by Robert Ferringo - 07/22/2005
I'm not going to sit here and tell you how great the New England Patriots are. We've all heard it. We know they've won three of the last four Super Bowls. Instead, I'm going to simply say this about them: over the last three years the Patriots have played teams that finished .500 or better in 30 of their 48 regular season games, and they are 22-8 against those squads. Add in the playoffs and they're 28-8 against the best in the NFL. That's 67 percent of their games against winning teams, and they've won about 80 percent of those games. That's domination.
With that in mind, I'm not going to be the idiot sitting here telling you to bet against the Pats. They were 13-4-2 against the spread last year. If you had bet $1,000 on them every game last year you could finally take your wife or mistress on that Mediterranean cruise she's always talked about. But again, that was last year, and when I look at this year's club I will say that I do see some cracks.
If you remember, after they beat the St. Louis Rams in the 2002 Super Bowl, New England came back the next year and went 9-7. After they topped the Carolina Panthers in 2003-04, I had a feeling that they would have a similar hangover last year. But then they signed Corey Dillon and another ring pretty much became a formality. They haven't made any moves to equal the Dillon pickup this year. In fact, they've lost a fair amount from the core of last year's club. Both coordinators, the heart of the defense (Tedy Bruschi), a couple offensive linemen, Ty Law, Keith Traylor and a few other odds and ends are all gone. I understand that they've filled most of those spots, and that their system is the best in the NFL. But I'm just saying that in a league where the margin for error is so small, this could be the end of the road for the NFL's recent dynasty.
Speaking of small margin for error, the Buffalo Bills lost three of their first four games by a total of eight points and missed the playoffs by one game. They had a shot - playing at home with a playoff berth on the table - but they went down in flames against Pittsburgh's third string in Week 17. I still wake up with cold sweats thinking about Mike Mularkey not going for some of those fourth-and-ones in the final quarter, and Rian Lindell shanking a chip-shot field goal. One of my worst gambling moments ever. The type of stuff that makes grown men howl at the moon, and woman grab the kids and hide cowering in the closet.
But enough of that talk. The Bills had the second best defense in the league and the best special teams, and they could only finish 9-7. Mularkey didn't have the stones against the Steelers, but he showed his stones in the offseason by naming J.P. Losman the starter and letting Drew Bledsoe wander off to Dallas. I think Buffalo can compete with New England, but only Willis McGahee stays healthy and Losman doesn't turn the ball over.
The Miami Dolphins will be better under new coach Nick Saban, and they should be the wild card (not in the league, but certainly in this division) because they do have plenty of talent down in South Beach. Look for an upset or three out of them. Also, I know I'm very interested in how Ricky Williams comes back to perform for the team he abandoned at this time last year.
As for the New York Jets, I don't know what to make of this team. I haven't liked them much the last few years, and I expect a bit of a drop off from them this year. I still love Herm Edwards (who PLAYS to WIN the GAME) and am a big fan of Chad Pennington, but his injured shoulder still scares me and I just don't see how Curtis Martin can reproduce his dominant performance from last year.
2005 AFC East previewNEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2004 Record: 17-2 (9-0 home, 8-2 road)
2004 Rankings: 7th offense (11 pass, 7 run); 9th defense (17 pass, 6 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 13-4-2 (6-1-2 home, 7-3 road); 9-9-1 over (3-5-1 h, 6-4 r)
2005 Odds: 13/2 to win Super Bowl, 7/2 to win AFC, 5/11 to win AFC East, 11 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 3rd (.539 opponents 2004 win %)
Returning starters: 18 (9 offense, 9 defense)
Key acquisitions: Monty Beisel, LB (from K.C.); Chad Brown, LB (from Seattle); Tim Dwight, WR (from S.D.); Chad Morton, RB/KR (from Wash.); Chad Scott, CB (from Pitt.); David Terrell, WR (from Chicago); Duane Starks, CB (Arizona)
Key departures: Joe Andruzzi, G (to Cleveland); Ty Law, CB; Adrian Klemm, G (to G.B.); David Patten, WR (to Wash.); Tedy Bruschi, LB (stroke); Keith Traylor, DT (to Miami); Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator (to Cleveland); Charlie Weis, offensive coordinator (to Notre Dame)
Key stat: New England was fourth in scoring offense last year, averaging 27.3 points per game.
