for himself in the NFL, that Joey Porter continues to be a disruptive force and that free agent FS Gibril Wilson will help solidify the secondary.
On offense, C Jake Grove should be an upgrade over Samson Satele, but if Ted Ginn Jr. continues not to live up to expectations and Greg Camarillo isn’t fully recovered from knee surgery, the Dolphins already thin WR corps could really pose a problem.
The majority of the offense would look to have to come from Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, to a lesser extent Patrick Cobbs, and the steadying presence that is Chad Pennington once again.
This could be an extremely tough task with opponents having a full year to dissect the “Wildcat” and also with the fact that Miami will face the league’s toughest schedule in 2009.
Their opponents will come in boasting a shade below a .600 winning percentage from a year ago, meaning Miami has taken a big step up in class from the competition they faced in 2008.
They’ll have a chance to host two prime-time Monday nighters by the end of Week Five, and will play three home games in a row sandwiched around a bye early on, however from Weeks Eight to Twelve, they’ll face a tough stretch of playing four of five on the road.
This is hard team to call, as they definitely overachieved last year and many people are high on them to continue improving. Oddsmakers aren’t as high on the Fins though, only giving them seven wins for a season win total.
In my opinion it’s hard to imagine Miami having the same kind of success again in 2009, but a five win drop off to go under the total seems steep.
That being said, this squad probably has the talent level somewhere in between the 1-15 team of 2007 and the 11-5 team of 2008, which would make seven wins possibly a fair number.
I already expect this team to take a step back, couple that with the league’s toughest schedule and the under may be the play.
Prediction: A slight lean to under 7 wins.
Buffalo got off to a blistering start in 2008 with a quick 5-1 start to the year, giving Bills fans everywhere hope that this squad had finally turned the corner.
Instead, for whatever reason, the Bills went completely in the tank for the remainder of the year, only winning two more games and finishing with only seven wins for the third consecutive season.
What’s even more concerning with the Bills, is when you look at their opponents from a year ago, the opportunity was there for them to make a serious run towards the playoffs.
Having played a schedule which ended up being the second easiest in the league, Buffalo still struggled despite only playing the Cardinals, Patriots, Dolphins and Jets who had winning records.
An 0-6 record against their divisional opponents last year and the league’s sixth toughest schedule coming into 2009 doesn’t bode well for a team desperately trying to revive the franchise and keep it in Buffalo long-term.
If Buffalo can’t pull off at least a couple wins within their division this year, it’s hard to imagine them seeing any improvement at all in the standings.
However, if the Bills were to look forward at their schedule and try to pencil in some wins, they may find it challenging. The only teams they face entering the year with losing records will be the Bucs, Browns, Jags, and Chiefs.
By now everyone knows of the Bill’s huge free agent signing of Terrell Owens, who together with Lee Evans, Josh Reed, and Roscoe Parrish form potentially one of the most dangerous groups of pass catching threats in the league.
The problem though is that they may have a hard-time getting the ball in their hands.
Offensive Coordinator Turk Schonert had implemented the no huddle offense this preseason, but the combination of QB Trent Edwards poor ability to manage it and the complete lack of cohesion on the offensive line with all five starters being new or playing in new positions, has had disastrous results so far.
Apparently this new style of offense has been failing so badly that it’s cost Schonert his job just days before the regular season is to begin. QB coach Alex Van Pelt will now take over the play calling on offense.
The secondary should again be a team strength, but their rush defense ranked 22nd last year, and outside of drafting DE Aaron Maybin, little was done to address this issue in the off-season.
Their play in the trenches on both sides of the ball is very suspect, as they ranked 26th in sacks for and 24th in sacks allowed in 2008.
The bottom line in my opinion is that simply adding T.O. to one of the dullest offences in the league, just doesn’t look to be enough to warrant serious consideration of expecting big things from Buffalo in 2009.
Marshawn Lynch will miss some time due to suspension, Trent Edwards has yet to prove he is the long-term solution at QB, the offensive line is a mess and while the defense had some bright lights, overall they’re undersized and don’t strike fear into their opponents.
Prediction: Under 7.5
New England: 11.5
If the 2009 playoffs felt like they had something missing to them, it could’ve been that perennial invitees and Super Bowl challengers the New England Patriots were absent from them.
Losing Tom Brady in the first week of the season, could very well be the main reason behind the Pat’s down year, but Matt Cassell emerged from his long time spot behind the clipboard and produced admirably given that he hadn’t started a game since high school.
In fact, you could argue he played so well that the offense barely missed a beat in scoring the second most points in the AFC.
Unfortunately his solid play, the team’s four straight wins to end the year and an 11-5 record weren’t enough to get New England back to the playoffs.
With Tom Brady apparently fully recovered from knee surgery, Cassell was originally signed as the team’s franchise player, but then was quickly shipped off to become the starter in Kansas City.
Bill Belichick must have been completely sold on Brady being fit to return, because not only was Cassell traded, but backups Kevin O’Connell, Matt Gutierrez and free agent Andrew Walter have also been let go.
That currently only leaves undrafted free agent pick up Brian Hoyer from Michigan State behind Brady, and with Brady potentially still feeling the effects of a crushing blow to his throwing shoulder from Albert Haynesworth this preseason, panic could sweep Foxborough should Brady have to miss any more significant time.
The Pats did add a few weapons on offence, with WR Joey Galloway, RB Fred Taylor and TEs Alex Smith and Chris Baker. None of these players are going to strike fear into opponents, but Taylor should still have enough in the tank to help the run game and Galloway still boasts impressive speed.
