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NFL Pro Football 2009 AFC East Preview

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Fearless Rick's 2009 NFL Preview - AFC EAST

Rick Gagliano | 8/8/2009

AFC EAST - Predicted order of finish and (predicted record)

New England Patriots (12-4): With a healthy Tom Brady back from a lost season due to a torn up knee in 2008, the Patriots aren't about to let anyone forget how they finished 11-5 and didn't make the playoffs. The Dolphins took the AFC East with the same record, but won the tie-breaker. So too in regards to the Ravens, who went in as a wild card at 11-5. Never before had such a quality team been denied a playoff spot.

The Pats missing the playoffs - and not winning the division after taking it five straight years - is more than enough motivation for one of the best teams in the league. The usual assortment of stars align on offense: Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney, the huge offensive line, and now add Fred Taylor from Jacksonville to give the Patriots a legitimate running game.

On defense, nose tackle Vince Wilfork seems to be on his way to many All Pro seasons, along with linemate Richard Seymour, the heart and soul of this experienced, deep unit. The linebackers and secondary have been significantly retooled, though Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas remain. Safties Brandon Merriweather and James Sanders could be standouts at their positions.

As good as the defense will be, they only have to be a little better than average because the Patriots are capable of putting up 30-40 points per game. Even with Matt Cassell subbing for Brady last season, the Patriots were the 6th-highest scoring team in the league and second in the AFC with 410 points, topping the 40-mark in four games.

Schedule-wise, the Patriots are comfortable that they'll win more than their fair share of games. Key dates include week 6, hosting Tennessee, week 10 at Indy and a Monday night matchup in New Orleans, where Brees and Brady may put up 80 points combined.

The Pats have the look of a team hungry for more playoff glory and it will be a shock if they don't win their division.

Miami Dolphins (9-7): Bill Parcells made all the right moves in 2008 as GM of the Dolphins, getting Chad Pennington from the Jets, keeping Rickey Williams busy, getting Ted Ginn Jr. the ball regularly and introducing - along with head coach Tony Sparano - college's wildcat offense to the NFL.

By midseason, half the teams in the league were imitating Miami's version of the wildcat, but Miami was the one team which had it down pat, steamrolling - after an 0-2 start - to an impressive 11-5 finish, 1st in the division and winners of their final five regular season game.

The wheels came off in the playoff loss to the Ravens, whose defense wasn't going to allow much scoring, be it from wildcats, Dolphins or any other animal. The Ravens busted up Miami, 27-9, in a lopsided wild card contest.

After their success in 2008, the upcoming season won't be as fruitful, though Miami still has a shot at making the playoffs. Instead of last season's soft out-of-division schedule, which included the AFC West and NFC West, this year the Dolphins match up against better teams in the AFC South and NFC South for 8 games. The other two are at San Diego (week 3) and the regular season finale, hosting the Steelers.

Conceivably, the Dolphins, despite their talent, could start off 0-3, as they travel to Atlanta in week 1, and are home for the Colts before a long trip to San Diego. They'll have to dominate the Jets and Bills in order to maintain a winning record through the season due to the rugged schedule. There are only a few soft spots, with home games against Tampa Bay and Houston topping that list.

Adding to the offensive weaponry is versatile Pat White from West Virginia, who is equally adept at running or throwing the football. Acquired in the second round of the draft, While will back up Pennington, but is likely to see plenty of action in new variations of the wildcat offense. He could become the league's greatest "slash" type player, with explosive speed and a strong arm, in the Michael Vick mold.

While the offense has a plethora of ways to stay on the field, the defense - only adequate in 2008 - will need to improve. The first and thrid round draft picks: Vontae Davis (Illinois) and Sean Smith (Utah) are both good coverage guys with some hitting ability and should stick in the secondary. Chris Clemons, a safety from Clemson, was a fifth round pick, but shows that the Dolphins are on a youth movement in their pass coverage.

Joey Porter and Channing Crowder excel in Miami's 3-4 defense, which was 10th in the NFL against the run, at 101.3 yards per game in 2008.

The Dolphins aren't likely to go 11-5 or win the division again. They do have considerable upside, if White fits into the offense, Ginn continues to improve and the secondary makes strides to improve. This is a playoff-hopeful team in a tough conference.

--- Story continues below ---

Buffalo Bills (8-8): Buffalo liked what they saw in QB Trent Edwards last season so much that they shipped out ineffective J.P. Losman and replaced him with Ryan Fitzpatrick (a Harvard grad) as the understudy. The Bills also made heads turn when they acquired Terrell Owens from Dallas, who will line up opposite Lee Evans at wide receiver.

Buffalo will present opponents with plenty to think about when they line up offensively. After the two talented wideouts, they can insert shifty Roscoe Parrish in the slot and install sure-handed Josh Reed as a 4th option. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson give the Bills a potent 1-2 punch in the running game, as well. Journeyman Dominic Rhodes will also help out in the rushing and pass protection schemes.

Defensively, the Bills are about average, allowing 326 yards and 21.4 points per game in 2008. They addressed a top need by selecting Aaron Maybin from Penn St. in the first round of the draft. He's an exceptional prospect with pass-rushing ability.

Cornerback Jairus Byrd from Oregon may find a way onto the team, but Nic Harris, a DB from Oklahoma, is a real hitter and could be a surprise impact player in the secondary, which was often confused in 2008. Terrence McGee is emerging as a standout cornerback and excellent special teams player.

The Bills will have their moments in 2009, and may upset more than the usual number of teams. They're young and hungry, which is equally a formula for mistakes as well as surprises. They could go 10-6 or 6-10 this year, as management is clearly aiming for the playoffs, but the schedule and division is tough. Buffalo will not quit, however, and even if they don't make the playoffs, may spoil them for others.

New York Jets (4-12): How big a mistake was taking Brett Favre for one season in 2008? Probably enormous. The Jets didn't make it to the playoffs and Favre was throwing like a little girl by the final four weeks of the season. Plus, now he's gone and the Jets are forced to focus their offense around rookie QB Mark Sanchez from USC, obtained in the first round of the draft.

Because of the Favre deal and others, the Jets only had three picks in the 2009 draft and chose Iowa running back Shonn Greene in the third round. Greene was a stud for the Hawkeyes in 2008, gaining 1850 yards and scoring 20 TDs. He teams with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in the Jets' backfield and could become part of a deadly troika in the running game.

Sanchez will learn plenty in his rookie season, but he's not likely to find the same success as, say, Matt Ryan did in Atlanta last year, because his receivers are under-average. Jerricho Cothchery is a possession type without great speed and Chansi Stuckey only caught 32 passes in 2008. Tight end Dustin Keller had more receptions (48), but David Clowney, who saw action in just 2 games in 2008, may be a pleasant surprise.

The Jets were good against the run (94.9 ypg), but ineffective in throwing situations, allowing 234.5 passing yards per outing in 2008 - 29th overall - and nothing has been done to correct that ugly condition.

Expect the Jets to suffer through one of their worse seasons in recent memory. Sanchez will do well to survive the rigors of a full season, though the o-line and backs are pretty solid. The deficiencies in the secondary are glaring and will be exploited on a weekly basis. The Jets will fly well under the radar in 2009 and suffer through too many blowout losses.

Copyright 2009, 2010, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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