Friday, August 12, 2011

2011 NFL Preview -- AFC East

Who could have possibly guessed that they actually made a Chad Henne Fathead?
Apart from a few inconsequential signings and the impending un-retirement of Brett Favre (and Randy Moss), the frenzied NFL off-season is over and done with. With rosters in place and training camps under way, we now have a slightly clearer picture of what the 2011 NFL season will look like. Of course, no one can actually know what will happen during the season, but it sure is fun to speculate!

Continuing with our 2011 NFL Preview, let's check out the AFC East. In case you missed them, here are the other division's I've previewed.

AFC West
NFC West
AFC South
NFC South
AFC North
NFC North

AFC East

With the exception of a random 2008 division championship by Bernard Pollard (and the Miami Dolphins), the Patriots have won the AFC East every year since 2003. Of course, you'd never be able to tell from the way Rex Ryan talks. According to him, the Jets have won every single game the past two 4 touchdowns or more! (Insert foot joke here) Back in reality however, the Patriots are coming off a 14-2 season and actually improved in the offseason.

1. New England Patriots: 14-2

Biggest Addition: DT Albert Haynesworth - When I say biggest, I really do mean BIGGEST. Because he's fat. Get it? OK, moving on. I've talked about the Haynesworth acquisition a few times, so I won't dwell on it much longer. I'm not at Patriots camp, so I don't actually know what's going on, but all reports indicate Haynesworth seems invested and motivated. That's a scary proposition for the AFC East. When Haynesworth is ready to play, he's completely unblockable. The later signings of Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter (great acquisitions as well) indicate they will be playing a lot more 4-3...perhaps even as a base. Hate him all you want, but you really can't do much better than Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth in the middle of your base 4-3.

Biggest Loss: DT Ty Warren - After saying all those things about Haynesworth, it still has to be acknowledged that he's Fat Albert Haynesworth. You never really know what you're getting game to game. Warren was hurt all last year, so it's not technically a loss, but having a three man rotation of Wilfork, Haynesworth, and Warren would have been crazy. Fact is, you can never have enough depth up front, and that's something New England will lack.

Biggest Question: Will one of their receivers step up? Even if none of them resemble a true 'go-to guy,' the offense will be very good, much like last year. Unfortunately, the playoff loss to the Jets proved just how valuable a reliable 'go-to' receiver can be. Bringing in Ochocinco was a worthy gamble, especially for the price, but I have my doubts as to whether or not he can be that guy again. Deion Branch is now in his 30's and Wes Welker, good as he is, is nothing more than a super slot guy. Maybe they pull off a deal early in the season? Who knows? The one guy to watch is Brandon Tate. He only caught 24 balls in his rookie season, but he averaged 18 yards per catch and is their only true big play threat. I'm not expecting him to make the jump to All-Pro or anything, but if he can provide a consistent big play threat, then that should be sufficient to open up the underneath routes they love so much.

Summary: As I said in my NFC North preview, this is my pick coming out of the AFC. They have the most well rounded team in the conference, and they have the best QB in football. Offensively, there's little question as to how good they will be. The addition of Nate Solder should help solidify the front line and the acquisition of Ochocinco should help, even if only a little. The thing that most people overlook is how many young guys they played last year, both on offense and defense. Improvements to Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Tate, Danny Woodhead, and Sebastian Vollmer should help improve the league's 8th ranked offense. Likewise, improvements to Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, and others...along with the addition of Haynesworth...should help dramatically improve their 25th ranked defense.

Bonus Thought: I'm very excited about New England's schedule this year. They play San Diego at home, Dallas at home, Pittsburgh on the road, New York Giants at home, Philly on the road, and Colts at addition to the two Jets battles! Mark those on your calendars people. Heck, I'm not even a Patriots fan and I'm excited!

2. New York Jets: 11-5

Biggest Addition: WR Plaxico Burress - Only because the Jets didn't actually add a lot of new pieces and they badly needed a WR after losing Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. It'll be interesting to see what Plax has left.

Biggest Loss: WR Braylon Edwards - Taking away one of the primary targets for the 22nd ranked passing game is definitely not a good thing. Braylon Edwards may be extremely overrated (though maybe not anymore), but he's still an above average receiver and Mark Sanchez needs as many of those as he can get.

