This will be part of a series of eight articles where I briefly go over the team’s offseason moves and their draft (which will not be factored in that heavily unless I feel that two teams were on equal footing prior to the draft). I will also list these teams in the order I predict they will finish and give a range of wins that this team can expect next year.
I should now note that this is one of the two divisions that I hated doing, just because there is something akin to a three way tie at the top of the standings and all three of those teams have major question marks. It probably does not help that this is the division that I am emotionally attached to.
The Dolphins 2009 season can be classified by Ted Ginn’s ability to make or break a game, a ton of injuries and horrific defense. They started and ended the season on 0-3 and went 7-3 in the middle ten games. The best that could be taken out of the season is that Chad Henne definitely looks like he will be a very good quarterback in the NFL, showing a great ability to lead comebacks (three in thirteen starts), put the game on his shoulders as well as improve as the season went on. However, the Dolphins had a bunch of holes going into the 2010 season that they had to fix. Their wide receiver corps badly needed a playmaker as well as a pass catching tight end. They also needed some stability at the guard position. Defensively, the only positions that they were set in were defensive end, strong safety and cornerback. Every other unit had to be upgraded, including the defensive coordinator.
The Dolphins decided to make three major acquisitions in the offseason. One of them was to acquire Karlos Dansby in free agency who will be a major upgrade to the sub-par Akin Ayodele, and should help prevent tight ends from getting 100 yards or more receiving per game. They then traded two second round draft picks for Brandon Marshall, who instantly opens up the entire offense and gives Chad Henne an elite wide receiver to use (as well as opening up the run game as Marshall can keep guys out of the box and he is a very good run blocker in his own right), though has some off the field issues. Finally, and arguably the biggest offseason acquisition that the Dolphins made was the acquisition of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who made Denvers’ talent-deficient defense look much better than it was last season and allowed the Dolphins to fire Paul Pasqualoni who was a blithering idiot. Miami also resigned Chad Pennington as a backup quarterback and to be a mentor for Chad Henne. Finally Miami signed the troubled guard Richie Incognito. Miami also made a few addition by subtraction moves in releasing the oft burnt and missed tackles machine Gibril Wilson as well as Joey Porter, who often disappeared in games as well as being a huge liability against the run. Losing outside lineback Jason Taylor will hurt this team. In the draft, Miami spent their first round selection on defensive end Jared Odrick which allows Randy Starks to slide over to nose tackle. Miami proceeded to spend four selections on linebackers, with Koa Misi likely to start opposite of Cameron Wake at the outside linebacker position. Inside linebacker AJ Edds is also likely to get some playing time as a rookie as he is very adept in coverage. Safety Reshad Jones may be the answer at free safety, but that is rather unlikely. The Dolphins did a decent job in addressing their needs except for pass catching tight end, and major question marks still remain at outside linebacker and free safety. A lot of Miami’s 2010 season will depend on how Henne develops.
Miami has an average schedule in 2010, having to play against the AFC North and the NFC North as well as Oakland and Tennessee. Miami likely gets to play Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger which helps a lot as well. Dolphins fans can expect their team to win 9-11 games as well as a possible division crown or a likely wild card berth.
As it has been for almost the entire decade, New England won the division. However, they got destroyed by Baltimore in the playoffs as the Patriots played an all around terrible game. Brady returned this year and started off slowly but improved as the year went on (though Welker’s return helped a lot). However, this team has a lot of holes to fill. They need a running back as Maroney is pretty bad and Fred Taylor just got his AARP card mailed to him. They need a number one wide receiver very soon as this will be Randy Moss’ last season in New England. They need a semblance of decent tight end play as Ben Watson was pretty bad. Their defense is also a mess as they need a defensive end opposite of Richard Seymour. Also, the Patriots need to figure out how to get a pass rush on the quarterback as only Tully Banta-Cain managed to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which became a major issue when Drew Brees and Chad Henne effortlessly torched New England’s defense in back to back weeks. This is not even mentioning that Wes Welker tore his ACL and MCL the final week and Brady struggled without Welker in the lineup. Welker will likely be missing part of the season and will not be fully recovered until the 2011 season.
New England seemed content to resign a lot of their free agents this offseason. Neal, Wilfork and Bodden all got new contracts. New England did not have to sign free agents since they had a beavy of draft picks, including three second round selections. New England managed to grab a nickel corner in Devin McCourty, a complement to Jerod Mayo in inside linebacker Brandon Spikes, a pair of tight ends who complement each other well in Anthony Hernandez and Ron Gronkowski and a possible pass rusher and Jermaine Cunnhingham. While this seems to be a great haul, the Patriots still have a lot of question marks going in. Cunningham is going to have to wreak a lot of havoc in opposing backfields to help stop opposing passing games and the lack of any decent defensive end opposite of Warren is alarming. On offense, the major question marks are who is running the football (and how well), how Brady fares without Welker and do the rookies step up.
Like the Dolphins, the Patriots have a middling 2010 schedule with having to play the NFC North and AFC North as well as the Chargers and the Colts. The Patriots should fare well as they usually do but those questions really are worrisome. Patriots fans can expect 8-11 wins in 2010 along with a possible divisional crown or a likely wild card berth.
