Friday, July 21, 2006

AFC East

Hey all...

I know I'm late... I'm very late. But, without further ado, here it is, my AFC East preview.
(By the way, this might be a little long... but I'd appreciate some feedback from you guys. Thanks!)

1. Miami Dolphins (11-5)

Head Coach: Nick Saban (2nd year)
2005 Record: (9-7)
Key Acquisitions: QB Daunte Culpepper, QB Joey Harrington, WR Kelly Campbell, CB Will Allen, OT L.J. Shelton, CB Andre Goodman, RB Fred Beasley, FS Deke Cooper.
Key Departures: QB Gus Frerotte, RB Ricky Williams (suspension), CB Reggie Howard, CB Sam Madison, S Tebucky Jones, LB Junior Seau

On the eve of training camp, the Dolphins look like perhaps the most improved team in the NFL. Last year, Nick Saban took an aging team, infused it with a little bit of youth, brought in a new philosophy, brought back Ricky Williams and led the team to a surprising 9-7 record.

This off-season, Saban continued the re-tooling. He brought in Dom Capers from Houston to help with the defense (Capers’ official title is that of Assistant Head Coach). He replaced the departing Scott Linehan with ex-Bills head coach and Steelers off. Coordinator Mike Mularkey. But most of all, after starting and finishing the year with Gus Frerotte as signal-caller, Saban decided to address the position by bringing in Daunte Culpepper to be his starting quarterback and Joey Harrington to back him up.

The word out of Miami right now is that Culpepper could be healthy enough to participate in maybe 1 pre-season game and definitely start the opener. It is being reported that the ex-Viking is looking really good right now, completing every throw on the field and showing good leadership skills a maturity on the field. Also, he is apparently getting along very well with Joey Harrington, who is also said to be looking really good. Harrington, who was rumored to be a bit lazy when in Detroit, has looked really sharp in practices and has been watching a lot of film. Whoever starts the opener, the Dolphins have clearly taken what was a weakness and turned it into a position of strength for the upcoming season.

While Culpepper will clearly be the man in charge of this offense, RB Ronnie Brown will be the heart of it. With Ricky Williams playing in the CFL this year because of his suspension, Brown will now have to carry the full load. Last year, after a bit of a slow start, Brown finished the season really strong. He proved that he could definitely play at a very high level in the NFL, and he showed an extremely rare set of skills. For a big man, he is extremely fluid and fast, and he might have one of the best pair of hands of any running back in the league. Now, all he has to do is translate that ability into consistency. He will be greatly helped by the acquisition of FB Fred Beasley from the 49ers. Travis Minor and Sammy Morris will give him a breather from time to time.

On defense, the Dolphins should be pretty good. While they are still led by veteran warriors Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Kevin Carter, this defense is getting younger, faster and whole lot nastier. LB Channing Crowder and CB Travis Daniels both made great strides last year and became big contributors by season’s end. This year, Nick Saban again went to players he scouted when he was a coach at LSU, and he picked up FS/CB Jason Allen from Tennessee. With the additions of Will Allen from the Giants, Deke Cooper from the Jaguars and the drafting of Jason Allen, it means the Dolphins will have 4 new starters in the secondary compared to last year’s opener. With Dom Capers now helping out designing schemes and trying to find new ways to get to the quarterback, this defense should be much improved.

In the end, 2006 will come down to one thing for the Dolphins: Quaterbacks. If either Culpepper or Harrington can perform adequately, this team should be quite formidable and vastly improved. If not, it will turn out to be once again their Achilles’ heel, as it has been since Dan Marino retired. Well, it says here that Culpepper will get back to his old form and lead the Dolphins atop the AFC East.

2. New England Patriots (9-7)

Head Coach: Bill Belichick (7th year)
2005 Record: (10-6)
Key Acquisitions: PK Martin Grammatica, S Tebucky Jones, CB Eric Warfield
Key Departures: LB Willie McGinnest, CB Tyrone Pool, PK Adam Vinatieri, OT Tom Ashworth, WR David Givens

For the Patriots, everything starts with Tom Brady. The superstar quarterback is the heart and soul of the team. He is the unquestioned leader of the team. And last year he had his best season yet. Brady threw for 26 TD’s and 4110 yds to go along with a stellar 71% completion rate. This year, despite the loss of WR David Givens, one of Brady’s favorite targets, the offense should be even more potent. New England drafted RB Laurence Maroney out of Minnesota in the first round to replace the aging Corey Dillon and then got a steal when they landed WR Chad Jackson of Florida in the second. Jackson is a big target who, if he can fine-tune his route running a little bit, could become a big factor in this offense early on. The Patriots have mostly a small, quick and agile receiving corps, and he will be a great complement to them with his ability to get jump balls and his knack for the acrobatic catch. As for Maroney, he is fast… really fast. He is the typical “Denver” back: a slasher-type runner with great vision and breakaway speed. He will be a great addition to the Pats, who can still use Dillon in goal-line situations. Where New England might have fallen off a little bit is on the offensive line, a unit that struggled last year and that just lost another starter, veteran OT Tom Ashworth. This unit will have to gel quickly and come together a lot better than last year or Maroney could have trouble finding holes. The truth that there is no real talent on this squad, and so the whole will indeed have to be more than the sum of the parts for this offense to have success.

