And now, we move on to the jerk conference. I'm not even going to apologize or mitigate my personal opinions. The AFC is for jerks.
Buffalo Bills (7-9)
Key Additions: WR Terrell Owens, DE Aaron Maybin, G Eric Wood
Key Subtractions: CB Jabari Greer, QB J.P. Losman
The "key subtraction" of Losman is really only relevant because it solidifies Trent Edwards as the starting quarterback, and eliminates any potential for an early season quarterback controversy. Edwards should enjoy his best season ever, partly because of maturity, and partly because Owens just makes quarterbacks better. Hate him all you want, but his physical dominance over opponents has helped every quarterback he's played with (Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo). Also, Lee Evans has always struck me as a very good #2 receiver, but not capable of being a #1. The addition of T.O. puts Evans where I believe he can flourish.
With Leodis McKelvin and Donte Whitner, the Bills have got the makings of a pretty good secondary. First round pick Maybin is a Penn State product, which doesn't exactly bode well (LaVar Arrington, Courtney Brown, Ki-Jana Carter), but maybe he and fellow Nittany Lion Paul Posluszny can generate some more pass rush. Doing that could dramatically improve what was just an average defense last year.
Projected 2009 record: 8-8
Miami Dolphins (11-5)
Key Additions: CB Vontae Davis, QB Pat White, C Jake Grove, DE/LB Jason Taylor, S Gibril Wilson
Key Subtractions: DE Vonnie Holliday, S Renaldo Hill
The Dolphins seem to have only improved, and they acquired a perfect weapon for their wildcat formation in Pat White. There are always questions about Ronnie Brown's health and Ricky Williams' commitment, but they're both ready to play come opening kickoff, and both have shown themselves to be solid at one point or another. The maturation of their young receivers (Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo) will likely determine how far this team goes.
The Jason Taylor experiment in Washington was a disaster, but he's allegedly back and ready to play for the Dolphins. Do I think it was just a ploy for Taylor to get paid the remainder of his contract and come back to Miami after a year? Of course I do. I'm an emotional, foolish Redskins fan, and Jason Taylor broke my heart.
Anyways, Gibril Wilson is pretty good and Vonnie Holliday's best days are behind him.
Projected 2009 record: 10-6
New England Patriots (11-5)
Key Additions: DB Patrick Chung, CB Shawn Springs, RB Fred Taylor, CB Leigh Bodden
Key Subtractions: QB Matt Cassel, WR Jabar Gaffney, LB Mike Vrabel, CB Ellis Hobbs, CB Deltha O'Neal, S Rodney Harrison
The return of Tom Brady from last year's week 1 season-ending injury is far and away the story with the most mainstream appeal regarding the Patriots, but I would venture to say that the wholesale changes to the secondary are at least as important to this team's success. I don't think I'm alone when I say I don't expect the Patriots to set more offensive records this season as they did in 2007, so the defense will have to at least play occasionally. Replacing Hobbs and O'Neal with Bodden and Springs is most certainly a downgrade, and it'll be interesting to see how the defense works without Mike Vrabel as an anchor for the first time since 2003.
Running back will once again be a question mark for the Patriots, as they'll be boasting perhaps the league's only five-headed monster committee. Laurence Maroney is the favorite to emerge as the featured back, but Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were all productive at times for the Patriots last year, and they didn't bring Fred Taylor into town to ride the pine. With their talent distribution, though, I'd be surprised if the Patriots weren't back to their old ways of throwing the ball 40 times a game, which favors Faulk, the best pass-catcher of the bunch. Regardless, Randy Moss and Wes Welker will once again be the peanut butter and jelly of an elite receiver sandwich. Try not to think of that in a gross way.
Projected 2009 record: 12-4
New York Jets (9-7)
Key Additions: QB Mark Sanchez, LB Bart Scott, CB Lito Sheppard, RB Shonn Greene, S Jim Leonhard, DE Marques Douglas
Key Subtractions: QB Brett Favre, WR Laveranues Coles, LB Eric Barton, CB Hank Poteat
New head coach Rex Ryan certainly didn't waste any time revamping his defense, bringing Scott, Leonhard, and Douglas from his old team in Baltimore. Eric Barton was the team's leading tackler last season, but Scott should slide comfortably into that role this year. Lito Sheppard was the third wheel in Philly, but he'll be a starter and a lynchpin for the Jets' defense this year.
I know, bla bla bla, defense, who cares? The biggest change this season comes at the biggest position: quarterback. Favre's brief stint in the Big Apple is over, and the Jets traded the farm for Mark Sanchez, who I'll now refer to as "Magic Beans" Sanchez. He could grow into a giant beanstalk that leads to a goose who lays golden eggs. Or it could just be a shortcut to a giant who'll squash the hopes of Jets fans. One thing is for sure though: as goes Sanchez for the next four years, so go the Jets. This year, that means growing pains and patience.
Projected 2009 record: 6-10
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