By Lenny Del Genio At this time last year, if you would have predicted that the New England Patriots, coming off the first 16-0 regular season in NFL betting history, would not win the AFC East, people would have said you were on drugs. If you were to further state that they would go 11-5 without Tom Brady and NOT make the playoffs, you would be institutionalized.
Yet that is exactly what happened in 2009 as the Miami Dolphins completed the greatest single season turnaround in league history going from 1-15 (and the 1st Overall DC) in 2007 to 11-5 (and a division title). Still, it will be the ?Brady Bunch,? not the Fish that are favored to hold the top spot heading into this season. Both the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills made significant strides in the offseason and expect to contend for, at the very least, a Wild Card berth in 2009.
Here is our breakdown of the 2009 AFC East.
New England Patriots ? Here is why the Pats are the consensus favorite to win the AFC East. Last year, they went 11-5 with a QB that hadn?t started since high school (?maybe? you?ve heard this!) and averaged 365 YPG on offense. Now Tom Brady is back at the helm ready to guide a unit that he threw 50 TD Passes in two seasons ago. The WR corps got better with the addition of deep threat Joey Galloway, who joins outstanding holdovers Wes Welker (223 receptions L2 years) & Randy Moss (set record for TD catches two years ago). Fred Taylor was signed in the backfield, although one has to question how much he has left in the tank considering his 556 yards rushing last year was the second lowest total of his 11-year career. Defensively, the front seven is dominant despite the loss of Mike Vrabel, an eight year starter. Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo made him expendable. The secondary is the lone question mark. Every team in the division draws a tough schedule (all in Top 7 in terms of SOS), but NE gets four of five non-division playoff foes from a year ago (Atl, Bal, Ten, Car) at home. Bettors will be interested in knowing that after laying an average of 13.5 points per game in ?07, the Pats were favored by average of just 4.5 last year. With Brady back, that number will certainly climb back up this year. This is the odds on favorite to win Super Bowl XLIV at every major online sportsbook. Do we really need to justify this team winning the division?
Buffalo Bills ? The Bills made one of the two most overrated offseason acquisitions by bringing in WR Terrell Owens, who comes off a season where he led the league in drops, but still had more catches (69), receiving yards (1,052) and TD?s (10) than anyone on the Bills roster. Still, one has to wonder how Owens will deal with QB Trent Edwards, who went 0-11 in his senior year at Stanford and has never produced a winning campaign in the NFL. As you know, Owens has endured highly publicized clashes with former teammates Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo, all of whom have been to the Pro Bowl. From the ?glass is half full department,? it is worth noting that Owens? teams have done very well in his first year (Eagles went to Super Bowl, Cowboys went 13-3). His counterpart Lee Evans should see single coverage all the time, a good thing for a WR who has seen his production drop from 82 catches in 2006 to 118 total the last two years. HC Dick Jauron is on the hot seat after three straight 7-9 seasons that have extended the Bills streak of nine straight non-playoff years (only team besides Detroit and Houston not to make playoffs this decade). QB Edwards has never had this many weapons at his disposal and completed 65.5% of his passes last year. This franchise has averaged more than 225 passing yards/game only one season this decade. In the trenches, there are question marks with Jason Peters gone from the OL and the team?s figure of 46 sacks + takeaways was third worst in the league. Remember that the Bills started last season 4-0 before losing nine of their last 12.
Miami Dolphins ? Let?s just go ahead and count all of the reasons why this year?s Dolphins team will not be as good as last year?s edition. One, they will not benefit from a +17 turnover margin (NFL best). Two, Chad Pennington will not stay healthy for a second consecutive year (2nd year man Chad Henne already waiting in the wings). Three, they face the league?s most difficult schedule (.594 opponents winning percentage). Four, the gimmicky ?Wildcat? offense will not be as successful thanks to a year?s worth of tape available to the other 31 teams. Five, seven of their 11 wins last year came by a touchdown or less. If you were to ask me which playoff team from a year ago is most likely to NOT make it this year, then I?ll ?sink or swim? with the Fish. They looked awful in a 27-9 home playoff loss to Baltimore to end the year (TO ratio was -4). The only thing we really like about this team is that ultimately Bill Parcells is still guiding the ship. But that can only carry the players on the field so far. Last year, Miami played only four teams that had winning records the previous year. This year, that number jumps to 10 as they play both the AFC and NFC South. Only two teams on the 2009 slate had losing records last year!
New York Jets ? There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Jets this year. They were the hit of the Draft when the moved up to take USC QB Mark Sanchez, who has already embraced being the signal caller in the country?s largest sports market. If wearing the white pants and the belly shirt is the worst mistake Sanchez makes all year, then the Flyboys are in good shape. Before even drafting him, New York made a big splash in the free agent waters by grabbing LB Bart Scott away from Baltimore. And new HC Rex Ryan seems to be a good fit with his players and more importantly the always tough NY media. All that being said, it is pretty ludicrous to expect the Jets to make the postseason this year. This point will become more apparent when we discuss the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, but a QB, no matter who he is, can only accomplish so much with limited weapons. Jay Cutler threw for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns last year with one of the best WR?s in the game (Brandon Marshall) at his disposal in Denver last year. The Broncos still went 7-9. What we?re trying to say here is what in the world can Mark Sanchez possibly be expected to do with nothing more than Jericho Cotchery at his disposal? Yes, two teams made the playoffs last year with a rookie QB + 1st year HC (Ravens and Falcons), but that was an aberration and simply not something you?re likely to see every year. The Jets finished last season ranked 29th in pass defense, yet still finished 9-7. Note that New York has followed up a winning season with a losing season every year since 2003.
1. New England 13-3
2. Buffalo 9-7
3. Miami 7-9
4. NY Jets 6-10