Friday, August 24, 2007

2007 Sports As Life NFL Preview - AFC East

We're foregoing The Links and Artist of the Week this week because there is one more divisional breakdown to do and I don't know if I can write any more than that - there is light at the end of the tunnel. Now I'm not saying that I bit off more than I could chew with the NFL Preview but 1,500-2,000 words a day is a ridiculous number of words. Next year I might have to farm some of this work out. Or I'll have to start writing it in May.

Buffalo Bills

"Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills!" screams Chris Berman every December without fail. It is as predictable as the phases of the moon. And this year will be no different as Buffalo will win 3 of their 5 December games. Too bad for the Bills that they'll only have 2 wins before that. In the off season the Bills traded unhappy superstar running back Willis McGahee - an unhappy NFL star, he must have been the first one ever - and are now going to go with first round draft pick Marshawn Lynch. There are some serious questions though about whether Lynch can handle the punishment of the AFC East after going to school at Cal and playing in the powder-puff soft PAC-10. So it remains to be seen whether he can last. J.P Losman might actually be a decent quarterback but you'd never know because he plays in Buffalo - not exactly a ringing endorsement of Buffalo's quarterback or their offence. On almost any other team in the league wide receiver Lee Evans is a potential Hall of Famer but he plays in Buffalo, so he's doomed to play with mediocrity for at least this portion of his career. Buffalo has had some strength on defence in recent season but they may see a drop-off this season. The Bills lost Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Nate Clements in the off-season, so it remains to be seen if the D is going to be as solid as it has in the past. With the offence that Buffalo has expect the defence to be on the field more than they should be. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned Buffalo's schedule yet - I don't know how a 7-9 team got stuck with this schedule but they got screwed, no way around it. Besides having to play New England, NY Jets and Miami twice each in the division, Buffalo also has to play: Pittsburgh, Denver, Dallas, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Washington and Philadelphia.

2007 Prediction: 5-11. Young quarterback, rookie running back, shaky offensive line, questionable defence = 5-11.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and honestly it seems like a lot longer than that. They haven't won a playoff game since Dan Marino's last year in the league, 1999. Don't expect either of those two things to change this year. The Dolphins should be just good enough to not be embarrassing but not much more than that. Running back Ronnie Brown might not be as good as you think he is. He had a sub-par year last year and now his new head coach, Cam Cameron, is suggesting that Brown might not even be the best back on the team - Camerson suggested last week that journeyman Jesse Chatman might be the starter. This was probably a ploy to motivate Brown but at the very least it's troubling that the supposed #1 running back would need that kind of motivation. At quarterback the Dolphins are putting their hopes in 37-year old Trent Green, who played all of 8 games last year because of injury. If Green was 5 years younger this might have been a good move. Although wide receiver Chris Chambers must be excited because he finally has a quarterback with the ability to actually throw him the ball - after the last few years of Jay Fiedler, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper and Cleo Lemon. The Dolphins do have reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Jason Taylor, who won because the league couldn't give the award to a steroid abuser (Shawne Merriman). But other than Taylor the Dolphins don't have a whole lot - Zack Thomas is a nice player but he's getting on in years and is nowhere near as effective as he once was. Miami does have a slightly easier schedule than Buffalo and they are a slightly better team, so their record will be slightly better.

2007 Prediction: 6-10. Which is where they were last year. If Miami can beat New England once this year - which they seem to be able to from time to time, the Dolphins will be 7-9.

New England Patriots

I hate the Patriots, pure and simple - I'm not going to sugar coat it. But unfortunately they might be the best team in the AFC and the whole league. I was thinking of trying to reverse-jinx them by saying how great they are and how they're a lock to win the Super Bowl but I'll try and be professional and actually tell it how it is. The truth is that there are a few questions about the Patroits running game. Right now the #1 guy is Laurence Maroney but he had a serious shoulder injury last season and nobody is really sure how healthy he actually is. Bad shoulders can be bad news for running backs. But if Maroney is healthy he has the potential and talent around him to be one of the best backs in the league. And then there's quarterback and dreamboat Tom Brady, who has won 3 Super Bowls already in his career and that was with a weak group of wide receivers. This year he has the supporting cast at receiver to be truly scary. In the off season the Patriots added Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth - giving New England threat's downfield and over the middle. The New England defence will probably still be the New England defence - smothering and confusing. They got even better by adding linebacker Adalius Thomas in the off season. However, #1 corner Asante Samuel is still holding out in a contract dispute, although it's reported that he is going to join the team soon. If Samuel does not come back, the Patroits could be a little exposed at cornerback. The Patriots have a reasonably difficult schedule (especially the second half) but if it was any easier they would probably run the table and go 16-0.

2007 Prediction: 13-3. They are the early favorites to win the Super Bowl and that's probably a fair assessment. There is no position on the team that has any weakness (if Samuel comes back). But being the early favorite is never a guarantee for anything, just ask Carolina.

New York Jets

The Jets might be in some trouble this year. Last season they took advantage of an easy schedule and caught some teams by surprise. This season will be a different story - the schedule is much harder and teams will be prepared for the Jets' no-huddle offence. Thomas Jones will be a significant improvement over Cedric Houston and Leon Washington in the backfield for the Jets. However, Jones was injured in training camp and there is some doubt as to whether or not he'll be 100% at the start of the season. An even bigger question than the health of Thomas Jones is what kind of quarterbacking the Jets are going to get from Chad Pennington. Pennington's arm is so bad he makes Jim Miller look like Dan Marino. Don't expect a lot of deep routes this year. The Jets do have a pair or serviceable receivers in Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery (they must pay by the letter in NY), however without a quarterback to throw the ball, their talents are going to be mightily underutilized. There are some talented players on the defensive side of the ball for the Jets, guys like Jonathan Vilma and first round pick Darrelle Revis. But the Jets D is going to be on the field and awful lot this year. NFL schedule makers gave the Jets a schedule worthy of a 10-6 team, however, they were such overachievers last year that it's going to be over their heads. So...

2007 Prediction: 7-9. Injury concerns at running back already, a suspect quarterback and a difficult schedule means a long season for Jets fans this year.

Aside from New England, I really don't see this being a high quality division this year. However, the divisional games are always entertaining as these teams have a long history of dislike for one another. That might be the only reason to watch some of them this year.

AFC East

New England.......13-3
NY Jets..............7-9

On Monday - the AFC Wrap-Up.

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