The AFC East is interesting in the sense that the Patriots are generally the alpha dog, while the other three teams serve to shuffle around, constantly in flux, landing in random combinations. For the previous decade, it’s been easy to get used to this idea, so long as the Patriots land on top. But there are winds of change afoot in the division. The Dolphins have an eclectic and complicated team, and the Jets are a defensive stonewall. The Patriots, however, are losing their iron grip on the situation, and the future looks a bit bleak for the Foxboro boys.
QUESTION ONE: ARE THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS FINISHED?
The Patriots aren’t done yet, because they still have their share of All-Pros in Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker (who should be fine by opening day) are still their productive selves, and Bill Belichick still employs his Machiavellian offensive style that garnered three Super Bowl rings. The defense, however, is another story. Tully Banta-Cain and Vince Wilfork are the only holdovers from the team’s dominant run, and they’re now surrounded by kids forced to learn a new scheme, such as Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham. The Patriots will find ways to make it work; they just need time.
QUESTION TWO: IS MARK SANCHEZ THE RIGHT LEADER FOR THE JETS?
Twenty interceptions to twelve touchdowns is usually enough to garner a benching. In the case of Mark Sanchez, however, he managed to hold the fort steady as the Jets made it to the final four teams. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has worked with the likes of Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, and Chad Pennington, and Sanchez also has former Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to lend expertise. The offense ranked 20th in the league last year, but Sanchez should help it improve with confidence, as well as a deeper receiving corp, and the move of Shonn Greene to full time back.
QUESTION THREE: JUST HOW GREAT IS THE JETS DEFENSE?
QUESTION FOUR: IS CHAD HENNE A SLEEPER?
Henne had to jump in the fire after Chad Pennington’s season-ending injury last year, and the former Michigan star fared quite well, despite some jitters. In a run-first offense, Henne threw for nearly 3000 yards, and picked up twelve touchdowns to boost his self-esteem, although those fourteen interceptions were certainly blights. Nonetheless, Henne’s going to improve over time, as Tony Sparano will continue to customize the Dolphins offense to his liking. The addition of Brandon Marshall at receiver could add some unnecessary controversy, but if Henne brings himself up to Marshall’s playing levels, they will spell kryptonite for most defenses.
QUESTION FIVE: WHY DID BUFFALO HIRE CHAN GAILEY?
The hiring of Gailey was a bit of a head scratcher. Other than a disastrous stint running Kansas City’s offense in 2008, Gailey’s been out of the NFL since 2001. He doesn’t have much to work with on his offense either, save for Lee Evans (a number two playing as a number one) and rookie running back CJ Spiller, who deserves better. Gailey’s tasked with trying to jumpstart the thirtieth ranked offense in football after not being a head coach since 1999, and he has very little to work with in order to achieve it. So it’s not looking good.
1. NEW YORK (12-4)
After going 9-7 in 2009 and still plowing their way to an early lead in the AFC Title Game, Rex Ryan and the Jets have gone to great lengths to improve their entire team, adding All-Pro veterans (Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie) and promising rookies (Joe McKnight and Vladimir Ducasse). On paper, it looks to be enough to topple the Patriots’ kingdom, especially with Ryan’s defense showing no relenting. On the whole, Mark Sanchez has to limit his mistakes, and Darrelle Revis could use a near-repeat performance from last year. In the end, it’s hard to deny the J-E-T-S.
2. NEW ENGLAND (9-7)
Question marks still surround Wes Welker, and Tom Brady and Randy Moss are certainly not young anymore. The offensive line is largely unchanged since their Super Bowl runs, and that’s not always a good thing when it comes to health. However, the offense still retains their continuity. The defense, right now, is the bigger issue. Two rookies look to start at linebacker, and Bill Belichick is more known for bringing in diverse veterans to fill such holes, so this youth infusion is a bit of a culture shock. If the defense finds its groove, the Patriots may yet reign supreme.
3. MIAMI (8-8)
4. BUFFALO (4-12)
Watching Tennessee struggle in 2009 was hard on Titans fans, but at least they had Chris Johnson to capture their imagination with his career-year. Bills fans get that “luxury”, so to speak, from CJ Spiller, who has a chance at being just as elusive. If anything, the defense has a chance at gelling more and increasing their turnover count. The Bills had 28 interceptions last year, thanks in part to rookie sensation Jairus Byrd. Spiller’s going to end up being the entire offense, but the defense could win some games that Buffalo had no business even being a part of.
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