Doc's 2007 AFC East Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 08/20/2007
We began our in-depth division-by-division look at the National Football League by tackling the worst division in football, the NFC North. Now we're taking a small step up the food chain to deconstruct the second-weakest group in our beloved league this season: the AFC East.
The safest bet you could ever possibly make is that the New England is going to earn its sixth division title in the last seven years. Is it worth the -600 price tag that this wager currently calls for? I say yes. But really that's a personal choice, like religion or AIDS. It's truly easy money. The Patriots are 27-8 against the rest of the division since the start of 2001 and have almost as many players that have been to the Pro Bowl on their roster (12) as there are on the rest of the AFC rosters combined (16).
As for the rest of the runts, if the AFC East were the Jackson 5 then the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins would be Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, respectively. That would leave the Pats as Michael and Marty Booker as Jackie. The Jets are desperately trying to be the Patriots, only with half the talent. The Bills are in the eighth stage of a 27-stage rebuilding project that began at halftime of Super Bowl XXVIII. And Miami? They're still looking for an ample replacement for Jay Fiedler. I don't see how any of the three bastard brothers can make a playoff run in the stacked AFC.
But just in case they actually go through with the formality of having a contest to see who wins the AFC East crown, here's Doc's 2007 AFC East Preview:
1) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2006 Record: 14-5 (6-3 home, 8-2 road)
2006 Against the Spread:12-7 (4-5 home, 8-2 road); 8-11 vs. total (3-6 h, 5-5 r)
2006 Rankings: 11th offense (12th pass, 12th rush); 6th defense (12th pass, 5th rush)
2007 Odds: 5/1 to win SB, 5/2 to win AFC, 1/6 to win AFC East, 11 wins O/U
Outlook: I've already discussed on this very site why the Patriots won't win the Super Bowl, and it mainly has to do with lack of depth at key positions where they have injury-prone players. But beyond that, they are absolutely loaded. The offense is stacked, the defense returns nine starters from the No. 6 unit in the league last year, and they have the top quarterback in the world to go along with the best coaching. In a word: devastating. They, like Chicago in the NFC North, are in a division surrounded by perpetually rebuilding organizations. The Pats can almost skate through the regular season and will again be judged by what they are able to do in the postseason.
So now that we have New England penciled in around 13-3 straight up, what is their viability as a winning wager? The numbers on this team will be through the roof, and I expect them to be favored in at least 13 of their games this year. I also have them set to be a double-digit favorite in at least five games this season. It's almost like USC putting five teams from the Mountain West on the schedule. Can they cover such large chalk? New England is just 3-5 against the spread in its last eight games as a favorite of 9.0 or greater and they are just 7-8 ATS in those situations in the Belichick Era. That being said, they are still 34-21-1 ATS over the past three seasons and a remarkable 23-8-1 in regular season road games during that span. They are 14-9-1 as an underdog over the past five years, and I do expect them to be posted as a dog in Cincinnati and in Dallas, and possibly in Indianapolis and in Baltimore. I would love to say that the Pats are a team to fade this year, but I just trust the consistency and reliability of Belichick and Brady. I would look for spots to go against them (like if they're favored in those games I just mentioned) and look for value plays on underdogs against them (Philly and Pitt come to Foxboro). Tread lightly, and don't forget that the best team isn't always the best bet.
2) NEW YORK JETS
2006 Record: 10-7 (4-4 home, 6-3 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 11-6 (5-3 home, 6-3 road); 10-7 vs. total (5-3 h, 5-4 r)
2006 Rankings: 25th offense (17th pass, 20th rush); 20th defense (14th pass, 20th rush)
2007 Odds: 25/1 to win SB, 15/1 to win AFC, 4/1 to win AFC East, 8.5 wins O/U
Outlook: The Jets were in this exact same situation just three short years ago. In 2004 they were a pair of shanked field goals away from the AFC Championship and were staked as a Super Bowl sleeper in 2005. They promptly fell on their face while going 6-10. The Jets were a surprise team last year, taking advantage of one of the easiest schedules in recent memory to go 10-6. The Jets played just four games against teams that finished over .500, and two of them were losses to division front-runner New England. So now they are again penciled in as a postseason favorite and are supposed to challenge the Mighty Patriots for divisional supremacy. This year they aren't going to sneak up on anyone and they are forced to play three of their first five and three of their last five on the road. (The good news is that they only leave the Eastern Time Zone once - a Thanksgiving game at Dallas.
