2005 AFC East Preview ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
|The 2005 AFC East Report |
By Tony George of SportsAudio Shows
Who will un-seat the New England Patriots? As Mike Ditka putit in a speech I was present at in July, “this team in uniquein character because they care more about the name on the frontof the jersey, than they do about the name on the back of it.”Pretty strong words from a guy who should know, wouldnt you think?A few teams come to mind, most notably Indianapolis and Pittsburghthis season, with a longshot in Kansas City in my opinion, allshould be in the hunt at the end of the day. One serious darkhorse, the Baltimore Ravens, now have some WR’s on the rosterpicking up Derrick Mason from the Titans, and rookie sensationto be, Mark Clayton, who should be an impact player, and lestwe not forget a great defense returns in tact.
The make-up of the AFC this year is the Haves and the Have nots,and the parity level in this conference is much lower than theNFC, but all in all, one should find some good pointspread opportunityagain this year, and some tight division races, with others havinga dominant team and a bunch of “also rans” again this season,so lets break it down and get to business, with prop bets on eachdivision for this season’s wins and losses. Lets break down theEast and follow up with the North Later this week.
1. New England Patriots 11-5
“Loaded” is the keyword with these guys. Thereare a few key components missing this year, off the field, twohead coordinator’s are gone, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. EricMaggini will take over as head guy on defense, and is a longtimeBill Belichick disciple and knows the system well, as he has beena secondary coach in it. Some key pick-ups in free agency, mostnotable to me, Chad Brown from the Seahawks, should add more strengthto an already strong defensive line, and Chad Scott and DuaneStarks at cornerback will add serious depth and speed. All inall, until someone knocks them off, I’ll ride the horse here.
DEFENSE – The best DL in football anda defense that ranked 7th in the AFC and 9th overall in the NFLreturns in tact, after releasing Ty Law, who was trouble anyway,and picking up 3 studs in free agency here, and also adding 2key rookies in cornerback Ellis Hobbs out of Iowa and a sleeper,Ryan Claridge out of UNLV. The LB’s are deep, fast and big hitterswho gang tackle and fly to the ball. The question mark is TeddyBruschi, who has an issue with heart problems, my guess is hewill sit out, time will tell. The Secondary does give up a fewplays, but Rodney Harrison is the best in the business at safetyand is a good leader. This unit will be formidable to say theleast, and because of New England’s offense, are always well rested.
OFFENSE – Need I say more than Tom Bradyand Corey Dillon? I could but why? A great offense scheme withbalance and the ability to hit hard down the field with DeionBranch who is a big time player, and Givens is no slouch. Lookfor TE Ben Watson to make some noise after an injury last yearslowed him, but he is capable. Depth at QB is always a concernwith a star like Brady, but with Doug Flutie, Chris Redman andbust Rohan Davey, along with rookie Matt Cassel, they are in goodshape. Flutie at 42, is better than the bottom 3rd of startersin the NFL, and may make some sort impact at some point. Thisteam is simply loaded with a great offensive line, and will movethe chains at will. Let’s not forget great special teams withBethel Johnson as a returnee that burns, and Adam Venatieri asthe best clutch kicker in NFL history, no more needs to be said.
SUMMARY – A tough schedule and nemesisIndy this year with serious revenge, so it will be no cakewalkthrough the playoffs, or getting to them either, but the Patshave the will, strong home field, and the ability to find a wayto win, and a formula that no one has been able to beat, withthe best coach leading them in the NFL. A strong contender againthis year in the AFC overall and in this division.
2. New York Jets 10-6
These guys have all the tools in the shed tomake it happen and were almost there last year folks. They lostto the Pats in the playoffs by 3 points, and have every intentionof getting it done in 2005. Question marks with key players concernme here, as Curtis Martin is getting no younger, and stud QB ChadPennington is coming off shoulder surgery. They have a new offensivecoordinator in Mike Heimerdinger, so they need some time to gelthere. I see them going vertical after Paul Hacketts departure,and trying to strike with big plays, and Pennington has the armto do it if healthy. The defense is solid, but a weak secondaryin this division, it will be no picnic.
