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2010 NFL Preview – AFC East

With Darrelle Revis’ return to New York’s defense, the Jets are again considered Superbowl contenders. In the AFC East only Tom Brady stands in their way … and Miami and Buffalo too, but really just Tom Brady.

I missed HBO’s Hard Knocks this year because HBO wasn’t free, but I can’t imagine it will benefit the Jets as it did the Bengals in 2009. The Bengals were a struggling franchise hoping to reach the playoffs. They used the program to generate positive momentum for their organization. The Jets are an AFC favorite with a young, unproven quarterback at the helm. Why invite the circus to training camp? While Mark Sanchez handles the bright lights well, I still wouldn’t want my team’s Superbowl aspirations on his shoulders. He’s talented, but young and inexperienced too. I know the Jets have an amazing defense, but don’t fool yourself.  In today’s NFL, Superbowl aspirations fall squarely on the quarterback. Enough about HBO, training camp, and Sanchez’s shoulders, let’s break down the division.

1. New England Patriots
The Jets are getting way too much attention for my liking. I know their head coach embraces the attention, but without a proven superstar on offense, I’m skeptical. For that reason, I’m going with the Patriots to win the division for the seventh time in eight years. Two years removed from knee surgery and sporting a look resembling “Sunshine” from Remember the Titans (seriously, see for yourself), Tom Brady will return to form. Best of all, Brady looks motivated to regain his status as the NFL’s best. There’s some uncertainty on defense, especially after Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden were lost for the season due to hip and shoulder injuries, respectively. However, the defense won’t need shutouts to win. A solid, consistent effort is all Brady, Welker, Moss and the rest of the offense will need to win 11-13 games. Even with the injuries, a Bill Belichick defense is usually respectable anyway. If you can’t tell, I really like the Patriots in 2010 and expect at least a conference championship appearance. In my opinion, they are one of the three elite teams in the AFC. The Colts have Manning, the Ravens have Flacco, and the Patriots have Brady. Now who would you take? … That’s what I thought; Manning vs. Brady in the conference championship.

DWC’s Take: Patriots – I like this division a lot better than in previous years. I pick the Pats in spite of Tom Brady’s ridiculous hair. My hair is long, but seriously Tom? I was alright with Stetson because it sounds manly, and is cologne. I think Giselle has domesticated him a little too much. My hope is that this won’t have an effect on his play. He was once considered the best in the game, but a torn ACL changed everything. I think this is the year when the Tom we all know and love returns. Remember, it wasn’t until his second season after surgery that Donovan McNabb returned to his true form (and see how the Eagles repaid him). Anyways, the offense will do just fine, but they might need to be spectacular again. The defense is shaky with no proven corners. I’m thinking this team will look a lot like the Saints where they will need big leads right out of the gate because their defense might not hold up.

2. New York Jets
The Jets boast the fiercest defense in the league. They’re cocky, mean, and supremely talented; everything you’d want in a defense. Darrelle Revis is the best defensive player in the league. It’s no secret that opposing quarterbacks shrivel in fear when they see him opposite their favorite target. The return of Kris Jenkins will add to the misery of opposing offenses as well. With a reliable quarterback and potent ground game, the Jets are absolutely Superbowl contenders. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced they have a reliable quarterback or a potent ground game. The Jets enter the season with unproven Shonn Greene as their feature back and a washed-up “woe is me” LT backing him up. Granted, with their offensive line, the Jets could plug Rex Ryan in at running back and still get a productive 1,000 yard season. While I do expect Greene to be great (he’s on all my fantasy teams), it’s not like the Jets have a proven commodity in the backfield. As for the quarterback, I’m not a believer, at least not yet. A great defense can overcome a lot of offensive liabilities but turnovers are the exception. In 2009, Sanchez threw an interception every 18 attempts. He also fumbled 10 times. Top that off with a completion percentage hovering around the Mendoza Line (53%), and I’m not convinced the Jets defense and running game can carry Sanchez all the way to the Superbowl … or the AFC championship game.

