AFC East preview
1. New York
After a busy offseason, the Jets brought in quite a bit of talent and are many experts’ pick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Dallas. They now boast 12 players who have been to a Pro Bowl.
After advancing to the AFC title game, the team’s management released Thomas Jones, who ran for more than 1,400 yards, and brought in LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for about half that total. Shonn Greene, who burst onto the scene in the playoffs, will get the most carries. The team also acquired former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, who will serve a four-game suspension to begin the season, and former Dolphin Jason Taylor, who turned 36 on Sept. 1.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez is likely to improve, but the Jets may go only as far as their stifling defense, the NFL’s best last season, will take it. And that unit got a big boost when Darrelle Revis, widely acknowledged as the league’s best cornerback, ended his holdout.
2. New England
With all the hoopla surrounding the Jets’ and Dolphins’ offseasons, it’s easy to forget that the Patriots won the AFC East last season — for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. Although the dynasty is in the rearview mirror, the Patriots did finish 10-6. before being run over by Ray Rice and the Ravens.
The core of the Super Bowl-winning teams is gone, but its leader, quarterback Tom Brady, is still there. Coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2008, Brady passed for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2009.
A major unknown is how effective Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker will be. He tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee last season but recovered rapidly and attended camp. Randy Moss will be back opposite Welker.
Defensively, the Patriots ranked fifth in points allowed but there are questions about the secondary and the pass rush.
Miami has one of the league’s most prolific running games and brought in one of the NFL’s most productive — and troubled — wide receivers, Brandon Marshall, to help Chad Henne, who is entering his first full season as starting quarterback. Other than lowly Cleveland, Miami produced the fewest big plays through the air last season.
That doesn’t mean Miami will shy away from the run. The Dolphins still feature Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and finished fourth in the league despite Brown’s season-ending injury after nine games.
Defensively, General Manager Bill Parcells overhauled both the personnel and coaching staff. Former 49ers coach Mike Nolan is coordinator and Parcells gave former Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby a $43 million contract. Miami used its first two draft picks on defensive players including defensive end Jared Odrick.
Searching for a head coach, the Bills shocked much of the football world with the hiring of Chan Gailey, who was fired after going 18-14 as head coach of the Cowboys in 1998 and 1999, and as offensive coordinator by the Cardinals two weeks before the start of the 2009 season.
Now Gailey must turn around a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs in 10 seasons.
Besides the crowded running back position — where the Bills have Fred Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and 2010 first-round pick C.J. Spiller — there are plenty of questions in Buffalo, including whether any of their three quarterbacks —Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm — can be effective. Do they have the personnel for the new 3-4 scheme on defense? Will the team relocate anytime soon?
One thing that is nearly certain, however, is where the team will finish in the rugged AFC East.