Monday, August 07, 2006

AFC East

Patriots 11-5
There have been stories for many years about how people are ready to give up on the Patriots, and for the most part that hasn’t been true. People have believed in the Patriots’ system. However, that tide is ready to turn, and people will be declaring the Patriots’ “dynasty” over if they get off to a bad start this season. They have lost a lot of personnel on the field, and brainpower off the field. The much ballyhooed departure of Adam Vinatieri will to me end up being pretty much meaningless, but there are bigger problems than the kicker. On offense Tom Brady is running out of people to throw to. That makes the drafting of Laurence Maroney key, to provide relief for Corey Dillon. The defense will have to be strong, but I expect that to be the case. In fact, I expect a different sort of Patriots team this year: one built more on defense and running and with a lessened focus on the passing game. That was the case a few years ago, but Tom Brady has been given more reign throwing the ball in recent years. This year they’re going to need to turn to the defense out of necessity, because it has been their focus for a long time now. They have a nice mix of solid veterans (Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Rosevelt Colvin, Rodney Harrison) and young stars (Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Asante Samuel, Ty Warren). Seymour in particular is due for a monster season, and the defense will carry them to the postseason.

Dolphins 9-7
A lot of people seem sold on the Dolphins as a team on the rise. They finished last season well and Nick Saban gets a lot of credit as a coach. However, while I like their offseason moves, I think those moves are offset by the fact they weren’t as good as their record indicated last year. The big problem is their defense, where just about every impact player without exception is on the downside of his career. Injuries are inevitable, and there are few young players with motors to wreak havoc on the other team. On offense they should be in better shape. I love the acquisition of Daunte Culpepper, a quarterback of a caliber that shouldn’t be available for a second round pick, particularly under the age of 30. Ronnie Brown is poised for a breakthrough season. Chris Chambers finally had the breakthrough season that I had pretty much given up on after waiting forever. They have added solid minds in Mularkey and Capers to coordinate on O and D. They also will benefit from division rivals Jets and Bills being in bad shape. All that adds up to a solid season, but not the enormous rise many are hoping for. Unfortunately for Saban, this also doesn’t look like a team built for the long haul.

Jets 6-10
It’s going to be a dogfight for the cellar of the AFC East, with the Bills and Jets both not heading in the right direction. I like the Jets to do slightly better simply because they had been a good team pretty consistently prior to last year, and last year was very much a worse case scenario. With Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey and Kellen Clemens all strong motivated, I think one will emerge to have a solid year. I wouldn’t bet on any of them individually, but you’ve got three shots there, and this is an important battle for three guys that all seem in my mind to have the potential to lead an NFL team. They badly needed to get someone as an insurance policy for Curtis Martin, and not having that is going to hurt them. Someone will need to step up, with Derrick Blaylock making the most sense to me. On the plus side, Laveranues Coles and Justin McCareins are a solid pair of wideouts, but not terribly exciting. Their defense is young and talented. Pressure will be on Dewayne Robertson to justify what the Jets gave up to acquire him, and on Shaun Ellis to produce with John Abraham gone. This could be the year Jonathan Vilma becomes a superstar, and if he sets the tone the Jets could do a little better than people expect. Still, it’s hard to envision them moving the ball all that well, and there will be growing pains on D.

Bills 4-12
Add me to the list of people that don’t like the direction of the Bills. On offense, they are a very oddly built team. You would think they would try to run the ball with Willis McGahee, but their line didn’t seem up for that last year. They brought back Peerless Price for some reason, but let Eric Moulds go when Price’s success came when he was paired with Moulds. I’m not sold on J.P. Losman at all, and Kelly Holcomb isn’t much better. They were a disaster on defense last year, and I’m not convinced they will be any better this year. The return of Takeo Spikes could potentially be a big help, and I do like their secondary. Still, it’s hard to expect much out of this team.


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