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AFC East Preview

   by Ben Burns - 08/13/2007

New England has been the "Beast of the East" for several years now and it appears that this season will be no exception. Not only are the Patriots heavily favored to repeat as division champions, they also enter the season as the favorites to win their fourth Super Bowl since 2002. The rest of the East is there for the taking. Any of the three "other" clubs are capable of catching some momentum and finishing with a winning record. Conversely, they are also all capable of finishing in the division cellar. As always, staying relatively healthy will be critical.
Following is a closer look at the four teams.

Buffalo Bills
2006 Record: 7-9 SU 10-6 ATS
2006 O/U Record: 7-9
Noteworthy Trend/s: 7-3 ATS as underdogs
Projected Regular Season wins: 6o-115
Odds to win Super Bowl: +10550
Head Coach: Dick Jauron
Offensive Coordinator: Steve Fairchild
Defensive Coordinator: Perry Fewell

Offense: The Bills were in the bottom third of the league in scoring last year, averaging only 18.8 points per game. That was actually reasonably decent when considering that they ranked 30th overall in terms of total yards, finishing with a mere 267 per game. JP Losman started all 16 games, his first full campaign as a starter. He amassed 3,051 yards through the air with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Losman missed the start of training camp this year as he strained his lower back while lifting weights. He has since returned though and is expected to be the Opening Day starter. Lee Evans is a talented and somewhat underrated receiver. Evans will receive a lot of double-teams after last year's breakout season though, as the Bills lack a proven second receiver. Peerless Price appears like he'll start opposite Evans but he has never lived up to the promise he showed back in 2002. Running back Marshawn Lynch, the 12th overall pick, will become the focal point of this year's ground attack, taking over for Willis McGahee, who was traded to Baltimore. McGahee came up just short of the 1000 yard mark, finishing with 990 rushing yards in 14 games. He averaged only 3.8 yards per carry for the second straight season though. Lynch certainly has plenty of talent. However, he's still a rookie and its worth noting that he'll be running behind a line which should feature two new starters in guard Derrick Dockery (Redskins) and tackle Langston Walker (Raiders).
Probable Preseason QB Rotation: J.P. Losman, Craig Nall, Trent Edwards.
Defense: The Bills ranked tenth in the league in terms or points (19.4) allowed. They were particularly stingy against the pass, as they ranked in the top five in terms of passing yards allowed, with 188.9. However, part of the Bills' success against the pass may have resulted from the fact that teams didn't really need to pass against them. Indeed, the unit ranked 28th in the league against the run, allowing more than 140 yards per game. This year's defense will be without a few of its most familiar faces. Linebackers Takeo Spikes (Eagles), London Fletcher (Redskins), and cornerback Nate Clements (49ers) all have new addresses. The Bills are counting on several young faces, including recently drafted Paul Posluszny, to step up and fill the void.
Draft Report: Drafting Marshawn Lynch (RB from California) 12th overall made sense, as the Bills had a big hole to fill after McGahee got traded to Baltimore. The Bills did well to trade up to get OLB Paul Posluszny with the 34th overall pick. Posluszny was called, "the best linebacker ever to play at Penn State" by NFL Hall of Famer Jack Ham. They also got solid value in getting Stanford QB Trent Edwards late in the third round.
Prediction: The Bills showed some promise toward the end of last season. However, they have several question marks on both side of the ball and are very young. In fact, the loss of several key veterans makes this the youngest team in the entire league. Reaching the 500 mark in this "rebuilding year" would have to be considered a major accomplishment. More likely, Buffalo will take a small step back from last year's 7-9 mark. Don't be surprised when they finish in the division cellar.

Possible Play: vs. Pittsburgh in Week 2
Despite losing their last couple of contests, the Bills closed out last season on a profitable 7-2 ATS run. One of those point-spread victories came at Indianapolis as the +12 underdog Bills very nearly upset the mighty Colts, eventually losing by a single point. Including that “cover,â€쳌 the Bills, who play at New England next week, are an impressive 13-4 ATS the last 17 times that the played the first of back to back road games. The Steelers have always been known for having a ferocious defense. However, the Bills were slightly stingier on that side of the ball. The Steelers will likely be substantial favorites but the Bills’ defense, if anything like last season, gives them an excellent shot at keeping things close. Consider taking the points with Buffalo in Week 2

Miami Dolphins
2006 Record: 6-10 SU 6-10 ATS
2006 O/U Record: 6-10
Noteworthy Trend/s: 3-5 ATS as favorites, 3-5 ATS as underdogs, 1-5 SU/ATS in division games
Projected Regular Season wins: Open: 7o-110, Current: 7.5u-145
Odds to win Super Bowl: Open +4550, Current: +3250
Head Coach: Cam Cameron
Offensive Coordinator: n/a: Cameron will call the offensive plays
Defensive Coordinator: Dom Capers

