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2009 NFL Preview: AFC East
Lets take a look at this years 2009 AFC East Preview and Prediciton.
New England Patriots
Offseason: Obviously the big ‘addition’ from 2008 is Tom Brady who New England expects to return to fitness and return to touchdowns in 2009. New England’s secondary was surprisingly poor in 2008 so picking up Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs was a wise move, though when I think it’s all said and done the impact made by Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway will be relatively insignificant. New England realise not all their draft picks will hit, so annually choose to draft quantity over quality and play the percentages; in 2009 they will look for gems from their 15 strong draft class.
Offense: Bill Belichick has always had a hands on approach to this offense which minimises the impact of Josh McDaniels’ departure, but piling superlatives upon the Brady-Moss-Welker trifecta at this point is pretty redundant – we know, these guys are really good. Despite an array of injuries New England compiled the 6th best run offense in 2008, especially surprising on a team that lacks ‘the guy’. Kevin Faulk is the peerless third down back, but whether Laurence Maroney can return effectively from injury and what Sammy Morris’ role is after an admirable 4.7 YPC 7 TD campaign in lieu of the injured Maroney, is still to be determined. At TE the newly acquired Chris Baker will sit and block, hopefully freeing up Ben Watson to catch more ball and re-emerge after a non-existent 2008 campaign. Matt Cassel was sacked 47 times – more than any other QB in 2008 – but I’d apportion the blame to the skittish Cassel as supposed to a line that has proved pretty decent over the last few seasons.
Defense: When you run the 3-4 you rely on your linebackers as suppose to your downed linemen to pressure the QB and make plays, but it seems the perennial enemy of the New England linebacking quarto age finally caught up with them in 2008. Mike Vrabel moved on after a quiet final season, but Teddy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas will still be relied on despite being north of 30 (well north in Bruschi’s case). Jerod Mayo was an inspiration at inside linebacker in his rookie season racking up 128 tackles, but weakside linebacker looks a little shaky in 2009. After failing to trade for Julius Peppers they settled for Derrick Burgess, who will likely slot into a rotation system with Pierre Woods, at least until he acclimates himself in New England.
Key Games: Visiting Indianapolis is always tough, as is a trip to New Orleans and hosting Baltimore, whilst within the division the Jets will play them hard.
Predicted Record: 13-3
New York Jets
Offseason: Spoilers for my record prediction but I originally had the Jets with 10 wins, I then came to the realisation that the chance of a third rookie QB driving his team to double digit wins is highly unlikely. Sanchez is a huge investment that will take more than a season to mature, but Rex Ryan’s impact will be much more immediate especially since he brings Bart Scott with him. I think Rex Ryan does wonders for this defense and creates a conservative offense similar to the one that Joe Flacco thrived in at Baltimore.
Offense: Disgruntled running backs aren’t great when you’re expecting them to carry this offense and its rookie signal caller, but Shonn Greene is a very capable starter and goal line back should Thomas Jones and Leon Washington not settle their differences. Jericho Cotchery will pretend his wayward 2008 campaign never happened, but New York lack a real threat opposite them and will rely on Dustin Keller and Washington out of the backfield to fill the void that departed Laveranues Coles leaves. Between the rookie quarterback and limited receiving options, no one will fear the Jets through the air.
Defense: This is where the Jets are going to really shine. They have the man who created one of the best defences of the decade in charge and the talent to go along with it. Darrelle Revis, Lito Sheppard, Dwight Lowery, Kerry Rhodes and former Raven Jim Leonhard give New York a top 5 calibre secondary, whilst Kris Jenkins and tackle machine Bart Scott make for a stout run defense. This team could already stop the run, and in 2009 they’re going to shutdown the pass as well.
Key Games: Expect 16 cagey affairs, but like Miami, they need two wins against their lesser AFC East counterparts as well as victories against Carolina and Atlanta if they want to make the playoffs.
Predicted Record: 9-7
Offseason: Quiet but effective as the Dolphins added Gibril Wilson, re-signed Yeremiah Bell and effectively swapped center Samson Satele for Raider Jake Grove. Miami must have an irrational fear about their Nickel formation being exploited so drafted corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith as well as free safety Chris Clemons to go alongside an already deep collection of defensive backs.
Offense: Considering the efficient and limited offense that Chad Pennington is going to operate, the Dolphin receiving group gets a lot of unnecessary criticism. It’s a balanced group that threatens deep with Ted Ginn, has a promising possession receiver in Davone Bess, offers versatility with Pat White and has depth with Greg Camarillo, but some people would have you believe the crappy Raiders pose more of a threat. I’m not fixated on the Wildcat – Miami ran just 91 plays in that formation last year with limited success outside of the New England game – but Miami will find creative ways to utilise Pat White, hopefully allowing Ronnie Brown to focus on getting fit and running the ball. I’m not convinced Brown manages 16 games, so worryingly the unpredictable Ricky Williams is charged with providing balance to this Dolphin offense. As for their offensive line, I bet the grins on the Dolphin management who advocated selecting Jake Long first overall 12 months ago are absolutely sickening; the guy was outstanding in protection as a rookie. Chad Henne will start in 2010.
Defense: Miami ranked 10th against the run in 2008 and boast a powerful secondary and a top 10 pass rush, but I’m not sure what to make of them in 2009. Both sides of the ball Miami aren’t exactly spectacular, but can Jason Taylor still get it done at 35? Does Philip Merling step up in his second year? Transitioning to the NFL is hard for corners, so can Vontae Davis (who didn’t always focus in college) keep things tight opposite of Will Allen? This is a lot of questions for a defense that isn’t that dynamic to begin with.
Key Games: Visiting the Falcons and Panthers as well as the double-header against the Jets will make or break Miami.
Predicted Record: 7-9
Offseason: Could I legitimately try and talk about anything other than Terrell Owens when it comes to the Bills’ offseason? Sadly no. Owens might still see double coverage which would be great news for Lee Evans, because if there is one thing Lee Evans does well its run in a straight line really quickly. If he can do that one-on-one with a corner all day, he should be one of the most potent number twos in the league. I’d love to think TO will change but if his whining at Tony Romo tore the Cowboys apart, what will happen to Trent Edwards whose confidence is already at an all time low?
Offense: ‘Last chance’ is the prevailing theme of the Buffalo Bills in 2009. This has to be Dick Jauron’s last chance to make the playoffs, and it might be Trent Edwards’ last chance to break out of the 220 yard 1 TD and an INT rut his career has landed in. The weapons are in place but despite a down year you would expect the loss of Jason Peters to be felt, especially when Buffalo refused to draft a replacement. Michael Oher was sitting there asking to be your franchise left tackle for the next 10 years and you turned him down… oh Buffalo. Fred Jackson has proved to be a solid backup, so Buffalo fans needn’t fear him starting the first three weeks of the season whilst Marshawn Lynch regrets not finding a better place to hide his gun.
Defense: The growing pains for rookie defensive ends are greater than most positions (ask Derrick Harvey or Vernon Gholston), so despite the presence of the diminutive Aaron Maybin Buffalo still don’t have a legitimate option across from the injury prone Aaron Schobel. Outside of a talented pair of twin corners in Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee, the Bills are pretty thin and injury prone on defense so I wouldn’t be surprised if this unit was the wrong side of some maulings this season.
Key Games: Seeing the NFC South and AFC South on their schedule is brutal, so the best hopes for wins are a home game against Cleveland and a visit to Jacksonville.
Predicted Record: 5-11