2010 NFL Predictions: Top 10 One-on-One AFC East Battles
What are the top battles in the AFC East Division for 2010? The AFC East is clearly one of the strongest divisions in the NFL as evidenced by the run that the New England Patriots made in this decade and the Jets reaching the AFC Championship game last season.
Interestingly enough, this is a division that has only one true veteran QB leading their team in Tom Brady of the Patriots, with the other three headed by younger quarterbacks, or in Buffalo, where the only person that thinks he knows who the quarterback will be is Chan Gailey, and that is subject to change.
Brady is the only QB from the AFC East that was in the top 20 of NFL QB Ratings last year, and the only one that finished in the top 20 in TD Passes. Maybe one of the other three teams will see their QB blossom this year, but that remains to be seen.
On with the show, which will include several matchups for now that are conditional, based on specific player issues. Hope you enjoy it.
10) Aaron Schobel vs. Jake Long and D'Brickashaw Ferguson
This is one of the conditional slides I mentioned up front, the condition being that Aaron Schobel decides to come back to play one more year for the Bills. Schobel is the # 2 all-time sacks leader in Bills history (trailing only Bruce Smith) and in the Bills new 3-4 defensive scheme, Schobel would be lining up as an outside linebacker looking to use his speed and power for sacks.
Schobel wound up leading the AFC East in sacks last year with 10. He was followed by Tully Banta-Cain of New England with 9.5, Joey Porter of Miami with 9 and Calvin Pace of the Jets with 8. Schobel in fact was the only defensive linemen in the AFC East that led his team in sacks, as the rest were linebackers.
Schobel will be going up against the likes of strong AFC East opponents in D'Brickashaw Ferguson (New York Jets) and Jake Long (Miami Dolphins). The Bills could use Schobel's steady play and veteran presence as there will be a number of young Bills on defense this year - Aaron Maybin, Torell Troup, and Alex Carrington, that would benefit from Schobel's knowledge and experience. We will know soon enough if Schobel is going to report to camp.
9) Wes Welker vs Jairus Byrd
The second conditional match-up involves Wes Welker, and that is due to the nature of his 2009 injury and subsequent follow up surgery.
Welker was voted to the Pro-Bowl team last year, and assuming that he comes back to play this year will find himself going up against at least two other Pro-Bowl members in Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets, (another conditional name assuming that he doesn't hold out and miss the season) and Jairus Byrd of the Buffalo Bills.
How good was Welker in 2009? He led the NFL in receptions and was number two in reception yardage behind Andre Johnson. The Patriots were not the same team after Welker's season-ending injury in week 17. Wes managed to haul in 105 catches in just 11 games, and wound up with 123 catches overall, the third straight year he has at least 100 catches.
Welker tore his ACL and MCL so there are question marks about how healthy he will be and does he lose any of his quickness? We will see.
Jairus Byrd emerged to be tied for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2009, despite starting the year as a rookie on the bench, and then being placed on the IR list towards the end of the season.
Byrd and Welker are both quick, athletic and have a nose for the ball. Should be a quality match up whenever both of them are on the field at the same time, assuming that they are healthy and playing.
8) Tom Brady vs New York Jets Secondary
Tom Brady has the benefit of throwing to two of the best wide receivers in the game in Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Welker led the NFL in catches and Moss finished the year as number five in reception yardage. You don't have to run the ball that much or that well when you can pass it as effectively as Brady does.
What happens when Brady goes up against the number one defense in the NFL, the New York Jets? The Jets defense was so dominating last year that they only allowed 4,037 yards for the entire season. Every other defense allowed at least 1,000 yards more--- Patriots (5,123), Bills (5449) and Miami (5589). To think the Dolphins lost both Joey Porter and Jason Taylor. Yikes!!
The Brady vs Jets defense secondary should prove to be a great match-up as Brady will use his new rookie tight ends to give the Jets other targets to worry about, so they can't focus on Moss and Welker (if he is healthy enough to play).
7) Ricky Williams vs Buffalo Bills Rush Defense
Due to Thomas Jones departure from the New York Jets, Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins is the returning AFC East rushing champion. Wiliams, Jones and Fred Jackson of the Bills were three of the 15 running backs that topped the century mark in 2009.
Williams had a field day running against the Bills porous rushing defense last year, as the Bills finished a dreadful 30th in defending the run. Of course, losing players like Leodis McKelvin, Kawika Mitchell, and Keith Ellison to the I.R., and losing starters for a number of games due to injury like Paul Posluszny, Terrence McGee, Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd didn't help either.
Will the Bills shifting from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense help them to shut down the running game this year? The Dolphins were able to add Brandon Marshall from the Broncos this off-season, so his presence should keep defenses honest, and allow Williams enough breathing room to do damage again this year.
6) Tom Brady vs Miami Dolphins Pass Rush
The Miami Dolphins led the AFC East in sacks last year 44, which was 12 more than both the Jets and Bills at 32. However, the Dolphins will be hard pressed to sack Tom Brady, as the Patriots only allowed 18 sacks for the entire season.