DEFENSE – The line is the strength of thisteam without question, but losing Jason Ferguson to the Cowboysin free agency hurts, and replacement Lance Legree is no equalby any stretch, but with Ellis and Abraham back, the pass rushwill be strong and they should be able to stuff the run, as theywere 5th in the NFL last year at doing so. They also were 4thin the NFL in scoring allowed, and a decent 14th against the pass.Overall it is a sound unit that likes to run a 3-4 scheme in passcoverage. They still can get to the QB, which is rare in the NFLanymore in a 3-4 scheme. The weakness is the secondary, whichis injury prone, and lacks the speed in man-to-man coverage, butthe pass rush negates that somewhat. Playing a tough OL will betough for them, and big plays can be had against them downfield,so they must improve in the secondary. Reggie Tongue needs tostep up, along with rookie sensation last year, Erik Coleman.If they cannot rush the passer, they can get lit up in a hurry,keep that angle in mind. Eric Barton is a big time linebackerwho makes plays, and Jonathan Vilma was defensive rookie of theyear at LB last season, so they are good in the middle.
OFFENSE – The key again is the health ofChad Pennington at QB. He may start out slow, but this kid isa gamer and makes plays and is a solid leader. Martin at RB isalways a good bet, but he is older now and losing back-up LamontJordan to the Raiders was a huge hit. Derrick Blaylock steps infrom KC, but he is average at best. Depth is a huge problem ifMartin goes down. Laveranues Coles is the key wideout, and McCareinsis capable and of course Wayne Cherbet is back. An average unitat best, but Coles is a stud. Hopefully they can use Doug Jolleyat tight end effectively and spread it out with short passes.The OL is solid led by all world center Kevin Mawae, and is somewhatdeep. A nice balance should be in order, but look for them toopen it up downfield this year, more than last.
SUMMARY – With a solid coaching staff inplace, led by Herm Edwards they will compete at a high level.They lost a ton in free agency, and Lamont Jordan was a mistaketo give away and not re-sign, but with some decent special teamsand a new rookie kicker, along with that old Jet pride, I expectthis team, if they stay healthy, to make some noise here. Theywent 10-6 last year, and with some help can do it again. Lackof depth will hurt them in the playoffs, but they should makea wild card appearance.
3. BUFFALO BILLS 9-7
I rank these guys third, although I think theyare more talented than the Jets overall, but starting QB JP Losman,who was injured last year, who is basically a rookie, is a bigquestion mark. That scenario provides a learning curve, and inthe NFL that spells doom. Defense is the strength of the teamby far, but they have some weapons on offense, even with the departureof Drew Bledsoe. A rebuilding year with dividends down the roadand if they get QB Losman in sync, they could finish second here.
DEFENSE – Ranked 2nd overall in 2004, lookfor another good year from this unit. The Schedule is in theirfavor and they could open up at 3-1, but it gets hard after that.Defensive head coordinator Jerry Grey will zone blitz a ton thisseason, and they rush the passer very well. The DL is stout andcan stuff the run, led by Pro Bowler Sam Adams. The linebackersare very good with Takeo Spikes, London Fletchers and Jeff Posey.They are also very deep at this spot. The secondary is also solidwith Troy Vincent, Kevin Thomas, Nate Clements Terrance McGeeand Lawyer Milloy. This is an A+ unit and they will make plays,and are great in zone or man-to-man coverage. Second best in thisdivision, maybe the best defense overall, time will tell.
OFFENSE – JP Losman is scheduled to startat QB, but the good news is depth at QB with a more than capableKelly Holcomb and Shane Matthews in the wings. Losman has a strongarm and is very mobile in the pocket and can run with it as well,but not playing in the NFL for a year, as he was lost his rookieyear, is going to be a an obstacle. The running game is solidwith Willis McGahee in tact and at 100%. He is a solid runner,with speed and size, and he should be a great NFL running back,as he has all the tools. They are loaded at wideout with Lee Evans,Eric Moulds and Roscoe Parrish with plenty of depth behind them.This is an all-star bunch of guys with speed galore. The problemis the offensive line is mediocre at best and must step up inpass protection. The Bills passing offense was ranked 27th inthe NFL in 2004 with Drew Bledsoe, so the ability of JP Losmanto move around and buy time is crucial, but that also createsforced passes, which creates turnovers for the youngster. Theyshould be able to put up some points this year and they have aweak schedule, but they are looking at 3 to 4 looses in this divisionno matter how you slice it, unless QB JP Losman is better thanexpect out of the gate.
