With the draft over, and the majority of free agents settled into new homes, it's time to begin speculating about the upcoming season. So, in the AFC East, the Dolphins looks to be a sure contender to repeat as division champs, but here are my speculations at this point:
The New England Patriots (11-5 last season)
Offense: The Patriots will get back Tom "Golden Boy" Brady, but there are still questions on the health of that leg. The offense retains much of its vaunted firepower with Wes Welker and Randy Moss, and free agent Fred Taylor should add stability to a rather inconsistent running core (adding Brandon Tate will be something to watch for, he has explosive abilities but an awful attitude). Brady must come back healthy, because Kevin O'Connell may not be as effective as Matt Casell, departed for Kansas City.
Defense: The weakness remains the pass defense, which did add young guys like Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, who figure to start with the departure of Ellis Hobbs. However, the defense is still a strange combination of age (Thomas and Harrison) and inexperience (the aforementioned). Jerrod Mayo must make up for the departure of Mike Vrabel, and Shawn Springs will need to keep up with the fast receivers on teams such as the Dolphins and Colts.
Predictions: They play the same tough schedule as the other AFC East teams (the NFC and AFC South), but also have to contend with Denver away and Baltimore at home. They still have the most explosive offense in the AFC, and the defense, while young, has a lot of talent and speed. They will struggle early, but if Brady stays healthy, will be surging late in the season. I predict: 11-5, division champs and 3rd seed in playoffs
The Buffalo Bills (7-9 last season)
Offense: This unit will struggle to maintain chemistry. Terrell Owens and Marshawn Lynch both have character issues (Team Obliterator comes to mind), and Trent Edwards may find himself stuck between selfish players. Lee Evans is still an explosive threat, but will need to establish a consistent presence.
Defense: A very strong, slugging defense. Aaron Maybin will join Aaron Schobel and Marcus Stroud upfront, and the linebackers will be hard-hitting, especially the young Paul Posluzny. The secondary is still weak though, with Donte Whitner and Terrence McGee expected to shoulder their load of high-octane offenses.
Predictions: They get Cleveland at home, and go on the road at developing Kansas City, so they should have an easier time there. However, they do not match up well against the majority of their opponents, and will struggle much as they did in the second half of 2008. I predict: 7-9
The New York Jets (9-7 last season)
Offense: Easily the worst offensive unit in the AFC East. The departures of Brett Favre and Laveranues Coles will decimate the productivity of the unit. The offensive line is solid, but Mark Sanchez figures to start as a rookie, and there will be a learning curve. Unlike Matt Ryan, Sanchez does not have an explosive runner to support him (draftee Shonn Greene is far from speedy, and Thomas Jones is beginning to show his age), and the receiving core is led by Jerricho Cotchery and former Mizzou QB Brad Smith (a true Pat White comparison, for those looking for one). They will struggle often to establish the run, and Sanchez will struggle if turned to often.
Defense: A unit that figures to get better with the additions of former Ravens Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, but inconsistency plagued the secondary last year, and nothing was done to stabilize the unit. Kerry Rhodes is a great tackler, but lacks coverage skills, and the pass-happy units of Indianapolis, New England, and New Orleans will dominate them over the top. Also instrumental is the success of Kris Jenkins, who must dominate offensive lines as he did early last year.
Predictions: They luckily get to play the hapless Bengals and Raiders (away), which should help them in the short run, but with little offense, they will struggle through the AFC and NFC South, as well as the division. I predict: 5-11
The Miami Dolphins (11-5, division champs last season)
Offense: Chad Pennington returns with an improved offensive line (swapping Samson Satele for Jake Grove) that hopes to better a rather mundane running average between the tackles. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will continue to run well in the Wildcat, and with the young Pat White in play, figure to see new formations and variations on the WC in order to disorient defenses. The only concern is the receiving core, which must improve the red zone offense. Ted Ginn needs to prove his first-round draft status, and Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, and the young Patrick Turner (or Brandon London) must step up in every situation. Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos will also have to contribute in the passing game in order to become a top-tier offense.
Defense: A young unit that will need to find an identity. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith figure to start as rookies, and must acclimate quickly to the fast offenses of the AFC and NFC South. Will Allen, Yeremiah Bell, and Gibril Wilson will also need to maintain a secondary that got beat up several times last year. The linebackers remain a question of effectiveness, as Joey Porter will be expected to live up to last season's success. Incoming Cameron Wake will have to increase the strong side rush, and Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, and Matt Roth must improve their rush defense. The defensive line also must show progress, as the loss of Vonnie Holiday will have an impact. Kendall Langford and Philip Merling are young, and will need to become more effective at stopping the run, and pursuing the quarterback.
Predictions: The offense will be the most hardworking unit in the game, attempting to find new ways to utilize their talent. Ginn will emerge through these schemes as a true #1 receiver, and Pat White will be the hardest player to account for in the game. However, the defense will struggle to keep the ball in front of them, and will have to overcome their relative inexperience. I predict: 10-6, 5th seed in playoffs as wildcard
Feel free to do with this as you please!