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The AFC East: Who Stands Where

Justin FriedmanContributor IMay 8, 2009

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 02:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets speaks to the media during minicamp on May 2, 2009 at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The AFC East in 2009 will be a very competitive division.  Last year each team in the division won at least seven games.  The New England Patriots won 11 games and didn't make the playoffs.  It is one of the most competitive divisions in football; this year should be no different.

As has been the case for each year since Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in New England, the Patriots have been in the driver's seat.  However, no one could have expected last season to go down as it did.  In Week One against Kansas City, Tom Brady's season was ended on a lunging tackle by Bernard Pollard.

Brady tore ligaments in his knee, and the rest is history.  The shocking Miami Dolphins came out of nowhere with former Jet Chad Pennington to win the division after the adoption of the "Wildcat" offense.  That was the same Dolphin team that won one game the season before.

The Jets had high hopes and started fast.  In fact after a strong win over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans in Nashville, people in New York were talking about a Giant-Jet Super Bowl.  However, over the final month of the year Brett Favre really struggled and the Jets collapsed their great start away.

The Buffalo Bills were the early favorite in the clubhouse after the Brady injury going 5-1 to start the season; however, the Bills stumbled down the stretch ending the season on a 2-8 skid, while going 0-6 inside the division.

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For 2009 however, this division looks as strong as ever. 

The New England Patriots return Brady, which is exactly what coach Bill Belichick is looking for, and exactly what the rest of the division doesn't want to see.  On offense, Randy Moss and Wes Welker return at receiver, and the Patriots have added some veteran talent.

Fred Taylor comes to the Patriots from Jacksonville after being given his walking papers.  The venerable Joey Galloway comes to the high flying Patriots and catching passes from Brady can't hurt him.

On defense, the Patriots have undergone a major change over the past two years.  The defensive line returns intact, however, mainstay at linebacker Mike Vrabel is gone, having been shipped to Kansas City and former Patriot front office member Scott Pioli. 

Jerod Mayo was one of the top defensive rookies last year and he looks to be even better this upcoming season for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. 

In the secondary, the Patriots have some fresh faces on the outside. Former Brown and Lion Leigh Bodden is one of the newcomers, while the established Shawn Springs will be another piece of the puzzle.

The Patriots will go through some more coaching and front office turnover yet again.  Scott Pioli took a front office position with Kansas City, and traded for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel from his old squad. Josh McDaniels is now the Denver Broncos field boss, so Belichick will take a more active role in the offense.

The Buffalo Bills come into this season with renewed expectations of ending a long playoff drought.  The Bills have not been to the playoffs since the Music City Miracle in 1999.  The Bills brought in Terrell Owens to man the side across from Lee Evans. 

Aside from Owens other key offensive free agents shuffling off to Buffalo are backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, center Geoff Hangarter, and running back Dominic Rhodes.

The Bills offense also will be improved via the draft with the pickup of two second round interior offensive linemen in Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, as well as the addition of exciting former Southern Mississippi tight end Shawn Nelson via the fourth round.

Defensively, the Bills will be helped by the return to health of top pass rusher Aaron Schobel. Aaron Maybin, the 11th pick in the first round will add more pass rush ability to a defense that couldn't get to the quarterback last year. 

Playmakers Kawika Mitchell and Paul Posluszny return at linebacker.  Last year's first rounder Leodis McKelvin will step in at corner across from Terrence McGee, and Jairus Byrd, the Bills first second rounder will be in the mix at free safety to team up with Done Whitner.

In general, the Bills coaching staff has stayed the same for better or for worse.  They will have to deal with the three game suspension of Marshawn Lynch however, as he will miss the Monday Night opener at New England, and home games against Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

The Miami Dolphins enter this season with expectations after surprising the NFL in winning the AFC East last year. 

The Dolphins main change on offense will come at center where Jake Grove comes over from Oakland, as well as additions through the draft of "Wildcat" option Pat White in round two, and USC wideout Patrick Turner in round three.  Quarterback Chad Pennington is the guy again in Miami.

Defensively, the Dolphins were able to add veteran safety Gibril Wilson who was released in Oakland, and they added corner Vontae Davis from Illinois in the first round of the draft.

The coaching staff in Miami returns in tact, and of course, Bill Parcells still is running the show in the front office. 

The strength of the AFC East is fairly obvious, and it will be a strong and competitive division in the upcoming season.  Each team has the potential to have strong offenses.  The defenses in the division are extremely physical, experienced, and fast, and will provide a tough challenge game-in and game-out. 

Each team has quality special teams and is well coached, which will provide competitive and compelling matchups throughout the season.

As for how the strength of the AFC East will impact the Jets playoff chances in 2009, it will have a major impact.  The Jets playoff chances depend, on how much production that Rex Ryan get out of his offense that is likely to be led by a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez

If Tom Brady comes back as good as before, the Patriots will be very good. If Terrell Owens adds that new dimension to the Bills offense, they will not go 0-6 in the AFC East in 2009. 

If the Dolphins play smart, turnover free football like last year, they will be a tough out,  Mark Sanchez is going to have some struggles in the division, and the Jets will have a tough road to the playoffs if that pans out.

If Brady struggles in his return from injury, then who knows where the Patriots will be.  If Terrell Owens is the cancer that he can be in the locker room, who knows how that will affect team leader Trent Edwards.

If the Dolphins take a step back against a tougher schedule, then that opens doors. It opens doors that the Jets can step into if Ryan's defense is as good as advertised, and Sanchez plays solid football and plays within himself.

The Jets playoff chances largely rely on two things. First is the strength of the AFC East.  If the division comes out strong this year, the Jets will face an uphill battle to get into the playoffs.  If the division is weak, the Jets will be right in the mix every week. 

With a new coach in Rex Ryan and a new quarterback in Mark Sanchez, there is a lot of uncertainty as to where the Jets will fall in 2009.  Fortunately for the fans, those questions will be answered in a few short months.

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