DWC’s Take: Jets – I am not picking the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets for two reasons. The first is everyone is on their bandwagon. Last year’s improbable post-season run, Hard Knocks, Rex Ryan, “Sanchize,” and a new stadium have everyone talking. I get scared when everyone talks about how good one team might be. As far as I am concerned, we still have no idea how good Sanchize is. They upgraded the weapons around him, but we know what happens when he is forced to carry the load (see 2nd half of AFC Championship). The second reason I go against this team is because of Revis Island. Even though he got paid, I still think he is on his own island. It might even have polar bears and smoke monsters too. The team will rally around him but the year started off too shaky for this whole thing to blow over.  Mark my words; he will still be a distraction. Sanchise is not ready for distractions in only his second year. He has the sophomore slump to worry about.

3. Miami Dolphins
I know, right? You almost forgot there were two other teams in the AFC East. Bill Parcells has yet again built a playoff contender from scratch. While the defense was mediocre at best in 2009, I love the plethora of youth throughout the unit (especially Vontae Davis) and expect improvement as they grow. The addition of WR Brandon Marshall brings some much needed explosiveness to the offense and will give Chad Henne a security blanket to develop with over the years. Nevertheless, the success of the offense, and the team as a whole, depends on whether RB Ronnie Brown can remain healthy for the entire year. Ricky Williams is as good a backup as there is in the NFL, but the Dolphins need Brown healthy to compete for the division. While they may not boast the big names and flashy story lines of their division rivals, the Dolphins should quietly contend for a playoff spot.

DWC’s Take: 3. Dolphins – The Dolphins are the dark horse. They’re more than capable of taking out the two teams I placed above them. If Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams can be the tandem they were two years ago (and the beginning of last year), this team will control the clock and keep the score low. Their defense may once again be their strength, which will come in handy when they play the Patriots and Jets. The problem I see is Brandon Marshall. It’s not that I don’t think he is talented. The concern I have is the changing systems. Big-name wide receivers changing teams rarely plays out well. Moss in Oakland? Deon Branch in Seattle? TJ House-ma-zillah in Seattle? (Seeing a theme here?) If Marshall proves me wrong, I will admit my error and jump on the Dolphin’s bandwagon. Until then, because of his already shaky track-record, I am sticking with my gut. I like what Parcells has done thus far, and I’m confident they will be in the mix sooner rather than later.

4. Buffalo Bills
Expected to be the worst team in the league, the Bills don’t have much to offer. The quarterback position is, and has been a wasteland since Jim Kelly retired in 1957. (I know he didn’t retire then, it just feels like it’s been that long.) While the Bills’ defense was exceptional against the pass, it got torched on the ground in 2009 to the tune of 156 yards per game. Any improvement there will at least give their offense the opportunity to blow the game. C.J. Spiller will give the Buffalo faithful some excitement on the offensive side, but unless he can play quarterback, even he won’t save the 2010 season. Also, shame on the NFL for not abandoning the Toronto experiment. Buffalo is one of the best crowds in the league. Take a home game from someone else, like Jacksonville or Tampa Bay.

DWC’s Take: Bills – Oh the Bills. If there is one team that has a right to whine and complain here they are. I still haven’t gotten over the 4 straight Superbowl losses and the “musical city miracle,” so I can only imagine how Buffalo fans feel. They just can’t seem to catch a break. They draft big names that never seem to meet expectations. They get involved in free agency, but always seem to strike out. They play tough every single game, but always find a way to lose. This year will probably be more of the same. Anyone who says they have faith in Trent Edwards has done a really good job of deceiving themselves. He’s a good backup, but not a piece to build a franchise around. Not to mention, there is a lack of receiving depth on this team. In the backfield, they are good to go, which should add a few games to the win column. Spiller and Jackson complement each other well, while Lynch would add another weapon if he could stay on this side of a jail cell. At the very least, the Bills should be entertaining. Unfortunately, entertaining is just a nice way of saying “better luck next year”…or in 5 years for that matter.

If you’re wondering, last season’s AFC East predictions were:
Me: NE, MIA, BUF, NYJ
DWC: NE, MIA, NYJ, BUF
Actual Results: NE, NYJ, MIA, BUF

Thus, DWC 5, Me 1, No Winner 1

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