OVERVIEW: AFC EAST
In the AFC East I expect to see the Patriots drop off a bit, but not much, the reason for the projected drop off is mainly due to the fact that the Patriots will be without the services of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, both have moved on to head coaching positions, Weis with Notre Dame and Crennel with the Cleveland Browns. Eric Mangini is the new defensive coordinator, while Bill Belichick will be calling the plays on offense himself.
The Patriots play seven games this season against 2004 playoff teams and four of those affairs will take place on the road, the Patriots also lost a lot of talent such as WR David Patton, OG Joe Andruzzi, and CB Ty Law via free agency and very well could be without their defensive leader LB Tedy Bruschi whose status is uncertain following an off season stroke, then there is the matter of the Patriots winning three of the past four Super Bowls, meaning that the Patriots have played nine post season games above and beyond the normal sixteen game regular season schedule over the past four years and have had to deal with all of the off season commitments and hoopla that come with winning the big game, also, dont forget that the team that wins the Super Bowl is in the least best position come draft time, meaning that the Fresh Blood talent pool on the Patriots has depleted due to their success.
The saving grace for the Patriots in the AFC East comes from the fact that the Jets did not help themselves a whole lot in the draft other than taking Kicker Mike Nugent out of Ohio State with their top selection, like the Patriots, the Jets also lost a lot of talent via free agency with the departure of starters WR Santana Moss, TE Anthony Becht, RT Kareem McKenzie, and DT Jason Ferguson, however, the greatest loss to free agency for the Jets may turn out to be RB Lamont Jordan who could have stepped in quite nicely if 32 year old RB Cutis Martin goes down to injury.
However, the Jets were smart enough to pick up former Dolphin QB Jay Fiedler to back up starting QB Chad Pennington who has been injury prone as of late, Jet HC Herm Edwards replaced his offensive coordinator Paul Hackett with former Titan offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger which will be interesting because Heimerdinger likes to throw the deep ball, meanwhile, Pennington is fresh off shoulder surgery and is better suited for the west coast style of short ball passing.
Buffalo finished the 2004 season strong down the stretch in winning 8 of 9 games before losing their final game of the season at home to the Steelers, however, that season ending loss to Pittsburgh was costly as it proved to be a difference maker in deciding who went to the playoffs and who stayed at home, the Bills are indeed a team on the rise with a really good defense and excellent special teams, however, they probably booted QB Drew Bledsoe out of town a year too early and will be starting last years #1 draft pick JP Losman in his place which of course means some growing pains this season for the young QB.
Miami finished the 2004 season with a shoddy 4-12 record but like Buffalo looks to be a team on the rise in the AFC East, I won’t be foolhardy enough to predict a playoff berth after a four win season but I do see major improvement for the Dolphins this season and think a seven or eight win season is not out of the realm of possibility when considering that the Dolphins now have Nick Saban at the helm as their new HC.
Unlike Steve Spurrier when he made his NFL debut with the Skins, Nick Saban was smart enough to go out and get experienced NFL assistants, Saban brought in former Viking offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to run the offense and former Charger coach Hudson Houck to run the defense, Saban also engineered one of the best drafts of any team in the league, look for former Auburn RB Ronnie Brown to make an immediate impact.
In closing, the Patriots finished up 2004 with an impressive 13-5-1 ATS mark on the heels of posting a 14-4-1 ATS mark in 2003, can New England once again dominate the spread wars in 2005? Probably so, but not to the extent of the past couple of seasons, you see my friend Joe Public type bettors will in all likelihood view the Patriots as a Go against team in 2005 due to the loss of Weis and Crennel, however, Belichick is still the HC and Tom Brady is still the QB under center.
With that being said I would recommend making a play on the Patriots whenever they are receiving points in a doggie role, not much value will be had this season with the Jets, meanwhile, both Buffalo and Miami will be unpredictable during the first eight weeks of the season due to the fact that both teams will have new starting QBs under center and both teams have weaknesses up front on the offensive line, in Miami’s case their players have to learn new schemes on both sides of the ball due to a whole new coaching staff.