New England learned what life was like without Tom Brady in 2008, and they did a great job of giving him ample protection during 2009. While some of the other skilled veterans have left the Patriots defense recently, the offensive stars remain and were bolstered by the drafting of TE's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Meahwhile, the Dolphins lost their two leading sackers from the 2009 season, as Jason Taylor and Joey Porter are no longer with the team. The addition of LB Karlos Dansby from Arizona definitely helps, so new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will have his work cut out for him in replacing the two departed stars.
It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins can find a way to get to Brady this year.
5) Best Special Teams Unit - Buffalo Bills or New York Jets ?
For years, Bobby April has coached the Buffalo Bills special teams and in the process they were long thought to have one of the best special teams in the NFL. When the Bills let go their coaching staff at the end of the 2009 season, the Bills coaches scattered like the wind, with April winding up in Pittsburgh.
Bruce DeHaven was the Bills special teams coach during the Super Bowl run, and he returns for another tour of duty with Buffalo. It helps that he has one of the top punters in the game in Brian Moorman, along with returners Roscoe Parrish, C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin, Fred Jackson and Chad Simpson to pick from.
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas News runs a special report on ranking NFL special teams units every season. He had the Bills as the # 1 unit in 2008 and they were still up there at # 3 in 2009. The Bills unit was closely followed by the New York Jets at # 5. Frankly, I was a little surprised to see the Jets at # 5, because the AFC East punt return leader was Wes Welker of the Patriots and the AFC East kickoff return leader was Ted Ginn of the Dolphins.
This is one more example of how valuable Welker is to New England. For the Bills, they reloaded their special teams group with the drafting of Spiller and he should excel on kickoff returns. They also picked up Simpson from the Colts.
Parrish is supposed to be out of the dog house that he found himself in under Dick Jauron. Parrish is motivated and hungry to perform again, as he was averaging a NFL career best 13 yards a punt return, but couldn't get on the field under Jauron.
The Jets were led by Jerricho Cotchery, who was second in the AFC East in punt returns, behind Wes Welker. The Jets also added Joe McKnight, the USC running back in the draft, so he might see some time in the return game as well.
4) Brandon Marshall vs Jets and Bills Defensive Secondary
Brandon Marshall was tied for number three in the NFL for receptions totals with 101 catches. Breaking the century mark is not that easy to do, so Marshall will certainly be a target to follow closely on the field this year.
However, in four of his six games vs AFC East opponents, Marshall has the misfortune of playing two of the very best NFL defensive secondaries in the Jets and the Bills. To give you an example, the Jets allowed the fewest passing yards a game last year at 153. Who was number two in the NFL? The Bills at 184 yards a game. The Patriots pass defense finished at number 12.
Jairus Byrd was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine, and Darrelle Revis, the Jets' shutdown cornerback wasn't far behind with six. In fact, the Bills defense led the AFC East in takeaways with 33, while the Jets were next with 31.
It helps Marshall that the Dolphins are proficient in running the ball. If they weren't, teams could afford to double team him and effectively take him out of the game. As it is, he will be a favorite target of Chad Henne all year. The question that remains unanswered is, how many times will Henne's throws get picked off by these two talented AFC East secondaries.
3) Nick Mangold vs Vince Wilfork
Ah, the trenches, where many games are won and lost. Controlling the line of scrimmage is paramount to controlling the clock, winning field position, and in wearing down your opponent.
Is there any trench battle more noteworthy than facing off two Pro-Bowlers against each other. Well that is the case every time the Patriots face off against the Jets. Mangold was the Pro-Bowl center last year, while Wilfork won the honor for nose tackle.
These two collide and there is a battle for who can control the other on every snap. If you are in attendance for either of these two contests this year, do yourself a favor and try to focus your binoculars on this duo for five or six plays to see two of the best in the business apply their craft.
2) Mark Sanchez vs Buffalo Bills Secondary
In Week Six last year, Sanchez was playing at home and threw five interceptions against the Bills secondary. Sanchez then recovered when the rematch was played at Toronto and didn't throw a single pick in that game.
So, what will happen this year? The Bills secondary has Leodis McKelvin, Donte Whitner, and Terrance McGee back and healthy, and George Wilson, Bryan Scott and Drayton Florence turned in solid years coming in to fill in for the injured starters. You add in Jairus Byrd, and that is one solid secondary.
Sanchez will hope that the Jets running game will be solid again, even without Thomas Jones to lead the way. If the Jets can run the ball, it will make defenses respect the run first, and then pin their ears back and rush as the second option. Expect to see Sanchez mature more this year, but will probably still see his share of growing pains.
1) Randy Moss vs Darrelle Revis
Randy Moss vs Darrelle Revis. That is a classic match up. Revis is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, if not the best. He is holding out for NFL best cornerback money.
Randy Moss has been one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL. He doesn't always show up for every play, but it is hard to argue with his results. Moss goes 6'4" and weighs 220. Revis is only 5'11" and is 180, but he still finds a way to get the job done.
Moss was on the 2000's All-Decade team. 4 times an All-Pro.
Revis was the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Year.
That to me is a match-up worth watching. I just hope to see it unfold for at least two games this year.