Once, long ago, there lived a juggernaut in the NFL known as the New England Patriots. They had it all: a winning attitude, an elite quarterback, and a defense that rocked every team they stepped up against. Super Bowl championships were the norm as they slowly became the New York Yankees of the NFL (as in, the team everyone loved to hate).
The pinnacle of this story happened in 2007, when the Pats went a perfect 16-0 in the regular season. Records were set, both personal and as a team including Tom Brady's 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss' 23 touchdown receptions.
Fast forward to this season, and it seems that the rest of the division, for the most part, has built its strength and are ready to tangle on a regular basis.
Let's start with the current state of the Patriots. The offense hasn't changed much in the last three seasons. The top guys are still quarterback Tom Brady, running back Laurence Maroney, and receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
One new emerging story from last season was Julian Edelman, a true "diamond in the rough" player, drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. Expect him to be utilized more frequently in the lineup this season as he has proven himself to be a stellar slot receiver to compliment Welker.
Also, from tight end, veteran Alge Crumpler is another threat in the open. With a variety of elite players on offense, the Pats are set for yet another division title, right? Well, maybe.
The only thing stopping them is their defense. Gone are the days of Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Junior Seau, Asante Samuel...the list goes on. The Pats have been slowly filling all these voids with draft picks like Jerod Mayo, Brandon Merriweather, and just this year, Devin McCourty. They all have game-changing potential but are they good enough to gel and get the Pats back to the promised land? We shall find out.
Prediction: 11-5; third in AFC
The New York Jets. One year removed from their experiment with Brett Favre, the Jets started from scratch, drafting quarterback Mark Sanchez and hiring Rex Ryan as head coach. Sanchez stepped up and delivered an impressive 9-7 season, enough to earn a postseason berth.
Luckily, most pressure was off the rookie as the defense ranked first in the league and allowed the fewest amount of points in the league. With guys like Darrelle Revis, David Harris, and former Pat Larry Izzo, it was no wonder that the Jets became the "Cinderella story" of the 2009 season, advancing all the way to the AFC Championship game, only to lose to the Colts.
This year, more changes were in order for mostly every position to get over the hump and perhaps their first Super Bowl since 1968.
Special teams added kicker Nick Folk to replace Jay Feely, who went to Arizona. Folk has struggled in recent years in Dallas but with Mike Westhoff in NYC, he can surely improve and show what made him an elite kicker in the NFL as a rookie in 2007.
On the offense, you have LaDainian Tomlinson. Like Folk, Tomlinson has struggled in recent years with the Chargers, more notably, since LT was voted the NFL MVP in 2006 where he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Now, it looks like a clean slate. LT seems to be already comfy in the Big Apple and more importantly, it puts less pressure on Sanchez, who is only entering his second season and is already under a microscope for what he did one year ago.
Defensively, Jason Taylor will create that veteran presence as he did in Miami. At 36, Taylor doesn't have much football left in him but expect him to be a constant threat.
Prediction: 10-6; Wild-Card berth
Directly, we will have to wait and see in Week 2 on what team is better, but one thing is for certain: the Patriots can't cake walk over this division, they have some competition now and the Jets aren't going to go away easily.