So where does that leave us? Well, I say 8-8 and in a holding pattern. I really like Eric Mangini, and I think their unique systems on both sides of the ball are tough to game plan. Thomas Jones was a fantastic pickup, and they have game breakers all over the offense (Washington, Cotchery, Smith, etc.). However, I think they still rely more on guile than power, and I don't think this team is strong enough to line up and trade blows with the best teams in the conference. I think they have to be a team to fade early, as their first two against New England and at Baltimore are as tough as it gets. But I think after they start 2-5 you'll be able to find some value on them in the second half of the year.
3) BUFFALO BILLS
2006 Record: 7-9 (2-6 home, 1-7 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 10-6 (5-3 home, 5-3 road); 7-9 vs. total (4-4 h, 3-5 r)
2006 Rankings: 30th offense (28th pass, 27th rush); 18th defense (7th pass, 28th rush)
2007 Odds: 75/1 to win SB, 60/1 to win AFC, 15/1 to win AFC East, 6.0 wins O/U
Outlook: Scrappy. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think about this year's Buffalo team. I do see improvement, especially along the offensive line and on the attack group in general. However, I don't see how a team can lose the top three defensive players - TKO Spikes, Nate Clements, and London Fletcher - from an already average unit (No. 18 in the league) and expect to see an improvement in its record. They were feisty as an underdog last year, posting a phenomenal 6-2 ATS mark as a puppy. The last time they had a winning record as a dog? In 2004 they went 5-3. But then they came back in 2005 with less talent and more injuries and were just 3-7 getting the points. Look for history to repeat itself.
Marv Levy and Dick Jauron are doing a great job of laying a foundation of future success. And Bills fans are a patient, hopeful bunch so apathy will be more of a problem for this organization than pressure to win. J.P. Losman is a legit NFL starter and has a stable of quick, explosive wideouts. The defense will rally around Paul Posluzny and Angelo Crowell. The secondary is up-and-coming, and the offensive line is actually becoming a strength as opposed to a weakness. However, there's still a ton of inexperience plaguing this team. As a result, I think the Bills will have a lot of trouble closing games and that will lead to a lot of heartache for both backers and Bills fans. This is the proverbial Step Backwards Year leading to the Step Forward next season.
4) MIAMI DOLPHINS
2006 Record:6-10 (4-4 home, 2-6 road)
2006 Against the Spread: 6-10 (3-5 home, 4-4 road); 7-7-2 vs. total (4-4 h, 3-3-2 r)
2006 Rankings: 20th offense (13th pass, 22nd rush); 4th defense (5th pass, 8th rush)
2007 Odds: 75/1 to win SB, 75/1 to win AFC, 12/1 to win AFC East, 7.0 wins O/U
Outlook: Hey, they're 2-0 in the preseason so maybe the Fins aren't as bad as I think they are. Naaaah. The Dolphins are still a steaming pile of mess, in my estimation, and one of the least talented teams in the league. On the offensive side of the ball, the specter of Cleo Lemon looms as shell-shocked Trent Green struggles to operate behind a Swiss cheese offensive line. I think Ronnie Brown looks fantastic, and I look for a huge season out of him. But their line is young, their wideouts have a tendency to disappear, and they now lack a legit option at tight end. Will they have their moments? Sure. No Cam Cameron offense can be that bad. But they won't have enough pop to top upper echelon teams and won't be able to hang onto the ball long enough to support their aging defense.
I'm also looking for a noticeable drop-off from last year's No. 4 defense. Their defensive line averages 12 years of NFL experience and the Dolphins are leaning on aging, injury-prone linebackers Zach Thomas and Joey Porter. They have a new DC in Dom Capers, and Dom likes to blitz from all over the field. The problem is that the Miami secondary is very below average. They mustered just eight INT's last year (31st in the league) and a blitz-happy scheme is going to open the door for the big play and expose their corners and safeties. That's a big shift from the attitude they took last year - be stout and don't give up big plays. In the end, I think they are still a couple years from competing. However, I think if the starters are healthy they have enough pride and talent to cover some thick lines as a home. But they have four of their last seven against 2006 playoff teams, with two more coming against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They could provide a payday or two early on, but I don't see them hanging in there in December when they will be playing for a paycheck and their talented opponents will be playing for the postseason.
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