New England Patriots: New Englanders are going to hate me for these analogies but here it goes. Bill Belichick is to the Pats as Joe Torre is to the Yanks, Tom Brady is to the Pats as Derek Jeter is to the Yanks, Adam Vinateri was to the Pats what Mariano Rivera is to the Yanks, Randy Moss will be to the Pats recent dynasty what Jason Giambi has been to the recent Yankee dynasty?
The Pats had a strange post-season, initially they demonstrated why they're still the class of the AFC East putting away the rival New York Jets, then in a game they had no business even being in they came back and knocked off the San Diego Chargers, and after Asante Samuel picked off Peyton Manning and took it to the house making it 21-6 one would have to forgive the Pats for fitting themselves for a 4th Super Bowl ring. However it was not to be and Peyton's Colts just like Steve Young's 49ers got the monkey off their backs against Troy Aikman's Cowboys, took out the Pats and took home the title against the Bears.
What have the Pats done to re-load? Ask and ye shall receive! Thrice times in fact, with the additions of Moss from the Raiders, Donte Stallworth from the Eagles and Wes Welker from the Dolphins. Along with the additions of WR Kelley Washington and RB Sammy Morris, the Pats may boast their scariest offense of the Belichick/Brady era.
However the staple of the Pats even dating back to the Bill Parcells years has been their blue collar defense. Rodney Harrison will be healthy again and the Pats also added some depth with CB Tory James coming over from the Bengals. The most star studded addition to this defense comes in the form of LB Adalius Thomas from the Baltimore Ravens. The Pats hope Thomas, who has the most sacks of any player in the NFL since 2004 with 28, will take over the role vacated in their 3-4 defense by Willie McGinest when he left for Cleveland.
Final Verdict: One gets the feeling that so long as Belichick and Brady are at the helm in New England they could have the rest of the roster filled up with kids from St. Mary's school for the deaf and blind and still be resourceful enough to find their way to at least nine wins and a playoff spot. Speaking of which the Pats have had six straight seasons with nine wins or more which is currently the longest streak in the NFL. The Pats have eight games against opponents who reached the playoffs last season. On paper the Pats have upgraded a team that should've won its 4th Super Bowl last season, anything less than Arizona in February would be a letdown. Final Predicted Record: (13-3).
Buffalo Bills: Heading into the off-season the Buffalo Bills looked like they had potential to be sleepers in 2007. Then again looking at their off-season one could argue they went from sleepers to being asleep at the wheel. Just when it looks as though the Bills are going to put a strong budding nucleus together, free agency punches them in the gut. Gone are defensive leaders LB London Fletcher, CB Nate Clements and through trades LB Takeo Spikes and RB Willis McGahee.
The drafting of RB Marshawn Lynch and LB Paul Posluszny should lessen the blow from those veteran losses. The Bills special teams unit with P Brian Moorman, PR Roscoe Parrish, KR Terrence McGee and the like is without question tops in the league and the best Buffalo has seen since the days of Steve Tasker and Mark Pike in the 90's. Another strength should be the offensive line, bolstered by free agent additions G Derrick Dockery, OT Jason Whittle and OT Langston Walker. Defensively Aaron Schobel may be the most underrated DE in the league with 14 sacks last season.
If the NFL is a league where coaches are entitled to "three-year plans," then the following players must show they are legit consistent NFL players: QB J.P. Losman, WR's Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish and LB's Angelo Crowell and Keith Ellison. Dick Jaruon's Bills were tough down the stretch going 5-4, during which they lost to the Colts, Chargers and Titans by a combined five points.
Final Verdict: Like most teams the maturation and consistency from the QB position is a must and that will be no different for J.P. Losman and the Bills. If the Bills who are extremely well coached, mature at a rapid pace they could be quite a spoiler team on the rise this season. Final Predicted Record: (9-7).
New York Jets: Jets fans saw their new head coach go from "man-child" disciple of Bill Belichick to "man-genius," virtually overnight. The most optimistic of Jets fans whose team was coming off a 4-12 campaign and didn't know who their starting QB would be, were giving the Jets a high water mark of six to seven wins at best. The Jets though with a healthy Chad Pennington (for once) who won comeback player of the year despite having a running game by committee, reeled of ten wins to make the playoffs. The Jets got stronger down the stretch last year, winning four of five in December, including their last three in a row to quality for the playoffs.
This year there will be expectation on the Jets, along with the addition of RB Thomas Jones from the Bears, they won't sneak up on anyone this year. For the Jets they will be tested rather early opening against rival New England. They then head down to Baltimore to face nemesis Willis McGahee. After that comes rivals Miami and Buffalo along with a games against their fellow tenants the Giants. The Jets have had letdown seasons after winning season of late so they'll have to avoid that.
Final Verdict: If the Jets are healthy they'll certainly be a contender in the AFC. Along with those rough opening games, the Jets take on seven teams who reached the playoffs last season. Of those seven opponents the most intriguing match up though may come the final day of the regular season should the Jets need it to qualify for the playoffs, mostly because it comes against former coach Herman Edwards and his Kansas City Chiefs as they roll into the Meadowlands on December 30th in week 17. Final Predicted Record: (8-8).
Miami Dolphins: The Miami Dolphins much like the Washington Redskins before them, took a shot at a hot-shot SEC coach from a high profile college football program. However both coaches are now back in the SEC with different schools, leaving the NFL as complete failures as pro coaches. The Redskins brought back Joe Gibbs, the Dolphins did not follow suit and bring back Don Shula, they did however bring in 1st year man Cam Cameron who last season served as the Chargers offensive coordinator.
The Miami Dolphins of last season actually had much in common the rival Buffalo Bills of two years ago. The Dolphins under Nick Saban, much like the Bills under Mike Mularkey each rallied back from slow starts to finish at 9-7, both however failed to live up to expectations the following season and as a result both were gone.
Assuming he stays healthy Trent Green should be an upgrade at QB, though no returning Fins receiver had more than 59 catches last season. Once again for Miami though the strength will be the defense, especially the front seven. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, newly acquired LB Joey Porter from the Steelers and Channing Crowder will be asked to carry the load on the defensive side of the ball.
Final Verdict: Phillip Rivers, LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates will make any coach look like an offensive genius, Cam Cameron certainly was not that as the head man at Indiana University. Miami got off to a rough 1-6 start last season, but has a fairly light schedule this season with four of their first six coming against non-playoff teams. The Dolphins will have to capitalize on that early start or risk being left at the starting blocks in 2007. Final Predicted Record: (6-10).