The AFC East is going to be one of the most watched divisions this season, if for no other reason than the following -
- People will want to see when the Patriots finally lose a game
- See how Brett Favre fares in New York
- See how Da Tuna's changes work in Miami
- To see if Buffalo can close the gap on a playoff birth
4. Jets - It was the biggest move of any team in the off-season, and it could result in big dividends for the Jets, but I don't think it will. I don't see Brett Favre being the solution on a team that had so many glaring holes last year. If anything, I believe, given the short amount of time he had to practice with the team going into the season, he will be a wash (in regards to Chad Pennington). Before anyone gets defensive about it, I present the following -
- Favre is learning a new system for the first time in 16 seasons, that will cause early problems for a team that faces New England, San Diego, and an improved Arizona squad in the first four games. This is a team that could easily enter their bye at 1-3 or even 0-4.
- He has had one good season in the last three - last year's when the young talent drafted by Green Bay finally began to gel. The Jets do not have the playmakers on defense, the wide outs (though theirs aren't bad), the runners, nor the offense line that the Packers have. Favre has not made his teammates better the last couple of seasons, he was made better last season by young talent placed around him. Now that talent is around Aaron Rodgers.
- The Jets brought in Damien Woody and Alan Faneca to protect a quarterback that will be 39 in October - two thirty-plus year-old linemen. Sure, Faneca was a pro-bowler while surrounded by other pretty good linemen in Pittsburgh, but now he has to compensate for a roughly average D'Brickshaw Ferguson, and an okay Nick Mangold on either side of him. And Woody, well, this is a guy who spent his career handling tackles from the guard position, lost his starting job in Detroit of all places, and has been brought in to play tackle. Forgive me if I'm skeptical about that line having great results.
- With that line, teams aren't going to give Favre time early to connect long. Teams will pressure Favre until the Jet line shows it can handle the pressure. Don't count on the long ball early.
3. Dolphins - This still isn't a good team. As a matter of fact, it's still pretty bad. However, while it's universally acknowledged that the Favre deal was the biggest deal during the off-season, I believe that the Chad Pennington signing is the most important. It makes the Dolphins significantly better than they were last year, it might even make them better than the Jets, and here's why - unlike Favre, Pennington has had to adapt to new coaches and new systems, and it's likely, given Bill Parcells' predilection for hiring guys he's worked with before (he drafted Pennington), it's likely that Pennington will be playing in the same system in which excelled when he was first with the Jets. Overall the team lacks the requisite personnel to be successful, and the 'Phins would be better off with Parcells on the sideline rather than in the executive offices, but he will make the team better in the long run, just don't expect a contender right away. Expect them to be around that same six win plateau as the Jets, maybe even seven and nine if they can steal a game here and there.
2. Bills - I think Donte Whitner's mouth is writing checks his team can't cash. This team isn't bad, but it's got work to do to get to the next level. They aren't ready to compete with the likes of the Pats, Indy, the Steelers, and the Jags, San Diego, and maybe not even the Browns. I give the team an outside shot at the playoffs, but should they eke their way in, it will be one of those final regular season Sundays when they're doing calculus to figure out tie-breakers with teams like the Titans, or the Broncos as they try to figure out the tie-breaker (Dick Jauron to Whitner sometime in December: I think we get in if the Broncos win, but only on a drop kick from 32-yards out or longer by Jay Cutler, unless the Ravens score a safety and it happens to be a new moon).
1. Patriots - A lot of people are putting the Pats at 12-4. I'm going to go out on a limb and put the Pats at 15-1, losing only to the Colts during the regular season. Yes, there were issues during the pre-season on defense, but this is largely the same defense the Pats had last season that was ranked fourth overall, they ran virtually no stunts during the pre-season, and they've added some speed and youth on that side of the ball. In games that the defense struggles, this is still an offense that will be able to score at will against almost every team in the NFL, and it's a better team, from a talent perspective, than the Chargers, probably the second best team the Pats will face this season. It's been 19 games since the last time the Pats lost in the regular season. If my guess is correct, the Patriots will make it to 26 consecutive regular season wins before dropping another game.
On a related note, my wife is creepy. Years ago my wife started doing this thing where she would just say if the Pats would win or lose. If I remember, it started with the 1996 season. She got every game right that season. Overall, through the years she's probably batting about .900, maybe .950. She said, without hesitation nor reservation, that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl this year. She could be wrong, but I wouldn't bet against her.