The offensive line has been solid over the years, but took a step back in 2008, ranking 26th in sacks allowed, and made no major additions this off-season. RG Stephen Neal is also already on the PUP list.
On the defensive side of the ball, the roster has past and present stars scattered throughout. New England was still a strong 15th vs. the rush and 11th vs. the pass last year, but has already seen several key players go down to injury in the early stages of this 2009 year.
On the defensive line, Richard Seymour was traded to Oakland, Ty Warren and rookie Darryl Richard have fallen onto the PUP list, as well as Junior Seau and Shawn Crable in the linebacking core.
Rookie OLB Tyrone McKenzie will definitely be lost for the year as he has been placed on the IR with a knee injury. Mike Vrable left via free agency, and Teddy Bruschi retired, leaving the promising Pierre Woods and Gary Guyton to take their places.
The secondary will also have some new faces in the starting line up with Rodney Harrison retired and Ellis Hobbs leaving in free agency.
CBs Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs were brought in to fight for starting spots, but Bodden has since been released and Springs is on the PUP list.
This leaves the potential for a very young secondary with CB Terrence Wheatley, rookie CB Darius Butler, FS James Sanders, and SS Brandon Meriweather all 25 or younger and looking like the front-runners to start.
New England currently still sits at 11.5 for the season, however the lines have been taken off the board, most likely while the team sorts out how serious Brady’s shoulder injury is. Assuming this number stays put, I think the Patriots may struggle to improve on last year's 11 wins and to cover this number.
Upon further examination of the Pats' victories last year, you’ll see that of their eleven, only three came against teams with winning records (the Jets, Miami and Arizona), one vs. a team at .500 (Denver) and their remaining seven wins came against some of the bottom feeders of the league.
They played only the 22nd toughest schedule, which will be stark contrast to the 3rd toughest they line up to face this year. To begin the year at least, the script is somewhat flipped, as instead of only playing three teams with winning records, they will play just three squads that came in under the .500 mark last year (Buffalo, Tampa and Jacksonville).
Prediction: With not a soul behind Brady, mounting injuries and several question marks, I’ll have to bet this one Under 11.5 wins.
New York Jets: 7
Brett Favre was supposed to come into New York and bring the J-E-T-S to the next level as Super Bowl contenders in 2008. A shaky 3-3 start was quickly forgotten when the team reeled off five straight wins to put themselves into serious consideration for the division crown.
Week 13 was the beginning of the end for Gang Green though, as one win in the final five games, dropped them to a 9-7 record and out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Favre’s arm proved to have trouble holding up for an entire season at his age and he once again retired after the 2008 season, only to recently change his mind once again and sign with the Vikings, presumably his desired location all along.
New York will look to take a different approach this year, by anointing rookie Mark Sanchez as the team’s starting QB, and developing him into the face and future of the franchise.
Sanchez will battle Kellen Clemons for starting duties, but it seems inevitable he should have a firm grasp on the job.
Perhaps just as big an acquisition as the drafting of Sanchez, was the hiring of ex-Ravens Defensive Coodinator Rex Ryan as Head Coach to replace the mercurial Eric Mangini.
Seen as a defensive genius for his years of orchestrating elite defences in Baltimore, Ryan brings instant credibility with him to the Jets sidelines.
In the Jets, Ryan inherits a team very similar to the one he left behind in Baltimore, partly because he raided the cupboards as he left and brought over LB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard with him.
Leonhard, along with free agent CBs Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland, will hope to improve upon New York’s 29th ranking against the pass last season.
Besides the familiar faces, the Jets are set up to run his favorite style of D, the 3-4 with massive Kris Jenkins entrenched at NT. The rest of the D is very solid in all positions with several burgeoning stars capable of playing up to the level of many of Ryan’s ex-Ravens.
On offense, the running game should be a strength with first-time Pro Bowler Thomas Jones, speedy Leon Washington and rookie Shonn Greene and easing Sanchez into NFL action should be nothing new for Rex Ryan after doing the same with Joe Flacco last year.
Unfortunately, a negative similarity would have to be in the passing game, where Jerricho Cotchery is the Jets' only proven weapon after Laveraneus Coles was granted his release.
Someone else will need to emerge opposite Cotchery or the Jets could face the same fate that befell the Ravens of ’08. They proved in the playoffs that being completely bereft of quality pass catching targets can only get you so far.
New York faces a similar challenge as do the Patriots, in that their schedule should be much tougher this year. The Jets played teams with a combined .470 winning percentage last season, good enough for the seventh easiest, while 2009 will pit them against the exact opposite with league’s seventh toughest.
That being said, with two games vs. each of Buffalo and Miami, and games against Oakland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Cincy to name a few, the opportunities are there to at least put together a decent season.
I know Mark Sanchez is a rookie with limited starting experience, but this whole scenario in New York just looks all too similar to what happened in Baltimore last year.
This defence should be nothing short of solid, and as long as Sanchez or Clemens doesn’t self destruct under centre, I see no reason the Jets can’t be in line for at least a .500 season or better.
Prediction: Over 7 wins
Best Bet to Win Division: The bottom line is a team like the Jets are very much worth taking a look at here. After a 1-15 season the Dolphins claimed this division last year, Tom Brady’s shoulder could be in question, the Bills are improved with T.O but still a mess overall and the Pats are completely over priced anyways.
In my opinion this division is not wide open, but the gap is narrowing between the Pats and everyone else. At +850, the J-E-T-S are definitely worth a flyer and that’s where my money is going.
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