Friday, September 5, 2008

AFC East Preview


1. New England Patriots 13-3

Key Additions: Jerod Mayo, Victor Hobson, Deltha O’Neal, Fernando Bryant, Tank Williams

Key Departures: Asante Samuel, Dante Stallworth, Roosevelt Colvin, Eugene Wilson, Junior Seau, Randall Gay

I laughed, I cheered and I cried (tears of joy) when Eli Manning crafted one of the most memorable two minute drives of my 26 year existence. (I can’t remember any others) But you can’t give him all the credit; hats off to Mr. Tyree for that insane catch. This is a new season and these are the same Patriots from last year but with a bitter taste in their mouths. They’re the favorites to win the Super Bowl and always will be as long as the Belicheck & Brady are together.

This season they return almost all of the offense that led the league last year in about every offensive category except rushing. Tom Brady and Randy Moss are coming off two of the best statistical seasons ever by a QB and WR. I doubt their numbers will be as great as last seasons but they won’t be far off. Laurence Maroney seemed to be non-existent at times last season which is odd considering he can be so effective. The offensive line still has to be considered one of the best in the NFL, regardless of their Super Bowl efforts. Still, “the system” is the brain of the Patriots success. It has been effective for the entire Belichek reign and it helps having a QB like Tom Brady to run it. Teams will try and throw more blitz packages and pass rushers to mimic what the Giants did in the Super Bowl but Belichek & Brady are too smart for that. They still will find a way to beat you….badly

The defense still lines up the best defensive front 3 in the NFL (Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour). Their linebacker core is aging but effective and Jerod Mayo provides a much needed spark. Their most exploitable weakness is their run defense. Teams were behind so much last season that they were consistently airing it out to play catch-up. But I imagined they didn’t care so much because they knew once the ball was in Brady’s hands they were going to score. Asante Samuel is gone, leaving a big hole at cornerback. Fernando Bryant and Ellis “Wait, where is Plax? Oh fuck” Hobbs simply won’t do.

In the end, they’re still the team to beat. It’s unlikely anyone in the division will end the Spygate dominance but I think they’re starting to sweat just a little bit more than usual.

2. New York Jets (9-7)

Key Additions: Alan Faneca, Damian Woody, Brett Favre, Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, Vernon Ghoulston, Tony Richardson, Dustin Keller

Key Departures: Chad Pennington, Victor Hobson, Jonathan Vilma, Hank Poteat, Dewayne Robertson, Andre Dyson (hah!)

All the offseason additions and all the media attention with Favre coming out of retirement and getting traded to New York has definitely wrapped a noose around the Jets neck. No team has bigger shoes to fill than they do. They spent more money on free agents like they were Spitzer in need of some luvin. Now the question is, was all that money enough? Even with all the veteran signings, they still have to relearn the Jets system, and it’s not an easy one to comprehend. This is a make or break season for Eric Mangini and the Jets front office. Lose this one and coaching changes will need to be made real soon. (“Hello, Bill Cowher?”) As a diehard Jet fan I just hope they can pull it together and make a playoff run.

The Jets offense was horrendous last year. They began their season by trading away their starting LG Pete Kendall to the Redskins for a draft pick and gave the job to Adrian Clarke. Last I heard he just got cut by the Broncos (great move, Mangenius). The offensive line couldn’t protect the quarterbacks or open holes for the running game (1 rushing touchdown for Thomas Jones). This was their biggest area of concern coming into the season and they addressed it big time signing Alan Faneca and Damian Woody. Faneca already seems to be filling in nicely as he was named co-captain. Woody has the challenge of transitioning over from guard to tackle but he certainly is an upgrade over Anthony Clement.

There are only 2 running backs on the Jets 53 man roster: Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. God forbid one of them goes down with an injury, I imagine Shaun Alexander’s phone will be ringing. Jones is not a great vertical runner; at best he runs hard and can push a pile. Leon Washington needs to get the ball more to make some plays and break a few long runs. The offensive line looks like they’re starting to find a rhythm and that’s a huge plus for the running game. The running game should mold nicely and will certainly increase last year’s ypc of 3.6.

Brian Schottenheimer must be licking his lips over the plays he can now call with a quarterback who can throw a 40yd strike off his back foot. Laveraneus Coles and Jerricho Cotchery can spread the field and open up the middle for Dustin Keller, Chris Baker and Brad Smith. Favre’s strong arm abilities will drop safeties back 2,3, or 15 yards farther than when Pennington was under center.

