The AFC East is annually characterized by rivalries every year. There are so many subplots at work here that it seems that it’s more profession wrestling than football division much of the time. Already in 2010 the pot is getting stirred, as a result of HBO’s Hard Knocks series following the New York Jets. Tom Brady has stated he “Hates the Jets and will not watch the show.” Strong words for so early in the year, yet not surprising at all. It’s more irony than anything else, as for so long the Patriots have been the target of much of the hate in the league.
However, does the changing of the guard in target of aggression in the division also preview a changing in the rank and order of the East as well? The Jets were the surprise of the postseason last year, with two decisive wins and an AFC Championship game appearance, while the Patriots were soundly beaten by the Ravens in round one after winning the division. Add to this subplot the always pesky Miami Dolphins finally landing the go to, albeit controversial, wide receiver they have been wanting for what seems like forever, and you’ve got plenty of drama for the whole year.
Oh, and the Bills are here too…but they’re will be much more talk about concerning them come Draft season, for reason you’ll soon see.
Buffalo Bills (6-10 in 2009)
Offense: F. Jackson-RB, L. Evans-WR, C. Spiller-RB (D)
Defense: D. Whitner-SS, P. Posluszny-LB, J. Byrd-FS (C+)
The Good: The defense is capable of making some tough days for quarterbacks. They finished second in passing yardage allowed, with only 184 yards per contest. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are capable of getting the ball back at any point, with Byrd pulling in nine interceptions during his rookie campaign. Paul Posluszny is a bright spot in the frontlines of defense, leading the team in tackles during his 2nd year. They have a diverse ground game, with Fred Jackson returning as the club’s all purpose threat, Marshawn Lynch provides a power runner and rookie C.J. Spiller being a blazing speed threat.
The Bad: They are very sub par at some critical positions: offensive and defensive line and quarterback. Neither Trent Edwards nor Ryan Fitzpatrick had more touchdowns than interceptions in ’09. And neither reached double figures in touchdowns. All of this was achieved while Terrell Owens was on board. The offensive line hasn’t offer much help to either in approving their efforts, as each was sacked over 20 times despite each splitting the season at the helm. As a whole, the defense was terrible versus the rush, giving up over 150 yards a game, ranking them at 30 out of 32 teams.
X-Factor-C.J. Spiller: When the Bills selected him with the 9th pick in this year’s draft they had other needs that could have been addressed. However, they saw Spiller’s undeniable speed and game breaking talent and couldn’t resist. The ball will be put in his hands every way possible, because the Bills don’t have much to go deep with and with both Jackson and Lynch suffering from injuries, he will get even more rushes early in the season, before most likely splitting carries and impacting the receiver and return game later in the year.
2010 Projection: Mia (L), @ GB (L), @ NE (L), NYJ (L), Jax (W), @ Bal (L), @ KC (L), Chi (L), Det (L), @ Cin (L), Pit (L), @ Min (L), Cle (W), @ Mia (W), NE (L), @ NYJ (L)
Summary: The Bills play in a tough division and will pay the price. On offense they were already one-dimensional, and then didn’t bring back TO, their top receiver. This group won’t be able to attack and win games and the defensive group has issues getting to the quarterback, which may put too much pressure on the secondary to maintain its’09 success. Long season ahead here. RECORD: 3-13
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Offense: B. Marshall-WR, R. Brown-RB, R. Williams-RB, J. Long-T (B)
Defense: K. Dansby-LB, C. Crowder-LB, J. Odrick-DE (B-)
The Good: They finally landed the big name receiver they had desperately been looking for in Brandon Marshall. He is a high volume receiver that has brought in at least 100 catches over the last 3 years and will boost the Fins 20th ranked pass game immediately. Also, he adds a new wrinkle to a Dolphins team who’s running gimmick game his still diverse, but is not catching teams off guard any longer. On defense, Karlos Dansby coming over from Arizona and joining Channing Crowder in the middle of their linebacker spread will give them two active, impact tacklers from sideline to sideline.
The Bad: This is a defense with a lot of holes still. The secondary has to get better effort from Vontae Davis and company in coverage, after finishing 24th versus the pass last year. There were no great upgrades made to this unit and there is nobody that worries opponents about forcing the turnover. To make matters worse, the departures of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor takes away their top pass rushers, a move that could give QBs even more time to pick on their lackluster secondary.
X-Factor-Chad Henne: For all of their gadget plays and trickery, the Dolphins played their best when they had a steady quarterback directing them. That’s what Henne was drafted to become in 2008 and last season he took control. He showed the expected inconsistencies of first year starter (12 touchdowns to 14 interceptions), but down the stretch he looked to be coming into his own, passing for over 300 yards in three of his last five games. His continued development and consistency means everything to pushing this club to increased success.
