NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Over the next eight days, BASN will preview the entire National Football League season with a look at all the eight division races leading up to Opening Night on September 7th. Today, our previews begin with a look at the race in the AFC East.
The Patriots have practically owned the deed to this division over the last five seasons. New England has won the East four of the last five seasons (The Jets won in 2002), including the last three seasons.
However, Nick Saban’s Dolphins look poised to give Bill Belichik’s gang a run for their money in 2006. As for the Bills and the Jets…..Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.
Dolfans have survived through Fiedler, Lucas, Huard, Feeley, Griese (Brian, not Bob), Frerotte, and Rosenfels under center. Now for the first time since No. 13 decided to hang it up, the Fish finally have a quarterback they can rely on. No disrespect to the previous mentioned gentleman, but Daunte Culpepper gives Miami a dimension that has been lacking for quite awhile. Not to mention a decent backup in Joey Harrington. To go along with emerging star Ronnie Brown (907 rushing yards) and wide out Chris Chambers (82 catches, 11 TDs), this is the main reason why many think Miamui can unseat the Pats in the East.
What To Look For: For the first time in a long while, the Fish don’t have to make the trip to Foxboro late in the season. They’ll visit New England during a three-game road trip in October. A return match is set for 1 pm on December 10th. However with the new floating late season schedule, this could be a Sunday night showdown on NBC.
Overall: For the first time in a while, the pressure will be on the Miami D to come through. If they stay as efficient as they’ve been over the years, Nick Saban’s boys will dethrone New England. If things go really well, maybe Coach Nick will have a second chance to have lunch with Bush.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Let’s take a brief inventory list: Adam Vinatieri, gone. Willie McGinest, gone. David Givens, gone. Deion Branch, about to be gone. Well, you get the picture. Among the replacements are Reche Caldwell, Junior Seau. Hmmmm? Just what was going on during the off season at Foxboro? Yeah Tom Brady is still here, but despite his big numbers in 2005 (4,110 yds, 26 TDs), even he can’t carry this team on his back. No one’s saying that they’re going to fall off the face of the earth. However given the emergence of the Dolphins and other teams in the AFC, the road back to the Super Bowl has gotten just a bit tougher for New England.
What To Look For: Bill Belichik won’t admit it, but both Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel were missed on and off the field last year. How will BB deal with the loss of his latest defection? Especially when he’ll have to see Eric Mangini at least twice a year Overall: If the Pats can’t come up with some offensive balance and make some major improvement defensively (26th overall in the league), they could be on the outside looking in when playoff berths are handed out. In my heart, I don’t think they’ll miss the postseason, but they’re has to be some improvements on both sides of the line.
The off-season was not a fun one for the loyal fans of Buffalo’s finest. Head coach Mike Mularkey abruptly got out of Dodge and was replaced by ex-Bears head man Dick Jauron. Owner Ralph Wilson, between rants of a new stadium and re-readings of the NFL’s new CBA, sent GM Tom Donahoe packing and brought back Marv Levy to take over. Since the 2001 season, Buffalo has gone 31-49. With J.P. Losman still trying to mature and only a few talented players on defense, it appears that the Bills are still a few years and drafts away from being a contender.
What To Look For: The continued improvement of RB Willis McGahee (1,247 yds, 5 TDs in 2005) and WR Lee Evans (48 catches, 7 TDs) will make the Bills offense entertaining.
Overall: When Levy was coaching the Bills, one of his favorite saying was “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now??” While early on it appears that the answer to that question is anywhere but Buffalo, the Bills won’t be the worst team in the division.
NEW YORK JETS
They opened camp with four questionable quarterbacks, a running back that’s lost some tread on his tires, and no game breakers on offense or game changers on defense. Oh, boy, Mr. Mangini will be pining for the days as a soldier under BB in Foxboro very soon with this bunch. Last year’s 4-12 season may look like Shangra La by the time 2006 ends. At best, Gang Green is at least three years away from respectability. If you listen real closely, you can here Reverend Herm laughing all the way from Kansas City.
What To Look For: Back in the late seventies, Gang Green drafted a pair of offensive lineman (Marvin Powell and Chris Ward) that were franchise bookends for many years. With No. 1 picks D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, the hope is that these this pair can duplicate the success of their previous brethren.
Overall: Given the fact that after opening on the road against the Titans, New York will see New England, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville over the early part of their schedule, it could get ugly early. This is so bad that even Fire Marshall Bill might have to suit up for a game.
Predictions 1. Dolphins 2. Patriots 3. Bills 4. Jets Tommorrow: The AFC North.