A team that won 11 games without Tom Brady, last year's is the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC East this season. They took a bunch of low-risk, high-reward gambles on proven veterans this offseason in an attempt to give them added playoff experience once they get there.
As long as Belichick is running the show with Brady and Moss by his sides, this team should be alright as long as injuries aren’t a factor, and the running game produces more than it did last year. Patriots fans should expect what they always expect: winning.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Last year’s surprise team shouldn’t struggle enough to take a huge tumble from last year’s 11-5 division winning campaign, but in no way are they in position to return to the postseason.
Their style of offense won’t surprise anyone as it did last season and their schedule is very tough as well. They played safe, conservative football which got it done in a division sans Brady last year, but that won’t fly this season, as their defense is weakened, too.
I’d be extremely surprised if the Dolphins don’t get lost in the AFC shuffle this season.
New York Jets (7-9)
A new coach in Rex Ryan will bring about a new mentality in New York, and without Favre, it seems like the slate his been wiped clean for the Jets coming into the season.
We saw rookie quarterbacks have success last year, so at least Mark Sanchez has a prayer on a team where the ground game and the defense are the strongest points.
There shouldn’t be as much doom and gloom around the Jets this year, since their prevailing theme should be hope, but don’t expect a playoff team with all of the changes for this squad.
Buffalo Bills (5-11)
The Bills, as always, have glaring weaknesses all over the field, mainly quarterback, defensive line, and possibly the worst offensive line in football.
I was surprised by the T.O. signing, and I don’t see it as that significant, especially without a good field general, something which Trent Edwards has not proven himself as thus far.
They have some good young players on the defensive side of the ball, but there still are far too many question marks about a team that has struggled for a while now. Don’t expect much from the Bills in 2009.
AFC North (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
The champs come into this season with nearly everyone returning from the Super Bowl winning squad, so why should anything be different this year?
Their defense is among the best of the decade, and their offense, while it is not flashy, gets the job done because of good leaders like Roethlisberger.
They got by with weaknesses in the running game and on the offensive line last season, and though repeating is very hard to do, the Steelers, without a doubt, should be good enough to make a deep playoff run at the very least.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
The defense on this team is world-class, but unlike in past years, the Ravens appear to be a balanced team with a competent offense.
This team would win most other divisions, but in the eyes of most, they’re still looking up at the Steelers, whose wrath they fell victim to in last year’s AFC Championship Game.
They often struggle with consistency, but they have also never had a steady quarterback as a franchise for the most part. They should very well be a playoff team, and most credit should go to their defensive stars.
Cleveland Browns (5-11)
The Browns won’t be very good and in my opinion did not make a very good hire in Eric Mangini. There’s no need to keep a quarterback competition a secret, but stunts like that doomed him in New York.
Their defense isn’t much to speak of, but the Browns have done a nice job developing a good, young offensive line. That won’t matter as there has been an overhaul in Cleveland; the struggle should continue, especially if Brady Quinn experiences growing pains and Braylon Edwards’ career continues to regress under this regime.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
The “Hard Knocks” that we’ve seen from the Bengals over this summer will undoubtedly continue into this season, as I’m starting to question whether Marvin Lewis has ever been or will be on the hot seat.
I don’t believe Carson Palmer when he says he’s healthy because he’s never been healthy, and Cedric Benson as a starting running back just won’t cut it. I look for positives with teams, but I don’t see any here, as the Bengals will continue to linger as an irrelevant, no good, disastrous franchise.
AFC South (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The AFC South has made some nice strides over the past few years, but the kings of this division should still prevail in Indianapolis.
A new coach might shake things up a little bit, but you know what you’re getting when Peyton Manning and this offense takes the field. The running game will come back strong off a weak season where it had no depth, and the defense has developed into one of the better ones in the AFC.
As long as you have the defending MVP as your quarterback, you have a very good chance to win, and to win big.
Tennessee Titans (8-8)
I can’t see the Titans having the regular season success they had last season, which leaves them as an average team.
Does Kerry Collins have anything left in the tank (or in the bottle)? Will losing Albert Haynesworth and Jim Schwartz de-value their defense at all? Will the new wide receivers make that much of a difference? Are the Texans better?
The four questions I just asked will determine the Titans’ fate, and looking at this team right now, it doesn’t have the makings of a postseason caliber club after overachieving big time in 2008.
Houston Texans (7-9)
I’d be weary of all the preseason hype as everyone has made the Texans out to be a bona fide playoff contender. Houston has progressed very nicely all the way to and 8-8 record last season.
They have the offensive weapons, even I’d like to see a bigger sample size of Matt Schaub, and still have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball.
Every year, many claim that the Texans will finally break through. This may very well be the year, but in no way have they leapfrogged the Colts or Titans in terms of stature in the AFC South.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
I would say that the Jaguars can still keep up on the defensive side of things, but David Garrard is looking less and less like he’s the answer under center.
Everyone has fallen in love with Maurice Jones-Drew with a minimal track record, and they still have no wideouts. After being so good just two seasons ago, they have fallen on hard times, both on the field and with their fan base.
Once upon a time, Jack Del Rio was among the premier coaches in the NFL; now he’ll have to work a reclamation project just to keep his job past this season.
AFC West (Predicted Order of Finish and Records)
San Diego Chargers (12-4)
This division is good by no means, and the Chargers should carry the late-season momentum that they picked up last season and translate it with relative ease into this campaign.
LT isn’t what he used to be, but he’s still good enough to carry the load in the ground game, and it seems probable that Philip Rivers is ready to break out.
San Diego could have the most talented roster in the league top to bottom, but they’ve also had that in the past few years, and have had injuries and playoff disappointment plague them in big spots.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
The Marlins, the Blue Jackets, the Kansas City Chiefs. A team left for dead coming into this season will make a leap into the AFC Wild Card race.
Surprisingly, I think Todd Haley knows what he’s doing in KC, and with Matt Cassel leading his team, the complements of a healthy Larry Johnson, and young studs on defense could turn the Chiefs into this season's Dolphins or Falcons.
In a weak division, I can see the Chiefs improving by both beating up on bad teams and playing up to the competition. Keep your eyes on Kansas City.
Denver Broncos (5-11)
Any hope of the Broncos having a successful season was shipped to Chicago, and the returns haven’t much left on the field for Denver. God knows football doesn’t need another version of the Raiders, but Josh McDaniels and friends have replicated the Oakland way pretty well before even having played a game.
Controversy and holdouts have plagued the Bronco offseason, and though I like the pickup of Brian Dawkins on defense, the Broncos have driven themselves in the wrong direction for the foreseeable future.
Oakland Raiders (4-12)
Still tons of questions for Oakland, mainly that they still don’t have a reliable quarterback, a suspect/feuding coaching staff, and fell for a 40 time with the seventh overall pick.
They have put a lot of stock in both Russell and McFadden and only time will tell if they will be factors in addition to all these high draft picks which they seem to gain nothing out of.
They actually have some good players on defense, but the organization as a whole is still a poorly run debacle that is and will not be a factor for the present time and for years to come.