AFC East Preview: Jets, Pats, or Phins as Super Bowl Contenders?
After a one year hiatus, the New England Patriots retook control of the AFC East winning the division in 2009 with a 10-6 record. Since Tom Brady first took the helm at quarterback in 2001, the Patriots have been the apparent favorite to emerge out of the AFC East; however, as a new decade begins it appears that the division title is up for grabs with the Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins all with legitimate claims as the favorite. Here is how each team breaks down:
New England Patriots
Now the highest paid player in NFL history, Tom Brady is determined to prove he is worth the investment. The fantastic receiving corps will endeavor to assert themselves again as Randy Moss and Wes Welker could possibly combine for 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. Fragile Freddy Taylor will try to stay healthy enough to contribute to a New England backfield that even Mike Shanahan would call a "committee." If the rookie tight ends Hernandez and Gronkowski are able to fill the hole left by Ben Watson's departure, they will be excellent complements to the strong blocking of Alge Crumpler.
Richard Seymour is gone, but there are still some promising players on the defensive side. While Vince Wilfork will continue to anchor the line, he will need the young linebackers Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, and Tully Banta-Cain to step up as prime-time performers behind him. The secondary is young but promising with three out of the four starters rookies or second year players.
With a punter named Zoltan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kl5RRW42Jg&feature=related), it's tough to bet against these Patriots. In all seriousness, while it is not unreasonable to expect that the young defense will struggle, the Patriots still have Tom Brady, and that will be all they need.
(While I can't stand Bill Belichick, I won't say anything about him because you never know when he's recording you.)
Projected Record: 10-6
Lebron James wasn't the only star to "take his talents to South Beach" this offseason. With Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins finally have the playmaking wide receiver they have been lacking for decades. A talented receiving corps featuring Marshall, breakout candidate Brian Hartline, and Davone Bess means that Chad Henne will have no excuses in 2010. The Ronnie-Ricky backfield gives the Dolphins the best proven runningbacks in the division (Shonn Greene and C.J. Spiller still have question marks). The offensive line is very underrated with two of the best tackles in the league in Jake Long and Vernon Carey.
This defense is one of the youngest in the league. More than half the starters have less than a year of NFL experience, which could become a hindrance deep into the season. Still, there is much talent there including draft picks Jared Odrick and Koa Misi. Corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith both displayed flashes of brilliance last year and will look to build off of solid rookie campaigns. While Joey Porter who was known more for running his mouth than for his play on the field is gone, free agent signing Karlos Dansby should become the star middle linebacker the Dolphins have missed since Zach Thomas left.
The Dolphins have Fergie, Jennifer Lopez, and Jimmy Buffett on their side, but unfortunately for the Phins, you don't get points for singing talent. Despite having who I think is the best coach in the division in Tony Sparano, the Dolphins are at least one year away, but they could sneak in with a Wild Card berth.
Projected Record: 9-7
New York Jets
The new "Miami Heat" of football is what Antonio Cromartie called his new team. On paper, the Jets look like one of the best teams not only in the AFC East but also in the NFL as a whole; however, how this team translates to the field remains to be seen. The offense seems to be the real question for the Jets. While the Jets possessed the top running offense in the league in 2009, they will underestimate the loss of Thomas Jones. Shonn Greene had some promising games, particularly in the 2009 playoffs, but there are still doubts over whether he can perform over a sixteen game season. There is no true No. 1 receiver on the offense until Santonio Holmes returns from suspension, and even then there are no guarantees that he establishes a rapport with Mark Sanchez. The biggest surprise that will come from this offense will be third-year tight end Dustin Keller. After two straight 500 yard seasons to begin his career, Keller seems poised to break out as a possible top tight end.
The Jets are full of playmakers on defense. Undoubtedly, this defensive unit ranks within the top five defenses in the league. The front seven should be dominant once again with Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins anchoring the line, and Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, and David Harris patrolling the middle of the field. With the return of "Revis Island," and the additions of Antonio Cromartie as well as top pick Kyle Wilson, the secondary will be very difficult to throw against. Perhaps the most important aspect of the defense is off the field. With Rex Ryan on the sidelines, there should be no doubts that the Jets defense will be a force this year.
In 2009, the Jets had the number one defense and the number one rushing attack, yet that only translated to nine wins in the regular season. The reality is, as evidenced by recent successes by the Colts, Saints, Giants, Steelers, and Pats, the NFL has turned into a passing league, and the Jets were 31st in the league last year in passing. Mark Sanchez was abysmal last year, and there is no reason to suggest any kind of improvement in 2010. The good news: If they do sneak into the playoffs, Sanchez will only have to perform as well as Trent Dilfer circa the 2001 playoffs when the Ravens defense single-handedly won a Super Bowl on the defensive side of the ball.
Projected Record: 9-7
There is reason for some optimism in Buffalo. Terrell Owens is gone (That's a good thing). C.J. Spiller appears to have some real talent at running back and in the return game. Overall, however, the Bills just don't have the talent to compete in this division. Trent Edwards belongs as a backup quarterback. Lee Evans can't seem to make up his mind over whether he is a No. 1 receiver or just a deep threat. The offensive line looks to be comprised of spare parts from other teams and unproven young players. Since they are likely going nowhere this year, the Bills would be wise to give third-string quarterback Brian Brohm a chance to prove that his collegiate performance was no fluke.
The defense looks equally hopeless. Middle linebacker Paul Poslusny and safety Donte Whitner are the only real playmakers out of this group. The defensive line appears to be particularly weak, and it appears that there is little improvement to a group that was 30th against the run in 2009. The secondary could surprise some, particularly free safety George Wilson, who quietly had over 100 tackles and four interceptions in 2009.
There are no doubts that this division is a three team race, and the Bills will be left cellar dwelling. As mentioned before, the Bills would be best served giving their young players a shot to get some experience in order to make a run in the 2011 or 2012 seasons.
Projected Record: 3-13
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