Previous Coach: Nick Saban Saban was a big winner (83-40-1) in college. However, he was only 15-17 in two seasons with the Dolphins. Last year’s 6-10 mark was his first losing record as 13 years as a head coach. Saban denied rumors that he was planning on leaving the Dolphins to return to the college game. However, that’s exactly what he did, jumping at the chance to return to the SEC to fill the vacant coaching position at Alabama.
New Coach: Cam Cameron Cameron, who will be Miami’s fourth coach in nine seasons, has been the offensive coordinator in San Diego the past five years, directing the Chargers’ high-powered attack. Prior to his stint in San Diego, Cameron went 18-37 as a head coach at his alma mater, Indiana. Cameron, now 45, played basketball for Bob Knight and football for Lee Corso and Sam Wyche. He enters the season as the only head coach without an offensive coordinator.

Offense: The Dolphins were the fourth lowest scoring team in the league in 2006, averaging only 16.3 points per contest. They were closer to the middle of the pack in terms of total yards with 310 though (league average was 322) showing that they were able to move the ball (somewhat) effectively but that they failed to capitalize on their opportunities. Quarterback was arguably the biggest problem. Daunte Culpepper was brought in and was expected to provide a boost. Culpepper appeared to recover quickly from an offseason injury and was the Opening Day starter. However, he was never fully healthy and started just four games. His stats during that stretch were forgettable, to say the least. Indeed, Culpepper threw for 929 yards with just two touchdowns and three interceptions in his four starts, going 1-3. The Dolphins' problems with capitalizing on their field position certainly weren't helped by the fact that Culpepper was sacked 21 times in those four games. Culpepper is already gone and veteran Trent Green has been brought in to replace him. Green has proven that he is capable of winning in this league. However, keep in mind that he is also 37 years old and that he has a history of injuries and concussions. Despite taking a step back last season, Chris Chambers remains the team's top receiver. Rookie wideout Ted Ginn, Jr. should draw some attention from the defense, creating some more space for Chambers. Running Back Ronnie Brown, the #2 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, cracked the 1000 yard mark last season and will be expected to carry a heavy load once again. The Dolphins are hoping that he'll flourish under Cameron, as Tomlinson did in San Diego. Brown will run behind an offensive line that is regarded as one of the bottom-tier units in the league.
Probable preseason quarterback rotation: Trent Green, Cleo Lemon, John Beck

Defense: Opponents averaged only 17.7 points per game against the Fish last season, the fifth best mark in the league. The 289 total yards, which the Dolphins allowed per game, ranked fourth. The defense still boasts the likes of Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. Both those players are over 30 though, as are projected starters Keith Traylor and Vonnie Holiday. Longtime Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter, acquired as a free agent, was the team's biggest offseason acquisition. Porter is also in his 30s though and has just underwent arthroscopic surgery. There is currently no timetable on when he’ll return.

Draft Report: The Dolphins surprised some people by not selecting Brady Quinn with their first pick, instead opting for WR Ted Ginn Jr. from Ohio State. Ginn has amazing speed and the Dolphins are hoping that he will be able to stretch defenses on kick returns like Devin Hester did for the Bears last year. With their second pick, 40th overall, Miami then chose quarterback John Beck from Brigham Young. Although he didn't received the accolades that Quinn did, some consider him to have a more powerful and accurate arm.

Prediction: The Dolphins have most of the pieces in place to improve significantly from last season. However, they've also got a new coach and have several players who are a little "long in the tooth" and/or who are injury-prone. If they manage to stay healthy, they should be able to improve on last season's poor record. Look for them to challenge the Jets for second place in the division.

Possible Play: vs. Baltimore in Week 15

Despite their struggles the past several seasons, the Dolphins remain a solid 13-4 (Jets on 12/2 pending) their last 17 home games played in the month of December. The Ravens, on the other hand, have won just seven of their past 20 December road games. After playing a Monday night game vs. New England followed by a Sunday night game vs. Indianapolis, the Ravens should be ripe for a “letdown.â€쳌 The Dolphins are an excellent 9-2 SU/ATS their last 11 meetings in this series. Consider a play on MIAMI in Week 15.

New England Patriots
2006 Record: 12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS
Playoff Record: 2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS, 2-1 O/U
2006 O/U Record: 6-10
Noteworthy Trend/s: 3-0 ATS as underdogs, 7-1 ATS on the road, 2-6 ATS at home
Projected Regular Season wins: Open: 11u-120, Current: 11.5o-130
Odds to win Super Bowl: +405
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Offensive Coordinator: Josh McDaniels
Defensive Coordinator: Dean Pees

