NFL Preview

1. Are the Buffalo Bills the worst team in the NFL?

I really think that they might be. Statistically they were the second worst team in the NFL last season (outgained by 85.8 ypg) and have done nothing in the offseason to upgrade their personnel. Marv Levy returns to the organization as the general manager at the age of 80, but after his first draft the Bills faithful may be wishing he returned as the head coach or better yet not at all.

Their draft wasn’t quite as bad as most made it out to be (including myself), but the reaches they made with their first two picks and their failures to address their obvious needs along the offensive line and at quarterback certainly made it one of the worst.

Levy has brought in Dick Jauron to be the head coach, as well as Steve Fairchild to run the offense and Perry Fewell to run the defense. Fairchild is coming from St. Louis where he coached under Mike Martz, and is hoping to run a similar style to the one that Martz ran with the Rams. I say hopes because I’m not quite sure he has the talent offensively to pull that off. The talent at running back is there in McGahee, but outside of him and the very promising Lee Evans at receiver this offense is lacking at just about every other position. I’m just not sure I agree with the decision to of coming in and implementing a pass happy offense with mediocre talent at quarterback and receiver, and a below average offensive line that is more suited to run block.

On the defensive side of the ball they are much better off, and new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell should have a much easier time transitioning the unit to a Tampa Bay style cover 2 defense. The secondary is above average and will fuse solid veteran talent with young promising talent. At safety Troy Vincent is no longer one of the best at his position, but will provide the veteran tutelage that will help bring along the younger players in the secondary (Ko Simpson, Donte Whitner, Ashton Youboty). Nate Clements is one of the league’s best shutdown corners, and coupled with Terrence McGee finishes off what should be one of the league’s better secondaries.

The team’s most talented position is at linebacker where they’ll likely start Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Angelo Crowell. Fletcher and Spikes are starting to show some aging, but both should still be considered one of the best at their positions. Spikes is coming off of a season ending injury that he suffered in week 3 (torn Achilles), but due to his work ethic and dedication should show no signs of decline.

Along the defensive line they had their issues a year ago becoming one of the worst against the run (30th) giving up 100 yards or more in 12 of the 16 games. They’ve added some young talent through free agency and the draft, but outside of a nice pass rusher in Aaron Schobel there isn’t much to like here as it will be a fairly inexperienced unit learning a rather different cover 2 scheme.

Overall I just can’t see this team winning many games this season. It’s bad enough that both sides of the ball will be learning new schemes, but when the talent level is already sub par the transition becomes that much more difficult. Their offense will likely be one of the league’s worst, and while their defense has plenty of talent at linebacker and a promising secondary their struggles against the run will force them to remain in the bottom half of the league as well. Prediction: 3-13

Key Additions: Matt Bowen, Andre Davis, Melvin Fowler, Aaron Gibson, Matt Morgan, Craig Nall, Peerless Price, Tutan Reyes, Robert Royal, Anthony Thomas, Kiwaukee Thomas, Larry Tripplett

Key Losses: Sam Adams, Justin Bannan, Mark Campbell, Ron Edwards, Lawyer Milloy, Eric Moulds, Mike Williams

2. Are the Miami Dolphins now ready to unseat the Patriots as the best team in the division?

Yes. Not only are they ready to do it, I’m predicting that they will. People have tried to downplay their winning streak at the end of last season, but regardless of who you beat a six game winning streak in this league is a hell of an accomplishment. Nick Saban did lose both of his coordinators from a year ago, but he made two excellent hires in Mike Mularkey and Dom Capers both of whom were head coaches in the NFL last season.

These upgrades at the coaching positions are no doubt significant, but Miami’s most significant upgrade may have come when they traded a second round pick to the Minnesota Vikings to acquire quarterback Duante Culpepper. Culpepper, if healthy, is the franchise quarterback this team has been lacking since Dan Marino retired. What Marino lacked most when he was with the Dolphins was a consistent running game, a deficiency this team shouldn’t lack with first round pick Ronnie Brown and a rebuilt and much improved offensive line. The receiving unit is led by Chris Chambers, a player who will use his impressive speed, soft hands, crisp route running skills along with the addition of Culpepper to build upon his 1,118 yards and 11 touchdown season from a year ago. Marty Booker is a perfect complement to Chambers as a possession receiver, and Randy McMichael is one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL.

The defense will remain one of the league’s best under the leadership off the field from Saban and Capers, along with the on the field leadership from longtime veterans Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. This along with the drastic improvements on offense and the fourth easiest schedule gives the Dolphins a great chance to not only return to the playoffs, but knock of the Patriots and claim the AFC East crown. Prediction: 11-5

Key Additions: Will Allen, Fred Beasley, Kelly Campbell, Deke Cooper, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Andre Goodman, Keith Heinrich, Sedrick Hodge, Mike Pearson, Justin Peelle, LJ Shelton

Key Losses: Gus Frerotte, Bryan Gilmore, Reggie Howard, Tebucky Jones, Sam Madision, Stockar McDougle, Sage Rosenfals, Junior Seau, Kiwaukee Thomas, Ricky Williams

3. Are the New England Patriots still considered one of the best teams in the AFC and one of the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl?

