State of the AFC East: Post Draft

Deb LagardeCorrespondent IApril 29, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks toward the field before the game against the Buffalo Bills on December 28, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

This article is not about grading each AFC East team's 2009 NFL Draft. As far as I'm concerned, it does not appear any of the four teams screwed up their drafts, and it looks like each team did well in their own ways.

Whether their choices work out of not, each team addressed serious needs. I am not going to argue how well these needs were address, however. The needs were addressed, for the most part.

The state of the AFC East, Post-Draft, depends on the state of each team.

Still, holistically, what with Brady's return, the Jets getting Mark Sanchez (who should be able to step into the starting position at quarterback immediately), the Fins getting not just one but two outstanding cornerbacks so they don't have to rely on free agent vets coached by others, and the Bills getting a similar level of offensive line help so Trent Edwards can play the whole season with TO and company, I'd like to rename this division.


Just think. Two short years ago when it was the Patriots and three lousy teams, the division was called AFC Least. Then last year it was AFC Not-Least.

Further, if this division can cope well with collectively having the NFL's hardest schedules playing the AFC South and NFC South, the term AFC Beast will, or will not, have been earned.

In the order that I think these teams will finish (for whatever that's worth!), let me state what looks to be the state of each AFC East team at this point.


I can't see them finishing any worse than 11-5, what with Brady's return, looking at their schedule. Very much to their advantage, after they come back from London and the Saints, which they should win, they have a bye week...and then get the Fins at home! In other words, they should beat the Dolphins at least once.

Since the Pats didn't need to draft for a whole slew of positions--unlike the other three teams which did--and mainly drafted for depth and to shore up a couple of defense slots that are getting old, such as linebacker, and replacing Ellis Hobbs with Patrick Chung, I'd have to say Belichick had a good but not great draft.

But then again, he didn't need a great draft as long as Brady really is coming back to his old form. In fact, it is how Brady plays in 2009 that will determine how well the Pats do in the standings.

That's because the rest of the division has improved quite a bit. So, if Brady does not have the year we all expect him to have--a good one, if not a great one--the Pats might still make the playoffs anyway as a division winner or wildcard.

Folks, just as Don Shula was the best coach overall during his tenure, Bill Belichick is this era's Don Shula, love him or hate him. You simply can't tell me he won't do his best to keep the Patriots "up there" in the standings!


Another coach/regime that can be compared to Shula is the coach/regime of the present-day Dolphins. Parcells-Sparano had many folks comparing the 2008 turnaround Fins with the turnaround Fins of 1970. Shula was bound and determined to rebuild this expansion team while winning, and so it goes with the "Trifecta."

I've seen folks rate Miami's draft anywhere from B plus to C minus, and that seems to depend on how well Pat White and Patrick Turner, the big wideout from USC, perform. Another complaint was that the Fins didn't draft any linebackers until very late, or any pass rushers.

Folks forget that the "Trifecta" is in the middle of a project that will probably take another year or two. Don't forget, Miami's run at the Super Bowl in the early '70s was predicated on their 1968, 1969, and 1970 outstanding drafts, and their not quite successful run in the early 80s was built from the 1978, 1979, and 1980 drafts.

So, could a third run at the Super Bowl in the next decade depend on what they do with their 2008, 2009, and 2010 drafts?

Such that, they got their offensive and defensive lines worked up in 2008, their secondary and receiver depth worked up in 2009, so could their needs for nose tackle to replace the aging Ferguson, outside LB to replace the aging Joey Porter, and ILB help to spell Crowder and Ayodele, and more running back help be realized in 2010.

As for Pat White, while his ability to play the Wildcat is not in question, and though front office folks say he will compete at QB, I have no doubt that Sparano will use him effectively wherever White is put.


The Jets, meanwhile, can be graded draft-wise solely on how Mark Sanchez works out. The Jets draft will either be an A plus or an F minus. Shonn Greene should work out okay, however.

Taking all the "on paper" factors into account, there is no reason that with a defense that barring all logic should be one of the league's best, the Jets won't be in the thick of the playoff race again this year. This is true even if Sanchez is not quite the Joe Namath-clone so many Jet fans are expecting him to be right off the bat.

In fact many "pundits" say the Jets will finish ahead of the Dolphins and really I can't pose a reasonable counter-argument because that may well be the case. For one thing, the Jets don't have to play the Steelers or the Ravens; they get to play the Bengals instead, and, oh yeah, the Raiders, who beat them last year.

On the other side of the coin, the Jets brought in Brett Favre in 2008 to do precisely what folks might expect Sanchez to do this year: bring the AFC East title home to New York.

Something happened to the Jets in 2008 that prevented them from accomplishing this feat, however. Maybe it was just the Mangini regime not doing all it could.

Rex Ryan's regime, however, should be more willing to "get 'er done." Sanchez is there and the Jets really do have one heckuva talented team, even without Laveraneus Coles. So it wouldn't surprise me if they did make the playoffs, but it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't, either.


Honestly, the Bills have done just about everything they could do to get this team back into some sort of contention for a division title, except to draft for someone to replace Jason Peters. They have also added quality depth to their defense, which really wasn't bad at all last year.

Quite frankly, had Trent Edwards not been injured such that the Bills had to rely on JP Losman, who really isn't starter calibre at quarterback, I don't think the Buffaloes would have caved in the middle of the season when they had to play three straight games against division rivals.

Other breaks that went against them last year was Losman screwing up royally in New York in that lose ball, and not having the Dolphins in the ice and snow of western New York where a Bills win in December is a given.

Instead, Miami played in a controlled dome stadium temperature, and where Ricky Williams played CFL ball.

I would say if the Bills were in almost any other division they would have a serious chance of winning it. Given that they are young and quite talented, it is true that someone is going to have to finish last in the AFC East.

I think the Bills will fill this role.

They don't have Belichick and Brady like the Pats do. They don't have Parcells-Sparano and a wonderful four-year-plan like the Dolphins do. They don't have sexy Rex Ryan, what seems like half a great Ravens defense, and the sheer optimism that the Jets do.

All they have is Dick Jauron, Terrell Owens, and a team that looks more and more everyday like the AFC East version of the Cincy Bengals arrest report.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.