SUMMARY – this team is somewhat of a questionmark, and off a bad year last year, and a new face in QB JP Losman,I think they are a year away from breaking out. This is a toughdivision, so the learning curve is difficult, and mistakes areprone to cost you games. The could finish second in front of theJets, which would not surprise me, but designing an offense toaccommodate Losman, and adding in more as weeks go by could spellsome inconsistency. With solid special teams, good coaching, Isee the Bills getting stronger as the season wears on, and improvingon a weekly basis and taking small steps forward will make thema serious contender in 2006 for sure, but keep an eye on themthis year.
4. Miami Dolphins 7-9
Look for the Fish to bounce back with new headman Lou Saban from LSU this season, as these guys stunk it upin 2004, and Ricky Williams situation was no help, and they flounderedat QB badly. I think 7 wins would be a huge step forward. Thevaunted defense of Miami was shredded last year, as they rankeddead last against the rush. Turnovers played a huge role as wellin their demise in 2004. Running back Ronnie Brown from Auburnas their #1 pick will help a ton, and Ricky “Weed” Williams maymake an appearance yet this season. This is a tough division,so a .500 record will get you nowhere, but it is a rebuildingyear, but I expect the defense to play better and look for theFish to play with some heart this season.
DEFENSE – What a change from the 2003 addition,as this defense led by Zach Thomas, was buried last year. Thegood news their secondary is was ranked #1 in the AFC in 2004and #2 in the NFL, but with your line giving up rushing yardsin huge chunks, who needs to throw? The bad news is most of thesecondary is gone. They ranked 20th in scoring defense, and beingin this division will make you pay for that with losses. Thatwas addressed by the signing of two studs, Vonnie Holiday andKevin Carter. This will be a huge help in a porous run defense.Jason Taylor is back and can make plays, but at less than 250pounds, he uses speed, and against a good tackle or tight end,he struggles. A switch to a 4-3 scheme does Zach Thomas no good,but they have some depth here with Junior Seau returning and Crowderand Pope in the mix, a solid LB unit that should do better atstopping the run. The secondary was destroyed in free agency andwill not be the same, with Patrick Surtain gone, Sammy Knightgone, and Will Poole lost in training camp to injury. A team thatcan throw will beat these guys up, and with little depth or experience,lone returnee Sam Madison cannot carry the load alone. It couldget ugly against a pass happy team who can protect the passer.
OFFENSE – Enter rookie RB Ronnie Brown,a great college back and he should be a good NFL back, but heis a rookie folks. Quarterback is an issue with A.J. Feeley andhead banger Gus Frerotte fighting it out for a starting job. Lookfor a battle here in preseason. No depth here is a concern, andneither has ever set the world on fire, and Feeley loves to throwit to the other team. Look for them to pound the run as oftenas possible and throw underneath a ton. Low scoring games wouldnot surprise me all season. Travis Minor steps in at RB and ifWilliams returns this year, off the mushroom cloud, he may impactbig, there are just allot of question marks on offense. They cannottrade punches with good offensive teams. Ranked 31st in the run,and 21st in the pass in 2004, with a line that is below averageis a large concern. The receivers are a bright spot, with tightend Randy McMichael ready to break out, and he is a good one forsure. Wideout and #1 receiver Chris Chambers is a huge playmakera serious threat along with Marty Booker also adding some depthand talent.
SUMMARY – these guys lost a ton in freeagency and have a new staff in place, and new schemes to learnwith limited depth. I put a ton of emphasis on having no realleader on offense, especially with a featured rookie running back.That does not bode well for them, and their draft and free agencywas spent mainly on defense. Look for some low scoring outputsthis season; the emphasis will be on defense. Special teams aredecent and Olindo Mare back at kicker is huge, and he will bebusy. All in all, they are better than advertised with the rightcoaching decisions being made this year, they should compete butI look for them to have a few blowout losses. No wonder Dan Marinopassed on the general manager job last year, this team is 2 to3 years away, and they need a veteran quarterback to lead them.
BEST PROP BET IN THE AFC EAST
Buffalo OVER 8.5 wins at +105
Tony George enters his 13th year as a professionalhandicapper and can be found at www.sportsaudioshows.com or reachedat 800-562-1017. He is President of Midwest Sports Consultantsin Lincoln, NE and is a recognized name in the legitimate handicappingbusiness.