New England Patriots: 7-5
The Patriots being the lowest bet on the board has more to do with the "Bill Belichick effect" than talent on the field.
Offensively, this team can still score with the best of them. QB Tom Brady is another year removed from his ACL injury, WR Randy Moss and WR Wes Welker are still on the outside, and the offensive line is a strength. But questions remain on defense.
What's clearly gone from the team's glory days is the pass rush, which used to force turnovers and create havoc for opposing offenses. The result of not being able to apply pressure on QBs in 2009 was a secondary that was consistently abused. We'll need to see evidence before we're ready to say some of their personnel moves will improve their pass rush.
The first place schedule they'll play is also a negative.
New York Jets: 7-5
This is the team everyone is talking about. Their training camp will be featured on HBO's Hard Knocks series, and expectations have reached "Super Bowl or bust" levels in 2010.
They finished the '09 campaign on a tear and were very aggressive in the offseason, landing veterans such as CB Antonio Cromartie, WR Santonio Holmes, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, and DE Jason Taylor to name a few. However, there were some key losses that they'll need to overcome (OG Alan Faneca, RB Thomas Jones, RB Leon Washington, etc).
The Jets are banking on a ferocious defense that keeps teams out of the end zone and is able to force turnovers and an offense that sees the continued development of QB Mark Sanchez and, to a slightly lesser extent, RB Shonn Greene. Rex Ryan will have this team raring to go, but it remains to be seen how well it comes together.
Miami Dolphins: 10-3
The Dolphins are a team that many are overlooking in the AFC East, but it was they who made the two biggest acquisitions in the offseason: WR Brandon Marshall and LB Karlos Dansby.
Marshall will change the entire dynamic of the offense and provide a big play outlet for third-year QB Chad Henne. The running game will once again be strong, and the re-emergence of Ricky Williams in 2009 gives the Dolphins two No. 1 RBs on any given Sunday.
On defense, DC Mike Nolan was brought in to run the show, and there's a lot of young talent for him to work with. They'll enjoy the third place schedule they get to play, and the Dolphins will be serious challengers for the AFC East crown.
Buffalo Bills: 20-1
The Buffalo Bills will finish in last place unless something bizarre happens to one of the other teams.
The most glaring weakness that the Bills failed to address this offseason was the problems along the offensive line. Regardless of how talented and fast C.J. Spiller is, he can't run through a wall. Another result of a poor offensive line means that the king of the dump-offs, QB Trent Edwards, will be scrambling for his life again.
The defense has some talent to work with, but the lack of offensive production means opposing teams will wear them down late in games.
Pro Football 101 betting strategy
We think the Miami Dolphins will once again surprise this division and steal it at 10-3 betting odds—a nice 333 percent return on your money. Tony Sparano is a fine coach, and the team's talent level makes this a well-calculated gamble.
The Jets will wind up as a wild card in second, and the Patriots will find themselves fighting with the Bengals and Steelers for the final wild card spot.
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