On defense, the loss of Willie McGinnest will definitely hurt from a leadership standpoint. But let’s not forget that McGinnest also had a real knack for making big plays at crucial times. The Patriots will miss that a lot. Aside from that, there are still real questions in the secondary, and you have to wonder for how long Belichick will be able to keep doing it with smoke and mirrors. Yes, they will get S Rodney Harrison back, which should help offset the leadership loss of McGinnest, but Harrison is getting up in age, and coming back from a serious knee injury, you have to wonder how effective he will be. Being that this is a defense that finished 26th in the league last year, it’s probably scary for Pats fans to think it might get worse than that. This defense still features excellent players like DT’s Richard Seymour and Vince Wolfork and LB’s Teddy Bruschi and Roosevelt Colvin. But there is a lack of depth at every position. When everyone is healthy, NE boasts one of the best defenses in the league. But this is the NFL, when everyone being healthy at the same time is a dream.

Perhaps the biggest loss of the off-season for the Patriots was PK Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri was never a league-leader type of kicker, but he always nailed that kick at the last second, whether it was the game-tying kick or the game-winning kick. And when you look at this year’s edition of the Patriots, you will see that that some of those late-game heroics will be missing. No McGinnest to recover a fumble with 12 seconds left. No Vinatieri to win the game in OT. No Ty Law to come up with the big interception. A lot of those memories were created by players who no longer wear the Pats uniform. Brady still does, and so the Pats will be players again this year, but unfortunately for them, they will fall short of the post-season.

3. Buffalo Bills (8-8)

Head Coach: Dick Jauron (1st year)
2005 Record: (5-11)
Key Acquisitions: S Matt Bowen, QB Crag Nall, WR Peerless Price, RB Anthony Thomas, DT Larry Tripplett
Key Departures: DT Sam Adams, TE Mark Campbell, S Lawyer Milloy, C Trey Teague, OT Mike Williams

2006 will mark the return of Marv Levy to the franchise he helped reach the Super Bowl 4 years in a row at the beginning of the 90’s. This time, Levy returns as General Manager instead of head coach, and it is a return that seems to be more than welcomed by the people of Western New York. As far as I am concerned, I believe this is a great move by owner Ralph Wilson. Levy is a great football mind who has won everywhere he has been. His Buffalo teams of the 90’s were built around character players like Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley and Mark Kelso, all players who played bigger than their talent because they had great heart. And this time around, Levy seems to have taken a similar approach, getting rid of older, less hungry veterans like Lawyer Milloy, Sam Adams and Eric Moulds. To replace them, he brought in role players with a chip on their shoulders, guys who he is banking on to play bigger than their potential.

On defense, S Matt Bowen lacks range, but he can put a licking on receivers from time to time and is solid against the run. Larry Tripplett was a backup who saw spot duty in Indianapolis, but that was on a line that featured Dwight Freeney, Corey Simon and Robert Mathis. He is quick and more agile than strong, and he should fit in well next to rookie John McCargo, who is probably going to wind up as the other starter. Many insiders said Levy reached for McCargo in the first round, but none of them doubt the potential of the young man, nor do they doubt his dedication to the game. At linebacker, the Bills will be more than happy to welcome back Takeo Spikes, after seeing him miss most of last year. Even at almost 30, Spikes is still one of the most active and productive linebackers in the league. On the strong side, Jeff Posey has quietly developed into one of the better linebackers in the league, and in the middle London Fletcher has a motor that never stops. The defensive backfield, though, should once again be the strong point of this defense. Anchored by ballhawk cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Nate Clements, this secondary is strong at every position. The addition of Bowen will help bring some muscle to it, and will also ease the development of future star Donte Whitner. Whitner can play both strong and free safety, and is a killer tackler. He has great range and good speed. He will probably get some time behind Bowen. The free safety spot is manned by aging veteran Troy Vincent. But Vincent is the leader of this defense. He is the one who calls the plays on the field. At 35, he is still a top player.

While the defense will probably be the beating heart of Levy’s Bills, the offense is what will determine if the Bills can contend or if they are doomed to mediocrity. More specifically, the biggest factor will be the play of quarterbacks Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman. Holcomb is the savvy veteran who will never impress you with his arm strength but who doesn’t make that back breaking mistake. Losman is still young and somewhat immature, and that is reflected in his play. If he is to ever start for the Bills, this has to be the year he comes of age. Luckily for both, they have RB Willis McGahee to hand off to. McGahee is a hot head who is way too full of himself, but he is still a really good, really tough running back. This year, Buffalo will also have Anthony Thomas (Dallas) to back him up. Remember the Bills didn’t have a real backup after having traded Travis Henry to Tennessee last year. At wide receiver, the Bills most potent threat is 3rd year man Lee Evans. Evans has had 2 pretty good first seasons with the team, and with Moulds gone, he now takes over the role of #1 receiver. Roscoe Parrish showed some good things in his rookie year, and he will be counted on to be the deep threat. Josh Reed has great hands, but lacks speed, and is best suited for playing in the slot. Levy brought back Peerless Price, who left a few years back for his big pay day, hoping that he can recapture the magic of his last years with the Bills.