Offense: The offensive line won't be as good, but it should be fine. I think they're even better at the skill positions, and I expect Dillon to have another monster year (1,635 yards and 12 TDs). The only real question mark will be how they game plan without Weis, who was outstanding at game preparation.
Defense: They went out and upgraded their only true weakness with two solid corners (Starks and Brown). However, the key will be what Beisel and Brown bring to the table. Bruschi is out for the year because of an offseason stroke, and both Ted Johnson and Willie McGinest are getting up there in age. Still strong up front and the secondary should be active. There may be a drop off because Bruschi was a turnover machine, but the difference shouldn't be crippling.
X-factor: The schedule. They play five 2004 playoff teams in the first eight weeks, with two other games at Carolina and hosting Buffalo. Not easy. However, in the last eight weeks they don't play any 2004 playoff teams other than the Jets (twice).
Outlook: What can you say? They're the champs until someone knocks them off the perch. However, losing both coordinators will be tough to compensate for. Bet against them at your own risk.
2004 Record: 9-7 (5-3 home, 4-4 road)
2004 Rankings: 25th offense (26 pass, 13 run); 2nd defense (3 pass, 7 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 11-5 (5-3 home, 6-2 road); 11-5 over (7-1 home, 4-4 road)
2005 Odds: 33/1 to win Super Bowl, 20/1 to win AFC, 6/1 to win AFC East, 8.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 7th (.531 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 19th (9 offense, 10 defense)
Key acquisitions: Mike Gandy, G (from Chicago); Bennie Anderson, G (Baltimore); Kelly Holcomb, QB (Cleveland)
Key departures: Drew Bledsoe, QB (to Dallas); Pat Williams, DT (to Minnesota); Pierson Prioleau, S (to Washington); Jonas Jennings, OT (to San Fran)
Key stat: As bad as the offense was it still averaged 24.2 points per game, good enough for 7th in the NFL.
Offense: Their offensive line should be better, but it still won't be great. McGahee put up 1,128 yards in just 11 games, but after the Bills traded Travis Henry to Tennessee for a box of donuts, they now lack depth. Without someone to spell McGahee they're trusting in his durability. Look for Lee Evans to have a breakout year opposite Eric Moulds.
Defense: Losing Williams to Minnesota will hurt, but there's no reason this defense shouldn't still dominate. With London Fletcher, TKO Spikes, and James Posey, they have one of the top five linebacking cores in the league. Troy Vincent is trying to make the switch to safety, which should be fine since the presence of Lawyer Milloy and Nate Clements give the Bills the top secondary in the division.
X-factor: Losman. The new QB brings a bit of excitement and mobility to what has been a stagnant offense. However, he also brings inexperience. The idea is that they've been so terrible in the red zone the past two years, Losman's athleticism will give them more flexibility near the goal line.
Outlook: The defense is still nasty, so that will keep them in the hunt. From there, it's up to the youngsters. If Losman, McGahee, and Evans have just solid seasons the Bills can make a run at New England.
NEW YORK JETS
2004 Record: 11-7 (6-2 home, 5-5 road)
2004 Rankings: 12th offense (22 pass, 3 run); 7th (8 pass, 5 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 10-7-1 (4-4 home, 6-3-1 road); 8-10 vs. over (4-4 h, 4-6 r)
2005 Odds: 22-1 to win Super Bowl, 12-1 to win AFC, 3-1 to win AFC East, 9.5 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 4th (.535 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 18 (8 offense, 10 defense)
Key acquisitions: Derrick Blaylock, RB (from K.C.); Laveraneus Coles, WR (from Wash.); Doug Jolley, TE (from Oakland)
Key departures: Jason Ferguson, DT (to Dallas); LaMont Jordan, RB (to Oakland); Doug Brien, K (to Chicago); Anthony Becht, TE (to T.B.); Santana Moss, WR (to Wash.); Kareem McKenzie, OT (to NYG); Sam Cowart, LB (to Minn.)
