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The AFC East is a division with a lot of intrigue at the top. The Jets are the favorite by many, and are the flashy pick to win the Super Bowl, but the Patriots have run the division for years (except 2008). It’s not going to be easy for Rex Ryan’s club to overtake the powerhouse but should certainly play out to be an exciting division. The Dolphins had made strides in 2008, but took two steps back in 2009. A lot of inconsistency and unpredictability remain in Miami, and the fish have something to prove. As for the Bills, well, they’re still the Bills.
Buffalo Bills –In 2009, the Bills came into the season with high expectations. The team led by head coach Dick Jauron, had high hopes coming into the season, picking up controversial receiver Terrell Owens. The season did not go the way they expected and the Bills finished with a 6-10 record which put them last in the AFC East. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999 and this upcoming season doesn’t look like it will be the year that they get back into either. They hired Chan Gailey as head coach this offseason who is expected to run a 3-4 defense and an offense that emphasizes the run game. The Bills entered camp with a three-way battle for quarterback with Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm, although I think the veteran Edwards will be the starter at the beginning of the season. Marshawn Lynch had a disappointing season as he was suspended the first three games of the season and then he lost his starting job to Fred Jackson. Lynch finished the season with a disappointing 450 yards on 120 carries with only two rushing touchdowns. Lynch wasn’t able to break 100 rushing yards in a single game. Jackson filled in with a 1000+ yard season. I think both backs can be used effectively in a split-back situation and can pile up a bulk of the offense. The touchdown numbers have to go up for both backs for the Bills to be competitive. The Bills didn’t re-sign Terrell Owens in the offseason and this year’s receiving core is highlighted by Lee Evans. The Bills will look to Evans to put up numbers like he did in his 2008 breakout season with a 1000+ yard season, which took a huge drop with only 612 yards. The defense gave up 30+ points 4 times last season and an average of 21 points per game. The new 3-4 scheme will have to bring that total down to give the offense a chance to win. Overall the Bills will have a tough season, and will continue to need to build.
Miami Dolphins – Last season the Dolphins finished with a 7-9 record, a big disappointment after their 11-5 record from 2008. Ronnie Brown only started 9 games due to injury and piled up 648 yards with 8 TDs. He was replaced by Ricky Williams who had a year of resurrection. Ricky started 7 games and finished the year with 1,121 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs. I look for another strong running campaign from the Dolphins this season. During the offseason, the fish released linebackers Joey Porter, Akin Ayodele, and safety Gibril Wilson. The big news coming into camp this season is Brandon Marshall. Marshall is expected to have a big season like he did last year in Denver, and will be the number one target for the Dolphins down the field. Quarterback Chad Pennington has been thrown into a lot of trade talk lately. Pennington, to many, is considered expendable after he injured the same shoulder from the past last year and is on the decline in his career. Rookie Pat White was brought in to run Tony Sparano’s wildcat offense but also was injured. Third-string QB Chad Henne was given the role as starter. He had a tough season but gained much needed experience. He started 13 games and finished with 2,878 yards, but had 12-14 TD-INT ratio. If Pennington is indeed traded, Henne will be named the starter with Pat White struggling in camp. This year’s schedule is a tough one for the Dolphins. The Dolphins did well against the division last year in the division with a 4-2 record, but will have a more difficult time this season. The Jets and Patriots are both stronger and I only see the fish winning one game in the four matchups. The Dolphins will have a better team this season, but their record might not show it because of the strength of schedule.
New York Jets – Although the Jets finished with the same 9-7 record they had from 2008, they were able to sneak into the playoffs with a wildcard spot under new head coach Rex Ryan. The Jets performed well in the playoffs being able to win their wildcard game with the Bengals and won divisional playoff game against the Chargers. A lot of hype has been built around the Jets as Super Bowl hopefuls, with some Vegas casinos giving them 12 to 1 odds. I don’t buy the hype. I agree that the Jets are a good team, but they got lucky just to make it into the playoffs last year. Their last two games came against the Colts and Bengals, and they were easily able to win both because both opponents were resting starters due to an already secured playoff spot. The Jets were a 7-7 team coming into Week 16 and a long shot to get a wild card berth. I agree that the Jets played exceptionally well in the playoffs, but the regular season does count for something and they can’t afford to take losses to the Dolphins (twice), the Bills, and Jaguars if they plan on making the playoffs this season. Rookie QB Mark Sanchez had a good season with 2,444 passing yards. His 12 TDs though were outweighed by his 20 INT in 15 starts. The Jets had two big roster losses come to them this offseason losing both Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca. They also made key pickups this offseason to make up for the losses with LaDaninan Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, and Santonio Holmes who should all be huge impacts on the team. A lot of questions remain for the Jets coming into the season. Will Tomlinson be able to step up from a disappointing season last year? Can Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards play together? Will Darrel Revis re-sign and be happy? There is arguably more pressure on Rex Ryan this season than any other coach. The Jets unarguable strength is their defense. They have the best defense in the league but will have to re-sign Revis ASAP, who wants Nnamdi Asomugha money. The Jets are certainly the team that can challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East, but it will take the perfect storm for the Jets. I can see the Jets making another wildcard appearance this season.
New England Patriots – The New England made it back into the playoffs in 2009 where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the wildcard matchup. The Patriots finished the 2009 season with a 10-6 record atop the AFC East. They have dominated the division lately with the exception of 2008 which saw star QB Tom Brady fall to injury in the season opener. The Pats finished 2008 with an 11-5 record but missed the playoffs. Last year Brady came back, but was still not the same dominant Tom Brady we were used to seeing in the 4th quarter in years pass. Five of the Patriots losses last season came by a touchdown or less and it can be argued that they were a better team than their record showed. Brady had a monster season throwing for 4,398 yards with 28 TDs and 13 INTs. I look for Brady to go 4500+ yards this season with 35+ TDs. Brady and Moss have proven that they can be the most dangerous QB-WR tandem in the league, with Moss catching 23 TDs from Brady in 2007. Wes Welker has also entered camp off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and will make for a great second option. The Patriots had some key departures this offseason in Jarvis Green, Benjamin Watson, Adalius Thomas, and Shawn Springs but were able to pick up veterans Alge Crumpler and Tory Holt. The running game will be split amongst backs as it was last year with Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Fred Taylor. The Patriots still have the solid nucleus that has been the key to their success in the past years and I think it will again help them win their division. The Patriots play a tough schedule which includes eight matchups against teams in the playoffs last year, which is ranked 6th amongst the league in strength of schedule. I think the tough schedule will help prepare the team possibly make another deep run into the playoffs. I don’t consider the Patriots a Super Bowl team anymore, but if Brady plays like he did in 2007, he will be a nightmare for NFL defenses. I have high expectation for the Pats this season and I think will be one of the NFL’s top teams once again.
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
2. New York Jets (10-6)
3. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
4. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
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