My NFL Preview continues today with a look at the AFC East, a division that was a lot of fun last year while Tom Brady was out with injury. With Brady returning and the schedules getting tougher, though, the days of Patriot supremacy over everyone else's mediocrity have returned.
ORDER OF FINISH
z-New England Patriots 14-2
Miami Dolphins 7-9
New York Jets 5-11
Buffalo Bills 5-11
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Tom Brady, QB, New England
This might be the most obvious choice in the league. Brady's closest competition is teammate Randy Moss, but Moss's production is much more reliant on his quarterback than vice versa. Looking at the rest of the division, it is hard to come up with a number three. Another Patriot, Wes Welker, is in the conversation, but if pressed I'd have to go with Ronnie Brown of the Dolphins.* Brown has proven he can be a reliable running option (he was leading the league in rushing in 2007 before he tore his ACL) as well as the catalyst in arguably the most influential offensive development of the last decade (the Wildcat.) But, again, he is nowhere near Tom Brady's class.
*My actual answer for number three would be Jake Long, the Dolphins left tackle, but that is a really boring answer and I don't know enough about the technicalities of blocking to talk about why he's number three with any authority. Trust me, though. He is.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York
For a division made up of a team coached by Bill Belichick, a team run by Bill Parcells, a team coached by Rex Ryan, and a team that was ranked second in team defense just four years ago, the AFC East really lacks defensive stars. You could argue for Ty Warren or Vince Wilfork of the Patriots or fellow Jet Bart Scott, but I like Revis the best. When you have to play the pass-happy Pats two times a year, a shut down corner is a necessity, and Revis is one of the three or four best in the game. Entering his third year and coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, Revis is primed to join Nnamdi Asomugha as one of the league's premier cover corners.
BEST COACH: Bill Belichick, New England
I take back what I said about Tom Brady. This is the most obvious choice in the league. Tony Sparano showed some spunk in his first season, but it is debatable how much of that is him and how much of it is the Big Tuna upstairs. Belichick continues to do things his way, like cutting his backup quarterback three weeks into training camp and sucking up to Al Davis (how else do you explain the Randy Moss trade, the Derrick Burrgess trade, or the Richard Seymour trade? Also, is there any doubt that Seymour's career is over? Does anyone else remember Bernie Kosar and his diminishing skills?).
1. Will Mark Sanchez be good?
Not this year. The Jets receiving corps comprises of Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller, and Leon Washington screen passes. I know Sanchez is just oozing intangibles, but I find it hard to believe that a rookie with only 16 college starts is ready for the NFL. Kellen Clemens isn't so bad* that he can't start at least the first quarter of the season. I know the Jets traded up for Sanchez, and I know that Rex Ryan happened to coach the defense of a team that started a rookie that had great success, but those aren't reasons to force the issue. Honestly, I think Sanchez has a chance to be a really good quarterback, but not now. Maybe next year, when the Jets actually get a receiver for him to throw to.
*Clemens might actually be bad. We don't really know. He started 8 games in 2007, but didn't really show much (52% completion, 1529 yards, 5-10 TD-INT ratio). It was only his second season, however, and the Jets were terrible that year (4-12). Clemens was expected to battle Chad Pennington in camp the following season, but the Brett Favre show came to town and Kellen became a forgotten man. The point is, we don't really know how good Kellen Clemens is because he's never really gotten a chance to settle into a starting job. Instead of potentially stunting Sanchez's growth with a soul-crushing rookie season, the Jets should find out exactly what they have in Clemens.
2. Will Terrell Owens make an impact in Buffalo?
No, but it probably won't be (all) his fault. The Bills' no-huddle offense has been such a disaster this preseason that offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was fired(making Buffalo the third team to do so this preseason, joining Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Will this trend be the Wildcat of 2009?). Trent Edwards has looked terrible, and the offensive line has looked young and inexperienced, which is exactly what they are. Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first four games, and if I were him, I wouldn't even bother coming back. Between the lack of personality this team has and the fact that they play in Buffalo, TO will become his greatest nightmare: quietly ineffective.
3. Will the Patriots win the Super Bowl?
Probably. Look, it's stupid to bet against Brady and Belichick. In the seven years since Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season and was healthy (so last year doesn't count), the Patriots have been to the playoffs six times (missing them only in 2002). In those six playoff appearances, New England has been eliminated before the conference championship once (2005 Divisional Round, at Denver). In their five conference championship game appearances, the Patriots have been beaten only once (by the 2006 Colts, a team New England had down 21-6 at halftime and that only prevailed due to the brilliance of Peyton Manning, Brady's only contemporary), and in the four Super Bowls they have appeared, they are only a David Tyree helmet catch away from going 4-0. Well, David Tyree was just cut by the Giants, and Mike Shanahan (5-2 career record vs. Belichick era New England) is out as Denver coach, which leaves only Peyton Manning in the way, and he has to deal with a new coach and the loss of his security blanket, Marvin Harrison. Unless the Chargers either hire Mike Shanahan or sign David Tyree, the Patriots have to be the favorites.