Key stat: The Jets were second in the NFL with a +17 turnover differential.
Offense: Mike Heimerdinger is coming in and instituting a new offense for the Jets this year with an emphasis on more shots down the field. Pennington has performed well in the controlled, West Coast offense, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts. He will be taking over a disciplined offense (second-least penalized in the NFL) that will again rely heavily on the running game.
Defense: I think they made a mistake by letting Ferguson go and keeping head case and distraction John Abraham. They were one of only six teams to yield less than 100 yards rushing per game, but without Ferguson, that number should go up. Also, their pass defense will be very suspect. They're starting Pete Hunter, David Barrett, Erik Coleman and Reggie Tongue. Not good.
X-factor: Pennington's shoulder. The Jets new offense will call for him to throw deep more often. Pennington missed three games last year, and Curtis Martin carried the load. If Pennington isn't 100 percent, I don't know if Martin can do it again.
Outlook: I haven't like the Jets the last two years. I was right in 2003 (6-10) and wrong in 2004 (10-6). I think they lost more than they gained from last year's team, and they have a tough schedule. I'll leave it at that.
2004 Record: 4-12 (3-5 home, 1-7 road)
2004 Rankings: 29th offense (21 pass, 31 run); 8th defense (2 pass, 31 run)
2004 Against the Spread: 7-9 (2-6 home, 5-3 road); 9-6-1 vs. over (4-4 h, 5-2-1 r)
2005 Odds: 80-1 to win Super Bowl, 40-1 to win AFC, 12/1 to win AFC East, 6 as O/U win total
2005 Strength of Schedule: 1st (.547 opp. win %)
Returning starters: 17 (11 offense, 6 defense)
Key acquisitions: Kevin Carter, DE (from Tennessee); Mario Edwards, CB (from Tampa Bay); Gus Frerotte, QB (from Minnesota); Vonnie Holliday, DE (from Kansas City); Tebucky Jones, S (from New Orleans); Keith Traylor, DT (from New England); Ricky Williams (from Malaysia); Ronnie Brown, RB (draft)
Key departures: Jay Fiedler, QB (NYJ); Patrick Surtain, CB (to K.C.); Sammy Knight, S (to K.C.); Morlon Greenwood, LB (to Houston); Rob Konrad, FB (to Oakland); Bryan Robinson, DT (to Cincy)
Key stat: Their 3.5 yards per rush average was tied for worst in the league.
Offense: Gus Frerotte will most likely start for the Dolphins over A.J. Feely. Frerotte is more familiar with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's offense (they worked together in Minnesota). With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, they may be able to control the ball and keep themselves in some games. However, that will be tough since their offensive line is still terrible.
Defense: This is another team that is converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4. The key component is Jason Taylor, who will be making the switch to outside linebacker. The rush defense actually wasn't as bad as the numbers indicated last year. They were one of only three teams to face over 500 rush attempts - mostly because they were behind in just about every game.
X-factor: Williams. He's up to 215 pounds, which is still below his normal playing weight (around 232) but at a level where he could provide some offense. However, he still needs to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Outlook: Well, they won't be an automatic W for any teams this year. The defense still has talent, but is changing schemes and may not be as good as last year. However, you can see with all the personnel moves that new coach Nick Saban is laying his foundation.
If you enjoyed Doc's 2005 AFC East preview, check back throughout the week for more NFL division previews.
Our early bird full season football package is now available! Football is what made Doc famous and no one knows college and NFL better than the team at Doc's Sports. Even thought we are still weeks away we have been getting many signups for our early bird special - full season only $725. This will increase to our normal price of $975 once the season gets closer so sign up now and take advantage of this great offer. Sign up for football picks here.