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- Breaking Down the AFC East: 2007

Chris Pokorny July 28, 2007
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

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Last year, the AFC East sent two teams into the postseason. The New England Patriots were a lock to win the division again, but the Miami Dolphins were supposed to be the team that turned things around to challenge for a wildcard spot. Instead, the Dolphins' quarterback situation blew up in their faces again, and the New York Jets shocked everybody with a storybook season. Where will each team finish this year?

1. New England Patriots - Big surprise, right? The Patriots have been the leaders in their division for so long under the Bill Belichick era, and there's no sign of them slowing down any time soon. The Patriots have always had fundamentally sound units. Defensively, they've been notorious for having impact players. Offensively, Tom Brady has been the orchestrator of everything, without having the same caliber of receivers that guys like Peyton Manning, Marc Bulger, and Carson Palmer have at their disposal on a weekly basis. This year, Brady is ready to take advantage of the same opportunities that those quarterbacks have had.

In the offseason, the Patriots' acquired two new starting receivers: Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss. Stallworth made a splash with the Eagles last year while he was healthy, making a name for himself after leaving the New Orleans Saints. Moss did not have a good run with the Oakland Raiders, but then again, no one on that offense ever really found any success over the past few years. Certainly, having those two men will be better than a Reche Caldwell that misses a wide open catch in the postseason, and then opens his eyes extremely wide? Don't forget the underrated addition of the fast Wes Welker as well, who will play a great role as a slot receiver in the offense.

The Patriots' defense managed to add Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas in the offseason as well. Thomas is an amazing athlete for his size, and was critical to the success of the Baltimore Ravens' defense last year. Finally, Belichick drafted defensive back Brandon Meriweather in the first round to improve the team's depth in the secondary, especially in case of an injury. None of the positions on this team took a hit, and that puts the Patriots not only at the top of the AFC East, but also in serious contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

2. New York Jets - Two teams made a surprise impact in the NFL last year - the New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets. When you consider the lack of "big name" talent the Jets added last year in comparison to the Saints, there's no questioning that Eric Mangini knows how to run a football team. Chad Pennington returned from numerous surgeries and was able to keep his job after a quarterback competition in camp. He didn't have a Pro Bowl season, but he managed the offense to perfection and understood the type of players that were put on the field for him to work with.

After Curtin Martin didn't play last year, the Jets were forced to go with a three-headed monster at running back involving Kevin Barlow, Leon Washington, and Cedric Houston. Although the system was ok, it was nothing in comparison to the three-headed monster that the Eagles had implemented several seasons earlier involving Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, and Correll Buckhalter. The Jets had a very young offensive line consisting of high-level draft picks that were holding their own. The Jets needed to add stability to their running back situation in the offseason, and that's what they did by signing Thomas Jones. Jones handled himself extremely well the past two seasons while under pressure. He had Cedric Benson waiting in the wings behind him, but Jones kept on producing week after week that it would've been a huge mistake to bench him.

The Jets did not make too many upgrades to their defense in the offseason, but they used both of their important draft picks for defensive purposes. Their first-round pick, Darrelle Revis was a necessary selection to improve a mediocre unit last season that will need to improve tremendously this year to be able to cover the Patriots' receivers. The Jets didn't do enough to overthrow the Patriots in the AFC East, but they made the additions to send them back to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

3. Miami Dolphins - No matter how many quarterback changes the Dolphins make, it doesn't seem to matter because they aren't improving their offensive line. Daunte Culpepper wasn't healthy last year, and Joey Harrington continued to not "wow" people, but the men up front were not providing enough protection to establish a consistent threat. There's hope that Trent Green can make the offensive line appear better through a solid gameplan, but only time will tell. A positive for the Dolphins offense is that they still have running back Ronnie Brown to work with. Brown was able to post over 1,000 yards rushing in just 13 games last year.

The biggest move in the offseason could be the one that the Dolphins didn't make. The team passed up on Brady Quinn as their quarterback of the future, and instead drafted receiver Ted Ginn Jr. The Dolphins took a huge risk with this move, and they're hoping that it pays off. The team is envisioning that Ginn will be the "X-factor" required to win several extra football games every season. If Ginn is able to provide one tremendous kick return or a trick play on offense every game, that could actually be the difference between a win and a loss. It's easy to project that philosophy, but it'll be difficult to actually put it into play, especially against NFL caliber teams.

The Dolphins will continue to rely on a veteran defense that now includes Joey Porter to make an impact on a weekly basis. While the defense should be fine, the offense won't be good enough to finish better than third in the division this year. They should put more drives together than they did last year, but small moral victories don't win championships.

4. Buffalo Bills - The Bills were so close to taking a step forward if they would've been able to improve a few positions this year. Instead, it seems like they're taking a slight step backwards. J.P. Losman proved me wrong last year with the best season of his three-year career after building chemistry with receiver Lee Evans. The offensive line has improved, more so than some people may believe. Losman was sacked an average of three times per game. Langston Walker and Derrick Dockery should cut that number down.

The negativity for the Bills in the offseason stems from their lack of improvements in other areas. The Bills basically traded off Willis McGahee for a rookie in Marshawn Lynch. That may be the right move in the long run, but without more than one solid receiver to supplement Lynch, it could be a tough first year for the rookie carrying the load. He won't have the same advantage that guys like Reggie Bush, Joseph Addai, Laurence Maroney, and Maurice Jones-Drew had last year.

The Bills took a big hit defensively, as they were not able to retain cornerback Nate Clements and linebacker London Fletcher. Clements defined the Bills defense often and will be sorely missed this year, especially with how much better the Patriots' receivers have gotten. Jason Webster will try to fill Clements' shoes while rookie Paul Posluszny will try to make up for the Fletcher's absence from the secondary. The Bills should still be a competitive team, but it almost seems like they suffered a "net gain" of zero in the offseason, meaning they'll be in store for another 6-7 win season.

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