Definition of Improvement:
1: the act or process of improving
2 a: the state of being improved; especially: enhanced value or excellence b: an instance of such improvement: something that enhances value or excellence
Technically, every year, all 32 teams in the NFL "improve" because of free agency and the draft, yet only 12 will make the playoffs and the other 20 teams will be looking ahead to next year. Some are left with many holes to fill, others are only a player or two away from taking that next step, and others are left wondering what went wrong.
A common theme we've heard this offseason from the media's talking heads and "expert" NFL analysts is that the Buffalo Bills have gotten better (at least in some areas), but so has the rest of the AFC East. So that will negate the improvement on our end, making us destined to finish in last place again for a second consecutive season.
We are also led to believe that we play two extremely difficult divisions from the AFC South and NFC South in 2009, considering both sent two teams to the playoffs last year, and the worst team in the NFC South finished 8-8. Of course, all of this could easily end up being true, or it could easily end up being false. But that's why they will line up and play their games this fall.
So I've decided to break down all the teams on the Buffalo Bills 2009 schedule and take a look at who really improved, who will maintain the status quo, and who took a step backwards.
In this first installment I will start with the AFC East division rivals:
1. New England Patriots
2008 Results: 11-5, second place AFCE, missed playoffs
Key Additions: Fred Taylor, Joey Galloway, Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, Greg Lewis, Al Johnson, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler
Key Losses: Matt Cassel, Rodney Harrison, Rosevelt Colvin, Heath Evans, Mike Vrabel, Ellis Hobbs
Have They Improved for 2009: Absolutely. The biggest boost to this team will be the return of Tom Brady, and even if he's 75 percent, the Pats will be good enough to win it all in 2009.
Still Have Questions About: linebacker, offensive line depth, new offensive coordinator
The Key to Their Season: Tom Brady staying healthy and all of the new faces on defense gelling. Barring an atomic bomb being dropped on Boston, the Pats are still among the NFL's elite franchises. I expect them to send a message to the rest of the NFL early.
Best Case Scenario: 11-16 wins, AFC East title and Super Bowl appearance/championship
Worst Case Scenario: 8-10 wins, miss playoffs
What I Expect: 13 wins, AFC East Title, AFC Championship appearance at least
Key Losses: Al Johnson, Samon Satele, Vonnie Holiday, Renaldo Hill, Andre Goodman
Have They Improved for 2009: Most will tell you "yes" because Bill Parcells is still in the front office. But this is a team I look at as maintaining the status quo at best.
We are quick to forget this is a team that is one year removed from being a 1-15 squad, and if they get off to bad start in 2009, things could downhill fast in South Florida. Also, I do believe that last year's miraculous turnaround was more of a product of Pennington's and Joey Porter's resurgences, as opposed to the new coaching staff.
Still Have Questions About: age of key defensive players, offensive line, secondary, QB, WR
The Key to Their Season: Chad Pennington is going to have to match and exceed his career-best 2009 numbers for this team to have a chance to win more than eight games given their schedule. Unfortunately, history has shown that he has never made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and typically follows up a good season with a bad/injury-riddled season.
I'll go with the trend here. Also, if I'm Tony Sparano, I'm not banking on the wildcat to have the type of impact it did last year in 2009.
Best Case Scenario: 9-10 wins, possible AFC wild card
Worst Case Scenario: 4-8 wins, miss playoffs
What I Expect: 7-9, miss playoffs
Key Losses: Brett Favre, Eric Mangini, Lavernious Coles, Chris Baker, Mike Nugent, Ty Law, Abram Elam
Have They Improved for 2009: Rex Ryan will try to do what Mike Smith did in Atlanta last year, but it will be a tough feat given the conference and division he's in.
Defensively, I believe the Jets improved on paper, but can they avert another second half collapse? Offensively, they will be hard-pressed to improve or even keep up with what last year's Favre-led squad did.
Plus, if Thomas Jones holds out, that will not be a good thing for a team looking to lean on their running game in 2009.
Still Have Questions About: age of key defensive players, WR, special teams, QB, new head coach and staff
The Key to Their Season: Aging defensive players staying healthy and producing at a high level. Also, finding a QB that can be a bus driver in a run-oriented offense.
Best Case Scenario: 8-10 wins, possible wild card
Worst Case Scenario: 4-9 wins, miss playoffs
What I Expect: 6-10, miss playoffs
As always, feel free to critique, discuss, flame, and offer your own analysis/insight.
Coming soon: Part Two, AFC South breakdown...