Patriots Reload, Repeat as Division Winners
New England Patriots (13-3)
What do you expect from a team that has won the division title, come within one play of reaching its fourth Super Bowl in six years, and spend an offseason improving a half-dozen positions? Anything short of a division title will result in rioting.
Even with Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks and cornerback Rodney Harrison serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the Patriots should have little trouble securing a division title. Those losses may hurt New England's shot at a first-round playoff bye, especially with San Diego in town in Week 2.
I'll have a complete Patriots season preview soon, so I'll leave a little mystery until then.
You're already here at SB Nation's New England Patriots blog, Pats Pulpit.
New York Jets (8-8)
Will Jets fans continue to call their head coach Mangenius if they finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs? New York is good enough to earn a playoff ticket, but the AFC East is actually a pretty tough division and the team with the weakest schedule is Miami with the 8th toughest in the league. There's no bias though.
Anyway, Chad Pennington is going to have to improve on his comebach player of the year performance if the Jets are to have a chance. He has some relief with the acquisition of running back Thomas Jones. New York has an excellent offensive line, especially on the left side. The offense, as long as Pennington avoids bad decisions, is in good shape.
Eric Mangini is a defensive-minded coach, and that will help, especially with newcomers cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris. But the running defense was deficient last year, and it doesn't promise to improve much this year. And if teams can run on the Jets, they'll be able to do a lot more.
Unlike last year, New York has a brutal schedule, and the Jets will have to win early -- a win over New England in Week 1 would be a giant (sorry about the pun) boost -- if they want to make a run for the post-season.
Visit SB Nation's New York Jets blog, New York Landing Strip.
Buffalo Bills (7-9)
Don't be shocked if Buffalo ends up second in the division, but with three new faces on the offensive line, don't expect them to take leaps and bounds .. this year. Marv Levy has been doing a good job rebuilding the Bills (again), but he seems to have a long-term plan, as opposed to the past "fix it and win this year" mentality. Some key acquisitions hold the promise of future success, but there will be growing pains.
That offensive line is the key to this year's lack and the future's success. If they can somehow come together as a unit, that will make life a lot easier on quarterback J.P. Losman and rookie running back Marshawn Lynch. But don't expect miracles.
The Bills were also very weak against the run in 2006, but multiple departures leaves Buffalo with a lot of backups in starting positions. If they excel, which is not out of the realm of possibility, the Bills could be the "surprise" team of the season. If not, it's going to be a long autumn.
Visit SB Nation's Buffalo Bills blog, Buffalo Rumbings.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
New head coach Cam Cameron can't be worse than Nick Saban. That's the good news. Whether passing on quarterback Brady Quinn and drafting wide receiver Ted Ginn is a boon or a boondoggle, time will tell.
More important, the offensive line is an enormous "if" at best, and with journeyman Trent Green, who suffered a serious concussion last year, calling signals, Fins Fans are going to be holding their breath on every snap. Still, Green is an upgrade over Daunte Culpepper, at least under Cameron's offensive scheme, and he has some good backs behind him and some legitimate threats to throw to. A big loss is tight end Randy McMichael.
Defensively, the Dolphins have one of the best front sevens in the NFL, but some old reliables are starting to get, well, old (that would be Zack Thomas at middle linebacker). I'm not sold at all on the secondary, and that front seven is going to have to put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks to keep them from exposing the thin d-backfield.
Miami has the division's "easy" schedule, and that could allow them to challenge the New York and New Jersey teams for second place .. maybe.
Visit SB Nation's Miami Dolphins blog, The Phinsider.
Who will win the AFC East?
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New England Patriots
New York Jets