Sunday, August 10, 2008

AFC East Rundown

Over the next week or so, I'm going to churn out one of these Rundowns for each of the 8 NFL divisions, which will be the beginnings of my NFL Preview. As the season gets closer, I will have some more in-depth coverage, including projected standings, and an in-depth Steelers preview. Part 1 of 8 can be found below. Enjoy.
Division Rundowns:
AFC East
The Patriots are still the class of this division, make no mistake about it. And, with a relatively easy schedule, don’t be the least bit surprised to see them rack up an alarmingly high win total. However, unlike last season, I think this bunch has absolutely no desire whatsoever to make a run at perfection. They saw how badly they were beaten down by the questions and the media hype of a year ago, and, while I think they will run away with the top seed in the AFC, I also think they will be more then happy to slide in at, say, 13 or 14 wins, instead of another extended winning streak. Their secondary continues to be a serious weak spot, but the rest of their defense should be pretty stout, and if Jerod Mayo can make his way into the lineup, I think he could make a definite run at the Defensive Rookie of the Year crown. Offensively, they are as potent as ever, and while I don’t expect Tom Brady and Randy Moss to equal their scoring production of a year ago, I still think they will be the best in the league at their position and that Wes Welker will snag upwards of 80 passes, and Laurence Maroney should also have a nice year and should challenge for 1,000 yards rushing. The Offensive Line, after being pummeled by the Giants D-Line a year ago will still be a vulnerable spot for teams with prolific pass rushers, but Belichick has never met a challenge he didn’t know how to scheme for, and I think that will be less of an issue this season
The Jets made the transaction of the off-season, and the off-season technically wasn’t even in session any longer when they dealt for Brett Favre last week. I’m still not so sure that acquiring Broadway Brett makes this team a playoff team, but they should at least challenge for a spot, and his addition gives them the best of both worlds that they previously had. He has the veteran moxy, leadership, and accuracy of Chad Pennington, while also having more then the arm strength of Kellen Clemens, so he vaults this team from 5 or so wins to probably somewhere around 8-9 wins, and while they have no chance at the AFC East title, don’t be surprised to see them fight for a wildcard spot down to the last weekend. The big key for the Jets, though, will be establishing a solid running game. Thomas Jones was mediocre last season, and Leon Washington does not have every down back potential, but a major upgrade in the offensive line could elevate their running game to a higher level. Favre will also have a better set of receivers then he had in Green Bay, with solid deep threat Jerricho Cotchery and the ageless Laveranues Coles. They don’t have the depth the Packers had, though, so it will be interesting to see if Favre can develop some of these unknowns the way he would develop them in the Bay. Defensively, the Jets are an intriguing team. They certainly have the talent to be a top flight unit, but an eclectic bunch that includes the wildly inconsistent Kris Jenkins, talented rookie Vernon Gholston, dangerous DE Shaun Ellis, steady LB David Harris, and a talented young secondary led by Darrelle Revis has much to prove in the coming year, which the front office has clearly anointed as a playoff or bust type season.
Prior to the Jets bring in Favre, the Bills were everyone’s favorite sleeper team in the AFC. The theory held that, with a steady young QB, a talented and fresh running back, some sound wide receivers, a steady defense, and a manageable schedule, the Bills could rack up 9 or so wins and potentially find a back door into the playoffs. Now, though, they get both Brady and Favre twice, not to mention trips to Jacksonville and Denver, a visit from San Diego and a home game in Toronto. Maybe we all jumped the gun a little on anointing the Bills a sleeper team. Nevertheless, the Bills should be a steady team in Dick Jauron’s third year, but Trent Edwards showed little signs of being the type of QB who can win games for you in his first year, and while those days may be coming, they certainly aren’t here yet. Until then, the team will rely heavily on young Marshawn Lynch, the dangerous Lee Evans, and hope that a very talented defense can play up to its impressive potential. They have one of the best all-around D-Lines in football thanks to the likes of Aaron Schobel, the mammoth Marcus Stroud, and John McCargo, and Paul Posluszny will anchor the middle in the LB corps. Expect the Bills to hang tough with a lot of teams, but unless Edwards makes some unforeseen progress this season, we’re pegging the Bills as still being another year away in a division that just got much tougher.
But hey, at least the Bills are in much better shape than the Dolphins who moved through last season completely directionless, and after doing that spectacular impersonation of an amoeba, they think they’ve found some direction in the Book of Parcells. This time, the Tuna isn’t the coach, and one of his many disciples, Tony Sparano, is instead the man running the show in South Beach. The Fish, following the lead of their Florida counterparts in Tampa, have decided to collect as many average quarterbacks as possible, and have quite the collection at this point. After the signing of the noodle-armed Chad Pennington, the QB competition appears to be over, but with the young Chad Henne waiting in the wings, the young but old John Beck (he’ll be 27 on Opening Day in just his second year!), and the mediocre Josh McCown, if Pennington’s arm troubles hurt the team, there could be a quick hook. The Fins, though, clearly are building for beyond 2008, and will start a number of inexperienced and underqualified players this season in the hopes of picking up a few gems, as Parcells has been known to do over the years.

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