The 3-4 defense centers around the front 7, especially the nose tackle position. Jamal Williams and Vince Wilfork play it to perfection which is why it works so well for the Chargers and Patriots. The Jets are taking a chance that Kris Jenkins can be that type of player. At 6’4, 360 lbs he certainly has the size to eat up blockers. This is huge for inside linebackers Davis Harris and Eric Barton who should have more room to make plays. The Jets were called crazy when they signed Calvin Pace to the biggest deal for any linebacker, considering he’s had only one good season playing the 3-4 but he has been quite impressive this preseason. Their secondary is thin, especially at cornerback. Darelle Revis had an excellent rookie season and should only get better after one year under his belt. Kerry Rhodes is one of the better safeties in the league and is a solid playmaker. Look for Mangini to have Rhodes blitz more.

It’s hard to believe a team that went 4-12 last year and can turn around the next season and win 10 games. But considering their strength of schedule and all their transactions I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jets walk into the playoffs at 10-6 like they did during Mangini’s first year. Do I think this will happen? No, the AFC is tougher than the NFC and I think the Jets are going to miss out on a playoff spot by a tiebreaker.

3. Buffalo Bills 8-8

Key Additions: Marcus Stroud, Kawika Mitchell, Leodis McKelvin, James Hardy

Key Departures: Anthony Thomas? Peerless Price? Larry Triplett? Actually there really aren't any.

Like the Jets, the Toronto Bills are a potential wildcard team. They have the elements to be considered a contender but will it all come together? They didn’t go crazy in free agency like the Jets did but they made enough moves and had a solid draft to be considered another threat to the Massholes.

Trent Edwards did a solid job at quarterback when Losman went down with an injury. He manages the game well and has good pocket awareness. He doesn’t have a big arm, limiting his capabilities of throwing the deep ball (sorry Lee Evans fantasy owners). The Bills are one playmaker away, preferably a TE, from being a playoff team. James Hardy provides a big end-zone target and should be a valuable asset for them down the road. Marshawn Lynch is a straight-up beast who runs as hard as Marion Barber but is harder to tackle. They want him move involved in the passing game and it’s about time. Hopefully he can stay healthy enough to contribute all 16 games this season.

The Bills' strength lies in their defense. The signing of Marcus Stroud was huge as it fills a big hole on the defensive line that was left by Pat Williams a few seasons ago. Stroud and Mitchell were key additions in helping mold a very young defense. Paul Posluszny is healthy after missing most of last season and he should be an every down middle linebacker. Leodis McKelvin should start opposite Terence McGee real soon but give him time to develop

LT Jason Peters holding out all season is a big blow to the offensive line, to team morale, and Trent Edwards blindside. If Trent Edwards can manage the game more like he did sporadically last season, the Bills will turn some heads. Right now I don’t see it happening. More importantly, I hate the Bills and hope they all die of gonorrhea.

4. Miami Dolphins (5-11)

Key Additions: Chad Pennington, Jake Long, Ernest Wilford, Jason Ferguson, Anthony Fasano, Akin Ayodele, Chad Henne, Charlie Anderson
Key Departures: Jason Taylor, Zack Thomas, Marty Booker

I compare Bill Parcells to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”. They take a below average gentleman and they make him look fabulous. Big Tuna took the Jets and the Cowboys, both who were 3, 4 win teams at best, and turned them into playoff contenders. He’s been doing this his whole career. So now its Miami’s turn to try and rekindle the glory they once had when #13 was still playing and holding the ball, laces in, for Ray Finkle.

I was happy to see Chad Pennington go but I was disgusted to know the Jets would still have to play against him twice a year. Why couldn’t he have gone to Kansas City or Minnesota? He hurt the Jets when he was playing for them and now he can hurt the Jets by playing against them. Chad was brought in to help their young quarterbacks mature and that’s probably what he’ll do. They addressed a huge need at offensive line by drafting Jake Long with the #1 overall pick.

I can’t believe Ricky Williams is still in the league. At least Dante Culpepper gave up. He had a good preseason and looks poised to take away some of Ronnie Browns carries. But if Brown is healthy, a 1-2 punch of him and Ricky is quite intriguing. Ted Ginn Jr. can’t be happy that Chad Pennington is throwing him the ball deep. By the time the ball reaches him the defenders will have caught up to make a play on the ball. Anthony Fasano is a good sized TE and should shine now that he’s out of Jason Witten’s shadow.

Jason Ferguson is to Parcells as Jews are to my boy Epstein’s fantasy baseball team; they always have to be together. Parcells traded for him to be their nose tackle as they try to install the 3-4 defense. Ferguson is more suitable for the 4-3 so this will be a big test for him, especially coming off an arm injury that kept him out all last season. The departures of Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor leave holes on the defensive line and at linebacker. Whoever said rebuilding a defense is easy?

The Dolphins will probably surprise a lot of people. They aren’t as bad as they look but they aren’t very good either. With another offseason and draft, Parcells will have this team close to where the Jets and Bills are now, possibly even better. Here’s a message to the rest of NFL: just accept the fact that you will never succeed with Pennington as quarterback.


No comments: