August 03, 2006
NFL Preview: AFC East
Buffalo: The Bills were 5-11 last year, a disappointing season in which many people thought they would become a playoff contender. Their defense, which was the strength of the team two years ago, finished 29th last year in yards allowed per game (ahead of only the vaunted Rams, Texans, and 49ers). And their offense was 28th in yards per game. Willis McGahee is a good running back, but the offensive line in front of him is terrible. So unless J.P. Losman somehow becomes a decent quarterback with three opponents in his face every play, things won't get much better for the Bills. Losman has two good recievers to throw to in Lee Evans and Josh Reed, but their talents will likely go to waste this year. (Niskayuna native Andre' Davis will also be catching passes for the Bills, wearing jersey number 18.) LB Takeo Spikes' return from injury should help the defense out some, but otherwise the Bills haven't done much to improve on either side of the ball. I think they'll be 6-10, maybe 7-9 at best this season. And I say this with a sense of happiness, as my dad grew up in Rochester and is a Bills fan. It's a lot easier to make fun of him when they lose.
Miami: The Dolphins are the trendy pick this year to make "The Leap" and become a legit playoff team, according to many experts. But beware - often that ends up being the kiss of death on a team (remember Arizona last year? The same thing could come into play this year). These experts are in love with coach Nick Saban; the Fins won the last six games of last year to finish at a respectable 9-7. Be careful before you wager heavily on the Dolphins, however. Who are their quarterbacks? The top option is Daunte Culpepper, who is recovering from a serious knee injury. He seems to be fine, but you never know when those things might come back to haunt you. Also, remember the beginning of last season, when Culpepper looked lost without Randy Moss? He was so used to having Moss triple-teamed that he could just look to the other side of the field and know he would have single coverage. He didn't really have to make reads until last year, and he started the season terribly. Maybe a nagging injury was bothering him, and he's a good enough athlete that he should remember how to play the position this year (Miami does have a pretty good group of recievers led by Chris Chambers). But if Culpepper gets hurt or doesn't have his stuff, who plays QB? Joey "What a waste of the #3 pick" Harrington? Cleo "Sweet as a" Lemon? Marcus "If Michael wasn't my brother, I'd be in jail right now" Vick? There's certainly a lot of pressure on Culpepper this year. It's a fairly weak division this year, so I'd predict somewhere around 9-7 again for Miami.
New England: The Pats are coming off a 10-6, division championship season and have lost a few more key cogs on defense. The New England defense was actually 26th last year in yards allowed per game, despite the great reputation it has. But really, who do they have left? I believe that Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Rodney Harrison are the only major players left from their Super Bowl teams in '02 and '04, and Bruschi may have fractured his wrist. Tom Brady missed some of camp as well, but don't worry about him; it was just a sore arm. Better to catch these things now than in September. I don't really know how the Pats will win games this year, but they still have Brady and Belichick, and I can't bet against them in this weak division. I hate to keep picking teams to do what they did last year, but I do believe that the Pats win the division again this year, with a 9-7 or a 10-6 record.
New York: The Jets were able to go 4-4 at the Meadowlands last year. But that's pretty much where the good news ends. The Jets were 0-fer the road, partly due to the loss of quarterback Chad Pennington. Well, Pennington will be back this year. But it's not as if it was John Elway missing from the '90s Broncos. This team is flawed, and Curtis Martin isn't getting any younger. He's been placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list for training camp, and I believe Cedric Houston is getting a lot of the reps in camp. I believe Martin is still expected to start the season as the top running back for the Jets, however. The O-Line is not spectacular, and Pennington will really have nobody to throw to (Laveranues Coles is the Jets' top reciever, a guy who would be a good #2 guy but is a below-average #1 option). On the other side of the ball, the Jets had a slightly above-average defense last year, and I don't think it's changed much. They'll be better this year, but the Jets still have a ways to go before they are Super Bowl contenders. I predict a 6-10 season for the Jets.