Biggest Question: Can Mark Sanchez make ANY improvements? At the beginning of last year, we constantly heard about how much Mark Sanchez had improved in the offseason. Sure, he definitely improved on his 20 INT performance from 2009, but I wouldn't consider a 75.3 rating and a 54.8 completion percentage to be through the roof. In fact, I'd say it's kinda bad. Keep in mind, I hate Mark Sanchez more than is humanly possible, but that doesn't mean my criticism isn't valid. GM Mike Tannenbaum surrounded The Sanchize with stud receivers, a stud TE, a solid offensive line, and two good RB's...and he got a QB who put up below average advanced passing stats in nearly every category. Not a good return. While other people (Cowherd!) continuously point to his "talent level" and "leadership," I point to a QB who is woefully inaccurate and who panics under pressure. And please, don't tell me about his big pass to Braylon to beat Indy in the playoffs! All he did was toss up a prayer! (Can you feel the hate?) The Jets have championship level talent all over the place, but if Sanchez can't become a more efficient QB, then they aren't taking home the trophy.

Summary: It pained me to give them 11 wins. It's not that I think they're better than last year (I don't), it's that their schedule sets up nicely. Still, I think they're a notch or two below the Patriots and Steelers based on QB play. With fewer reliable targets this year, it's hard to see Sanchez making any strides. Perhaps after another up and down year, the tide will turn against him and he will finally be rejected by the NFL community. I can only hope. Once again, defense and running will be their calling cards. Shonn Greene will be asked to carry more of the load this year, and I'm sure he's up to it. If they continue to dominate in those two aspects, then they'll again be a playoff team...and fat Rex Ryan will keep running his mouth.

3. Buffalo Bills: 4-12

Biggest Addition: DT Marcell Dareus - I've been trying to avoid using draft picks as much as possible, but I don't know where else to go here. Nick Barnett is a nice addition, but he'll be long gone by the time Buffalo is relevant again...if that ever happens. The Bills biggest need is impact players at impact positions. At this point, Dareus is one of the few they have. Going forward, they'll need to find a QB, another WR, OT, DE, CB...pretty much everything. Also, an owner who didn't survive the Civil War.

Biggest Loss: WR Lee Evans - The news of his trade broke literally five minutes before writing this...good timing! Evans is probably thrilled about escaping Buffalo, as he would have had a much better career with QB's not named J.P. Losman or Trent Edwards. Long term, this is the right move for Buffalo. Getting a pick for their 30 year old WR makes complete sense. Short term, it sucks. As I mentioned before, they need playmakers. Evans was a playmaker. Now, they need an additional playmaker. Sorry Ryan Fitzpatrick...have fun getting sacked in the snow.

Biggest Question: Does it matter? Bills fans, I'm sorry for being dismissive, but your team is so irrelevant right now! You have second tier players all over the field, you blow draft picks nearly every year, and you can't even decide if you're going to play in Buffalo or Toronto! The franchise is a punchline at this point, and that's a sad thing. Not too long ago, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed were making the Super Bowl every year. Of course, you lost them all...but still. Now, you're possibly about to lose your franchise.

Summary: For the sake of all Buffalo fans, I sincerely hope you lose all 16 games. Not because I wish ill on you, but because I wish you well. The fans in Buffalo are great and they support their team, but management is totally messed up. The Bills have been a mainstay up there for decades and it would be wrong to take their team from them. I hope they lose all 16 games simply because landing a player like Andrew Luck would finally make the Bills relevant again. I suspect Bills fans might feel the same way.

4. Miami Dolphins: 3-13

Biggest Addition: HB Reggie Bush - I don't really like anything about the Dolphins free agency. Honestly, I don't think this Reggie Bush thing will work out either, but it's worth a shot. The Dolphins running game averaged a meager 3.7 Y/A last season, so a change was in order. Bush has yet to show he's capable of being a feature back, but he's never really been given the opportunity either. We all know what kind of player he was in college, and Miami needs big play guys, so I like the gamble.

Biggest Loss: QB Kyle Orton - They had the opportunity to trade for him and they didn't pull the trigger. Honestly, I could feasibly have given them 7 wins if they would have upgraded. Now, with the fans having totally turned against Henne, the situation could quickly turn toxic.

Biggest Question: Is Chad Henne any good? The easy He's never had a positive TD-INT ratio and his Y/A are alarmingly low. Overall, he's graded out to be a pretty bad QB...but you probably didn't need me to tell you that. What's worse, Henne seemed to regress from Year 2 to Year 3. I don't know why the Dolphins decided to stick with him, but it could turn ugly quick. Reports say that Henne looks very improved, but I'll believe that when I see it. The fans are definitely against him, which doesn't help, and he hasn't shown nearly enough to make anyone believe he'll take the Dolphins anywhere.

Summary: 3 wins seems really low for a Miami team that won 7 games last year, but I honestly think the Chad Henne situation is going to kill this team. If he struggles out of the gate, then all hell could break loose. After him is Matt Moore...and we all know where Matt Moore leads.

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