2010 Prediction: @ Buf (W), @ Min (L), NYJ (W), NE (L), @ GB (L), Pit (W), @ Cin (L), @ Bal (W), Ten (W), Chi (L), @ Oak (W), Cle (W), @ NYJ (L), Buf (L), Det (W), @ NE (L)
Summary: The Dolphins are both bringing in pieces that will pay off in turning their fortunes, but they still are too thin at important positions (where their division rivals are strong) to make a big splash this year. However, they will be able to shock more than a few teams this year and will be competitive week in and week out. RECORD: 7-9
New England Patriots (11-5 in 2009; Division Champs)
Offense: T. Brady-QB, R. Moss-WR, W. Welker-WR, L. Maroney-RB (A-)
Defense: V. Wilfork-NT, J. Mayo-LB, B. Merriweather-FS (B)
The Good: They have quietly reloaded at positions critical to their success when they were the class of the league. Rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez bring size and speed to a tight end position that was always a strong for the Pats. Julian Edelman’s development at receiver gives them another in-between threat to go with Wes Welker. All of these moves set up more chances for Randy Moss to slip past defenses and hook up with Tom Brady. This trend continues with the defense as well. Rookie Brandon Spikes should step in immediately at inside linebacker, a position where they had unparalleled depth in years past.
The Bad: As they have added depth at some positions, there is a franchise cornerstone that is not looking to join the fold. Guard Logan Mankins is not in the fold after refusing to sign the restricted free agent contract offered to him and is holding out to force a trade. As one of the best guards in football, his absence is bound to hinder the offensive output overall, as in New England if the pass struggles, the offense as a whole does.
X-Factor-Wes Welker: In their Wild Card round loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Wes Welker suffered a terrible MCL/ACL tearing knee injury. It was said best case scenario he’d be back by the second half of the 2010 campaign, yet he was ready to suit up by the first day of training camp and will be in the fold from week 1. He appears to have amazingly returned to his pre-injury form and if he is ready, having the two-time league leader in receptions back will be huge for this offense.
2010 Prediction: Cin (L), @ NYJ (L), Buf (W), @ Mia (W), Bal (W), @ SD (L), Min (L), @ Cle (W), @ Pit (W), Ind (W), @ Det (W), NYJ (L), @ Chi (W), GB (W), @ Buf (W), Mia
Summary: With Brady’s return, the Pats once again ascended to the peak of the East and will be among the league’s most steady teams again this year. They play a potentially the toughest schedule of any team this season and will be tempered by that week in, week out challenge. Also, the Jets have what it takes to meet and surpass them head on, so repeat at the top of the division will be a struggle to reach. RECORD: 11-5
New York Jets (9-7 in 2009; Wild Card team)
Offense: M. Sanchez-QB, S. Green-RB, L. Tomlinson-RB, B. Edwards-WR, D. Ferguson-T (B+)
Defense: D. Revis-CB, K. Jenkins-DT, B. Scott-LB, D. Harris-LB, A. Cromartie-CB (A+)
The Good: They have the elite defense in the league and Coach Rex Ryan knows how to unleash it, which he does constantly. No unit gave up fewer points per game last season (12.8), and they add Jason Taylor, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson to the core of Bart Scott, David Harris and Kris Jenkins. They finished first in passing yards allowed, with only 153 per game. This was enabled by both the constant rushes by the defense and the fear of Darrelle Revis’ lurking at corner. His inevitable arrival with the team means everything to how well they perform and its potential.
The Bad: Mark Sanchez has to have a substantial growth in his consistency in his second year. The Jets have a deep stable of and one of the league’s best offensive lines as well, yet finished 31st passing offense last year. None of this offense’s potential will be able to be put to use if Sanchez does not improve on his game command. Also, reliable kicker Jay Feely, who was able to make up for many of the shortcomings of the pass game, was replaced by Nick Folk, whose inconsistencies forced him out of Dallas. Regardless of how good the defense is, these issues have to be fixed if the Jets want to break past their AFC Championship game finish this year.
X-Factor-Shonn Greene: The Jets finished first in rushing offense in the NFL last year, due in part to running more to lessen Sanchez’s exposure and in part because they were deep at the position. Greene broke out in the Playoffs, with two games of 135 and 128 yards. Now, Thomas Jones and Leon Washington are gone and Greene is in place to make the biggest leap forward of any back in football. While he will share carries with LaDainian Tomlinson, he is without a doubt the top option in Jet attack.
2010 Projection: Bal (W), NE (W), @ Mia (L), @ Buf (W), Min (W), @ Den (L), GB (W), @ Det (W), @ Cle (W), Hou (W), Cin @ NE (W), Mia (W), @ Pit (L), @ Chi (W), Buf
Summary: They turned it on in Playoffs last year, going from last second Wild Card grab to the AFC Championship Game. That momentum they started last year was built upon with several significant offseason selections and they have now built one the most complete teams in football. With the growth of their young offensive stars, this team can easily become one game better and be the best of the AFC this season. RECORD: 13-3