As long as Tom Brady is still their quarterback and Bill Belichick their head coach it’s hard to doubt this team, but with significant losses in personnel and on the coaching staff it’s hard for me to still consider them a favorite in the AFC. They no longer have the front line talent that helped them get to, and win, three Super Bowls in the past six seasons. They may have suffered their most significant loss yet this offseason when they decided to let kicker Adam Vinatieri sign with the Indianapolis Colts. Not only did they let him bolt, but for him to end up in Indy has to make it hurt that much more.

On defense they let Willie McGinest go, a player that was not only one of their most influential on the field but was a huge player in the locker room as well. The Patriots defense should take yet another step back this season as they remain undersized at linebacker and it is still yet to be seen if Rodney Harrison will bounce back from last year’s season ending injury. The team brought in Junior Seau to help at linebacker, but all that did was add another aging veteran to the mix. Tedy Bruschi is already sidelined with a wrist injury, and their lack of depth at the position could become a huge achilles heel during the season. Their secondary remains suspect, and if Harrison suffers any kind of setback it’s scary to think how bad it might get. The defensive line is one of the league’s best, but Bilichick’s coaching and scheming has hidden this defense’s other deficiencies in the past, but I’m not sure the talent level is there anymore for him to pull that off.

Offensively they are in good hands with Brady under center and the running game should be improved with a healthy Corey Dillon and the drafting of first round pick Laurence Maroney. They have questions at receiver, especially with the prolonged holdout of Deion Branch who should end up signing before the start of the regular season. The way Brady spreads the ball as well as their talent at the tight end position with Ben Watson and Daniel Graham really masks their lack of talent at the receiver position. Their offense won’t be one of the league’s best, but a healthy offensive line and the return of Dillon should enable it to be one of the league’s most balanced.

The Patriots continue to let the players go that helped them to become the dominant team they’ve become over the past six seasons, and their lack of success at reloading should finally get the best of them. Brady needs to have another career year for this team to remain atop this division, and even with that I don’t see them coming out on top. Prediction: 9-7

Key Additions: Reche Caldwell, Barry Gardner, Tebucky Jones, Jeremy Loyd, Mel Mitchell, Eric Warfield, Junior Seau, Laurence Maroney

Key Losses: Tom Ashworth, Chad Brown, Matt Chatham, Andre Davis, Tim Dwight, Christian Fauria, David Givens, Cedric James, Willie McGinest, Tyrone Poole, Duane Starks, Adam Vinatieri

4. Are the Jets already doomed going into this season now that it looks like Curtis Martin will likely miss the majority, if not all, of the upcoming season?

It’s likely they were doomed either way, but losing their future Hall of Famer and workhorse before the season even begins is certainly a huge blow. First Marshall Faulk then Curtis Martin, I just hope both of them are able to play at least one more season next year and get the farewell tours they deserve.

The Jets offseason started rather unfortunately when head coach Herm Edwards quit the team and headed to Kansas City. The Jets then made somewhat of a surprising hire bringing in first year New England defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. The 35 year old Mangini, along with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton make up the most inexperienced coaching staff in the NFL. Schottenheimer has never called a play as a coach at any level, and Sutton was with the team a year ago but as the linebacker coach. This group had a very promising draft, but it’s likely their learning curve will be way too great for this team to have a very successful season.

They’ve finally made the decision to again hand the role of starting quarterback to Chad Pennington, whose below average arm strength should be better suited to the more balanced offense they are preparing to run under Schottenheimer as opposed to the aerial attack they tried to run under last year’s OC Jerry Heimerdinger. The absence of Martin and an inexperienced (but promising) offensive line should make for a long season, however, for whom ever is the quarterback in this new system.

Kevan Barlow was brought in after it was determined that the talent at running back was below average, but it’s unlikely he’ll have anyone in New York forgetting about Martin’s absence anytime soon. Laveraneus Coles has become inconsistent the past two seasons, but in his defense he hasn’t really had much consistency at the quarterback position. Justin McCareins too has been inconsistent, and so much so lately he’s been rumored to be on the trading block. The rest of the players at receiver are below average talent wise, but rookie Brad Smith should occasionally be good for a big play. Chris Baker and Doug Jolley are nice options at tight end, and should be used often in this new offense.

Defensively the Jets lost questionably their best two players in John Abraham and Ty Law, but return one of the league’s brightest young stars on that side of the ball in Jason Vilma. Outside of Vilma there is little talent elsewhere, and due to this and transitioning from a cover 2 to a 3-4 defense it’s likely this will be one of the league’s worst defenses. Although they may not be the worst team in this division they’re still one of the league’s youngest, and due to loads of inexperience on the roster and in the coaching staff I can’t see them doing very well this season. Prediction: 4-12

Key Additions: Eric Smith, Patrick Ramsay, Kellen Clemens, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Andre Dyson, Nick Mangold

Key Losses: Wayne Chrebet, Kevin Mawae, Ty Law, Jay Fiedler, Jason Fabini, John Abraham, Curtis Martin

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