In my mind, the Bills do not have the talent to compete for the playoffs or the division title. But they will be better than they were last year. I am not such a big fan of Dick Jauron, but I trust Levy and I think that both will bring the Bills back from the dead. Clearly, they have ways to go, but this year will be a nice stepping stone for them, just like last year was for Nick Saban.

4. New York Jets (4-12)

Head Coach: Eric Mangini (1st year)
2005 Record: (4-12)
Key Acquisitions: CB Andre Dyson, QB Patrick Ramsey, C Trey Teague, DE Kimo Von Oelhoffen
Key Departures: DE John Abraham, OT Jason Fabini, CB Ty Law, C Kevin Mawae, DT James Reed

For the Jets, 2006 will seemingly be another rebuilding year. Last year, they were an aging team who failed to accomplish anything. So, during the off-season, head coach Herman Edwards got his wish when the Jets gave up their rights to him in exchange from a couple of draft picks from the Chiefs. In his seat is now Eric Mangini, 35, who served one year under Bill Belichick as defensive coordinator of the NE Patriots. Mangini is young man who is very well regarded among league circles, but there are many out there who doubt he is ready to become the head man. Well, whether he is or not, he will have his work cut out for him in his first year.

The Jets are an offensively challenged football team. Their workhorse for years, RB Curtis Martin has finally started to show signs of being on the decline. Last year was the first time he was injured for a prolonged period of time, and there are doubts as to whether he can fully recover from these injuries. If he can’t, it could prove very problematic for the Jets, who do not have a true #2 back behind him. Derrick Blaylock currently sits second on the depth chart. The situation at quarterback is just as problematic. The incumbent is Chad Pennington, who has had 2 surgeries on his throwing elbow in the last 2 years. When you consider that he never had a really strong arm to begin with, and that he is better suited for a west-coast type of passing game, his chances of having any success this year are quite slim. Patrick Ramsey was brought in from Washington to challenge for the starting job, but while he is tough as nails, he needs to learn to release the ball a lot quicker and not take so many sacks. Behind an o-line that just lost two starters and will now feature 2 rookies (2 very highly-touted rookies, but 2 rookies nonetheless), that could be a recipe for disaster. The Jets are much better equipped at wide receiver, where Justin McCareins and Laveranues Coles form a pretty good tandem, but they need to find someone to stretch the field.

On defense, the Jets are coming off a year where they finished in the top half of the league in defense. But they just lost DE John Abraham and his 10.5 sacks, as well as top backup James Reed (also on the d-line) and CB Ty Law and his league-leading 10 interceptions. There is no doubt that Mangini’s presence will help offset some of those losses, but these are big time players that will not take the field for them this year. Mangini will probably experiment with 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and will find ways to get to the quarterback even without Abraham. But these are not necessarily his type of players, and things could get hard for the young coach at times.

There is no way, in my mind, that the Jets can have any type of sustained success this year. This will be a year full of growing pains for the New York fans. But if Mangini is as good as advertised, it could be worth it in the long run.


At 12:20 PM, Anonymous huy said...

The jets finally face the reality of rebuilding after years of denial. unlike the dolphins, they don't have a foundation of young players to build on, aside from their 2 rookie OL. Curtis Martin has too much mileage and the defense is a patched up ones year after year. Hoepfully for them, Eric Mangini if the start of a new era. The dolphins will finally break through after years of underachieving in my mind. Nick Saban has a good eye for talent, and has complete control over that team. He is in essence, another version of jimmy johnson, with a better haircut, who's mor ein touch with his players, and overall, less of a prick. The dolphins suffered from bad personnel decisions, from choosing a coach( dave wandstedd ) to questionable draft pick (yatil green). But like i said before, they still manage to pluck a coupl e of quality gems in the draft (crowder, mcmichael, daniels) to build from. The patriots will be the patriots as long as tom brady is in shoulder pads, but their blue print has been copied all over the league on how to build a caliber team, and their conference is just so competitive, that i can't see them dominate like they use too. the biggest question mark is of course the bills. the franchise faces a lot of adversity. they're stuck in a small market, and some of their recent draft just didn't pan out. the QB situation is far from being resolved. they should've kept in touch with marv levy years ago. hopefully, he can have the same kind of influence on the bills has bill walsh had on the niners on his lat tenure. their main problem is that they don't have the patience to stick with a regime for too long. in building a winner, you HAVE to be commited to rebuilding fro more than 2 years. good players have come and went since the jim kelly days, but none had any impact. it's time they get back to the draft and buold from scratch.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Nick the Dick said...

The Patriots will be Champions again. Point final.

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Sweet LP said...

This blog is dead.


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