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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011 SEASON PREVIEW AFC EAST



AFC EAST PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH


1.      Patriots
2.      Jets
3.      Dolphins
4.      Bills



NEW ENGLAND: RELOADED

The Patriots appeared to be ready to put their embarrassing showing in a home playoff loss to the Ravens in 2009. New England finished 2010 with a league best 14-2 record, led the league in scoring, and committed a league low 10 turnovers. During that season, the Patriots brought back receiver Deion Branch who was a key part of their victories in Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXIX and parted ways with receiver Randy Moss.

In addition, the emergence of rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski has given reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady another weapon. Gronkowski had a three touchdown receiving game in a 39-26 victory over the Steelers in Week 10.



During the off-season the Patriots acquired wide receiver Chad Ochocinco via trade to bolster their deep receiving corps that includes the versatile Wes Welker.

In addition to having a high profile passing offense, the Patriots have a top ten rushing offense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored 13 TDs, tied for second best in the NFL.

The Patriots’ weakness was in their defense ranked 25th in yards given up and ranked 30th in passing yards given up. The addition of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is risky given that he left Washington in a dispute with the coaching staff, but the Patriots are hoping that a change of environment will prove to be helpful. Haynesworth was one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL when he played for the Titans.

Last season it appeared that the Patriots were heading towards Dallas for their fourth Super Bowl championship in the Bill Belichick era. Instead, they suffered a 28-21 home loss to the New York Jets. Since defeating the Chargers at home in the AFC Championship game in 2007, the Patriots have lost three consecutive playoff games.



So, how does this team recover from a series of devastating postseason defeats?

The Patriots 2011 schedule sets them up for their 9th AFC East Title in 11 seasons. The Patriots should be 4-0 by the time they face the Jets in Week 5 at home. After the bye week, New England travels to Pittsburgh where they have won in three consecutive trips to the Steel City. A rematch with the winners of Super Bowl XLII takes place in Week 9 when the Giants come to Foxboro before traveling to New York to face the Jets in a Week 10 primetime matchup.

In week 12, the Patriots play a revamped Eagles squad that has been branded the “Dream Team” by backup quarterback Vince Young. Even though it is a compelling game on the NFL schedule, the one that is circled on every NFL fans is the Week 13 matchup between the Colts and Patriots. That game will go a long way in determining various end-of-season awards and playoff positioning. The final four weeks ends with games at Washington, at Denver, and home games against AFC East foes Miami and Buffalo.

Even though Tom Brady is the reigning NFL MVP, there is only one award that Brady is concerned about: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.


NEW YORK: CAN THEY FINALLY GET OVER THE HUMP?

Which NFL quarterbacks have won 4 road playoff games?

Hall of famers Len Dawson and Roger Staubach

Jake Delhomme and Joe Flacco

And Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez

Mark Sanchez does not get the same acknowledgement of being a top tier NFL quarterback like Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers. Sanchez threw for 3,291 yards, completed 54.8% of his passes, and had a TD to interception ratio of 17-13, but most importantly he won games for the Jets. In a three week stretch of the 2010 season, Sanchez led drives in the last three minutes of regulation or later that won the game.







In order to give Sanchez the tools to take the next step in his development as an NFL quarterback, the Jets signed receiver Plaxico Burress to counter the release of receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith. Burress spent the last 20 months in a New York State correctional facility due to a 2008 incident where he was carrying a handgun in his sweatpants that inadvertently fired causing him injury. It remains to be seen if Burress will return to the same level of play that he was at while he was playing for the Giants.



The strength of the Jets lies in their running game and defense which have been pillars of Rex Ryan’s coaching scheme. Last season, the Jets ended up ranked in the top five in rushing yards. LaDainian Tomlinson, who was released by San Diego in 2010 due to declining performance, rushed for 914 yards and 6 touchdowns. In the wild card playoff victory over the Colts, Tomlinson showed flashes of his younger self by contributing 82 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns as part of a rushing attack that gained 169 yards. Tomlinson may be the veteran but expect Shonn Greene to play a more featured role in the running game.

Despite not having shutdown cornerback Darrell Revis for training camp last season due to a contract dispute, the Jets finished in the top three in defense. In a rarity in today’s NFL, the Jets return with 10 starters, nine of which have been with the Jets for the past two seasons. Even though the Jets lack a top front line pass rusher, expect Ryan to come up with creative blitz schemes in order to create that same pressure.

Rex Ryan is at it again with the Super Bowl talk like last season, but does it hold any weight? Clearly the Jets are built to win for the present because they are going to have to address concerns with a now older receiving corps and Tomlinson at running back in future seasons. Due to an abbreviated off-season caused by the lockout and the signing of Burress in training camp, Sanchez and the Jets are going to get off to a slow start.

The defense will bail them out of a few early contests like when they play at Baltimore in a Week 4 Sunday Night contest but having an offense that is struggling when they play at the Patriots in Week 5 will not be pretty. Other early contests include the home opener against Dallas on the first Sunday Night game of the 2011 season and a Monday Night October home game against the Dolphins followed by the Chargers coming east in Week 7.

A well placed bye week in Week 8 will help the Jets gear up for their final nine games where they alternate between away and home games each week. In Week 10, the Patriots visit the Jets for their third Sunday Night appearance. Week 15 is a matchup in Philadelphia with the Eagles followed by the much anticipated Battle of New York in a home game with the Giants. The Jets close out the season in Miami.