The New York Jets 2009 season can be summarized by four things a bruising running game, a great defense, horrific quarterbacking and a lot of luck. The Jets had the number one rushing attack in 2009 in which Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene had great production behind the NFL’s best offensive line. The Jets defense was also statistically great but tended to not be clutch (the Falcons game is the best example of this). Mark Sanchez was average at best and horrific at worst and proved to be the opposite of clutch. Also, the Jets had a lot of luck last year (between very few injuries, catching Tennessee, Houston, Indianapolis and Cincinnati at the right time, as well as going against some of the worst displays of kicking I have ever seen in the playoffs). This team looks like it can definitely be elite soon but there are still a lot of holes. The defensive line as a whole is very old as the three starters in 2009 were all over thirty and outside of nose tackle, the line was pedestrian. The outside linebackers are rather poor as well, and the cornerback play across from Darelle Revis (who is easily the best cornerback in the NFL and should have won the defensive player of the year award) was poor. On the offensive side of the ball they need some receiver help as Cotchery cannot do it all on his own and Braylon Edwards is Braylon Edwards. Provided that Mark Sanchez makes big strides in his sophomore season and that is a big if, the offense should be very good.
Even though the Jets were hampered by the final four clause in the collective bargaining agreement, that did not stop them from making many transactions though it should be noted that not all of their free agent transactions were beneficial to the team. The Jets released Thomas Jones who ran very well last season and signed LaDanian Tomlinson who looks like he is done as he refused to hit the holes that he was given last season hard. The Jets traded away the underachieving Kerry Rhodes and signed Brodney Pool who will be an upgrade when he is on the field. Pool is very injury prone and has already had four concussions and a fifth one could force him into retirement and the Jets do not have good safety depth. The Jets signed Jason Taylor who will be a major upgrade to Bryan Thomas who while he is a great run stopper, is a poor pass rusher. The Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie which is not a major upgrade over Sheppard and he is a locker room cancer and has some major off the field issues (Travis Henry Syndrome). Finally, the Jets traded for Santonio Holmes who will bolster the receiving corps, also has off the field issues as well as is already suspended for the first four games, which will hurt Sanchez’s ability to develop a rapport with Holmes. The Jets drafted cornerback Kyle Wilson who will likely be a very good cornerback tandem with Revis in a year or two, guard Vladimir Ducasse who will be replacing the recently cut Alan Faneca, which is a downgrade for this year as while Faneca is decent at run blocking and poor at pass protection, Ducasse is a major project, running back Joe McKnight and fullback John Conner who will replace the veteran Tony Richardson. McKnight is a major downgrade over Leon Washington (who was traded to draft Conner) as McKnight has hands of stone and cannot run the “Wild Seminole” package that the Jets liked to use with Leon, which means that the Jets are losing a lot of versatility. The Jets are also moving Vernon Gholston to defensive end, which is widely seen is as a desperate move to get something out of a high draft pick who has not produced at all at the NFL level. Ultimately, the Jets did not seem to upgrade their team that much from the 2009 version and there are still some major questions at quarterback and defensive line, as well as outside linebacker. The influx of a lot of questionable character guys may also be an issue.
The Jets have a mediocre schedule having to play the NFC North and AFC North as well as the Texans and Broncos. Jets fans can expect 8-10 wins in 2010 with an outside chance of a divisional crown and a possible wild card berth.
The Bills had a productive 2009 season. Not because they had 21 players on the injured reserve or went 6-10. It was because they managed to fire coach/Steve Carrell look alike Dick Jauron, who was inept. The Bills proceeded to hire Chan Gailey as coach, which may be an upgrade. The Bills had excellent play from their secondary. However, their run defense was awful. Their passing offense was close to nonexistent due to the lackluster play of Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitapatrick. Their running game was okay as Jackson had some luck running behind rookie guards Levitre and Wood. However, Wood suffered a nasty injury against Jacksonville and may not be one hundred percent by the start of the 2010 season. Like any last place team, the Bills had a ton of holes. They need a tight end, a pair of tackles, a viable quarterback and a third down running back. On defense, they need a lot of personnel as they are switching to the 3-4. They need a pair of defensive ends, a nose tackle, possibly another outside linebacker (depending on if they think that Maybin will progress and if Schobel can successfully convert) and a second inside linebacker to play next to Paul Posluszny. That is quite a lot of holes to fill.
The Bills were not very active in free agency signing defensive end Dwan Edwards, who was decent with the Ravens as well as inside linebacker Andra Davis who was above average in Denver in 2009, but struggled in pass coverage. The Bills drafted CJ Spiller, who will add a home run threat to their offense and could be a great target for Trent Edwards to check down to (as that is all that Edwards seems like he wants to ever do). The Bills then buffed up their defensive line with nose tackle Torell Troup and defensive end Alex Carrington. In theory, the Bills’ defense can be very good this year if the rookies play up to par, especially Troup, and if Maybin and Schobel are able to seamlessly transition to the 3-4. Their secondary is already very good and can be excellent if McKelvin lives up to his draft position. Their offense will probably be stagnant due to the Bills’ lack of offensive tackles and a viable quarterback.
The Bills have a tough schedule as they play six games against the Jets, Dolphins and Patriots. They also play the NFC North and AFC North as well as Kansas City and Jacksonville. There are a lot of winnable games for Buffalo (Jacksonville, Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit, maybe Chicago (though that game is in Toronto) and they seem to pull out a divisional game or two that no one sees coming every year). Bills fans can expect their team to win 6-8 games in 2010.