Offense: The 2006 Patriots averaged 24.1 ppg, ranking 7th overall in terms of total scoring. Tom Brady had another excellent season, throwing for more than 3500 yards and for 24 touchdowns. Brady has remained remarkably productive, despite never really having "elite" weapons to work with and despite seeing his receivers change regularly. This year may be different though. The Patriots picked up a trio of top tier receivers in Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker. All three have proven that they can play at a high level. The Patriots allowed Corey Dillion to walk away into the retirement. Former Minnesota Gopher star, Laurence Maroney, who had 745 yards last season, will be the number one back. He'll be complemented by ex-Dolphin Sammy Morris. They'll run behind a solid line which allowed a modest 26 sacks last season.
Probable preseason quarterback rotation: Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Matt Gutierrez
Defense: The defense was up to its old tricks last season, finishing second in terms of points allowed per game, at 14.8. The signing of Moss and the receivers stole the spotlight. However, the Patriots also signed a marquis player on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Adalius Thomas. The former Raven made the Pro Bowl last season and most regard his acquisition as a “match made in heaven.â€쳌 Thomas is athletic and versatile and should be able to roam free in Bill Belichick's ever-shifting schemes.

Draft Report: New England typically does well every draft day and this year was no exception. In addition to landing Randy Moss for a fourth round pick, the Patriots picked up a solid player with their first pick in FS Brandon Meriweather. The Pats, who had two picks in the first round, traded their second first-round pick for San Francisco's number one next year, which should be higher. In Meriweather, the Patriots have a versatile addition to the secondary. During his four years at the University of Miami, Meriweather played both free and strong safety, left and right corner, and nickel back. His “character issuesâ€쳌 shouldn’t be a problem for the Patriots, as they generally seem to find a way to make things work.

Prediction: On paper, this could be Belichick’s best team ever. Loaded on both sides of the ball, the Patriots should win the division again and are a legitimate Super Bowl threat.

Possible Play: vs. Indianapolis in: Week 9
Things have changed in this rivalry. After years of Brady and the Patriots getting the better of Manning and the Colts, Indianapolis has now won and covered the last three series meetings, including a narrow victory in last year’s AFC Finals. The Patriots figure to be stronger than ever this year though and Brady appears to has his best receiving corps in years. Despite last year’s playoff loss (38-34 as 3.5 point underdogs) the Patriots remain a remarkable 16-3-1 ATS their last 20 trips to Indianapolis. They are also 4-1 ATS the last five times they were listed as underdogs and 12-6-1 ATS the last 19. Look for them to rise to the challenge, giving the defending champs all they can handle. Consider a play on NEW ENGLAND in Week 9.

New York Jets
2006 Record: 10-6 SU, 11-5 ATS
Playoff Record: 0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS, 1-0 O/U
2006 O/U Record: 9-7
Noteworthy Trend/s: 4-1 ATS as favorites, 6-2 ATS on the road
Projected Regular Season wins: Open: 8u-160, Current: 8u-145
Odds to win Super Bowl: Open +4050, Current: +4850
Head Coach: Eric Mangini
Offensive Coordinator: Brian Schottenheimer
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Sutton

Offense: Chad Pennington began last season with questions about whether or not he’d even make the team. Not only did he win the starting job but he actually stayed healthy, a major feat given his past injury history. Pennington’s numbers weren’t huge (17 TDs, 16 INTs, 3352 passing yards) but he showed solid leadership and generally gave the Jets a chance to win. The Jets used five different running backs last season but only Leon Washington remains on the roster. Thomas Jones (1210 rushing yards, 6 TD, 36 receptions) comes over from Chicago and will be expected to carry a heavy load. Although neither is above 6-feet tall, receivers Cotchery and Coles combined for 173 receptions and more than 2000 passing yards last season. There's not much after that "dynamic duo" though. As a unit, the Jets finished in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring, averaging 19.8 points per game. Their 305.6 total yards ranked in the bottom third of the league.
Probable preseason quarterback rotation: Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Marques Tuiasosopo
Defense: Opposing teams were only able to average 18.4 points vs. the Jets last season. The defense really improved in the second half as the players got used to the new 3-4 scheme. No reason to think that the Jets won’t continue to be solid on that side of the ball as nearly every defensive starter returns.

Draft Report: The Jets did some wheeling and dealing to move up in the draft to get their top two picks, CB Darrelle Revis from Pittsburgh, considered to be the best corner in the draft, and ILB David Harris from Michigan. With the deals they made, and by choosing these two defensive players the Jets organization is essentially saying that it's close to having a very good team on the field.
Prediction: The Jets over-achieved in a major way last year. They’re likely to suffer some growing pains this season and the non-divisional schedule appears tougher. Don’t be surprised if they take a step back, failing to live up to the heightened expectations.

Possible Play: vs. Miami in: Week 13

The Jets won and covered both meetings in this series last season. Including those results, they are now 7-0 ATS the last seven series meetings and an impressive 14-2-2 the last 18. This should be a good spot for another Jets victory, as they have the schedule in their favor. Having played a Thanksgiving Day game, New York was last in action 10 days ago. Conversely, Miami is playing on a short week after coming off a Monday night game at Pittsburgh. Consider a play on NEW YORK in Week 13.

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