All signs are pointing towards their third consecutive second place finish in the AFC East.

Though… this prediction may cause a reaction by linebacker Bart Scott…



Well, I can’t wait until the start of the season.


MIAMI: DAN MARINO IS NOT COMING THROUGH THE LOCKER ROOM DOORS

It appeared that the results of Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells were ready to payoff, and the Dolphins were going to be a playoff contender in 2010. They started the season at 2-0, followed by losing two games in prime time televised games resulting in a 2-2 record before the bye week. The Dolphins were 6-5 after a win at Oakland in Week 12. The teams remaining on their schedule appeared to put them into the playoffs. Instead, the Dolphins ended the season losing four of their final five games and finished with their second consecutive 7-9 third place finish in the AFC East. Bill Parcells saw his role with the team reduced over the season and is back with the ESPN Sunday pre-game show.

If there is one moment that sums up the Dolphins 2010 season, it was the controversial home loss to the Steelers in Week 7.



Things did not go their way for the Dolphins at home. Miami only won one home game all season.

In the Monday after the regular season ended, it was rumored that Coach Sparano would be given the axe and replaced with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh when team owner Stephen Ross and GM Jeff Ireland flew out to California to interview him. Instead of awarding Sparano with a pink slip, team owner Ross awarded the coach with a two-year extension.

Defensively, Miami has been quietly building one of the top defenses in the NFL. Led by corner Vontae Davis and linebacker Cameron Wake, the Dolphins were ranked eighth in the NFL in yards given up. Linebacker Jason Taylor returns to Miami after spending one season with the Jets.

If the Dolphins are going to improve, quarterback Chad Henne is going to have to cut down on his interceptions after tossing a career-high 19 interceptions compared to completing 61.4% of his passes and 15 touchdowns to Dolphins players. Drafting center Mike Pouncey in the first round from Florida should help protect Henne better. The backfield has gotten less crowded this season with running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown heading elsewhere. The Dolphins added running back Reggie Bush via a trade with the Saints to get more speed on the team. Expect Bush to be used more for his receiving skills than his running skills. The Dolphins drafted running back Daniel Thomas in the second round to be their new feature back.

This is a critical year for quarterback Henne and Coach Sparano and the schedule is not forgiving. Immediately the Dolphins open at home against the Patriots, and then a home game against Houston. Prior to the bye week, the Dolphins will be on the road against Cleveland and San Diego.

The only compelling games on the Dolphins schedule are the Week 6 encounter at the Jets on Monday Night followed by returning to New York 13 days later to play the Giants. The Dolphins have the honor of playing the Bills at home in Week 11, but then four days later play in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.

I doubt that a freak ice storm will hit North Texas that day and if it does, the dome to Cowboys Stadium will be closed.



The Dolphins end the season with games against the Eagles, road games in Buffalo and Foxboro, and close out the season against the Jets.

Given that tough opening, the best case scenario is that the Dolphins start 2-2. If they go 0-4, it will be a long season down in Miami. Another season that ends with the Dolphins on the outside of the playoff picture will result in changes at the quarterback and coaching positions.


BUFFALO: CHANGE IS GOOD

The story surrounding the Bills in the offseason was the redesigning of their uniforms.

Honestly, they need to go back to these:


But it is progress from these…

The Bills last season finished the season 4-4. Problem was that they started the season 0-8. Usually if you start the first 8 games without a win, your season is already doomed.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick enters the season as the starter. A seventh-round pick of the Rams in the 2005 draft, Fitzpatrick replaced quarterback Trent Edwards two games into the 2010 season. Even though Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, both career highs, it was not enough to raise the Bills from their offensive ranking of 25th in the league.

Since the release of Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas after the 1999 season, the Bills have used a first round pick on a running back three times: Willis McGahee in 2003, Marshawn Lynch in 2007, and C.J. Spiller, who was selected in the first round by Buffalo in the 2010. McGahee and Lynch are with other teams in the NFL. Spiller came to the Bills with high expectations, but in his rookie season rushed for a disappointing 283 yards. Ryan Matthews, Jahvid Best, and Toby Gerhat, running backs taken after Spiller, rushed for more yards.

Buffalo’s running game was not doomed thanks to the team retaining veteran Fred Jackson, who went undrafted in 2003, played in a minor league indoor football league, spent a year in the now defunct NFL Europe, and was given an invite to Bills camp in 2006 based on being a Coe University alum like Marv Levy. Jackson rushed for 927 yards on 222 carries and scored five touchdowns.

Defensively the Bills have made some adjustments. Linebacker Shaun Merriman was picked up from the Chargers during the regular season last year and during the off-season Nick Barnett was signed from the Packers to bolster their leadership.



The player who intercepted the pass for a pick-6 against Texas in the National Championship Game back in January 2010 was Buffalo’s 2011, first round pick defensive tackle from Alabama Marcell Dareus. There has been talk about that he could provide the Bills with the necessary pass rush that this team has been lacking over the last few seasons. Dareus did start a trend for the Bills in the draft. The Bills had 9 picks in the NFL Draft last spring; 7 were used on defense. It is a start to improve the league’s 24th ranked defense.

While the Bills have made some improvements in a few areas, they are not enough to put them at the top of the division or even into the playoffs. The AFC East is looking like it will be controlled by the Patriots and Jets for some time, and the rest of the conference is loaded with some highly talented teams.

Buffalo will have at best a 5-win season and will be at the tops of the 2012 NFL Draft.

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