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Around the AFC East

This Friday marks the beginning of a new Friday tradition.  It begins something called "Around the AFC East," in which the 4 SB Nation AFC East bloggers exchange questions with each other so that we can get to know our opponents a little bit better.  Onto the questions I asked:

Phinsider: How can a Jets' fan be optimistic about the upcoming season when the Jets were just 1-4 (including playoffs) against teams with records over .500 and 7 of their 10 wins in 2006 were against teams with sub-.500 records?

NY Landing Strip: When aren't Jets fan optimistic?  They have been optimistic since 1969, the year they walked away with a championship and have suffered ever since.  I'm not going to lie this season is going to be very tough.  Whenever you have low expectations and exceed them (i.e. Saints, Jets) the schedule makers really stick it to you the following year.  When you consider the big juggernauts the Jets have to go through (AFC East 2x, Baltimore,Philly, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Dallas) you get 11 REALLY TOUGH match-ups.

In an optimistic Jet fans eye, you get the addition of a proven running back in TJ, a smooth second year in the same offense, and a healthy QB for the first time in 2 offseasons.  Add a fluid offensive line, a defensive that added a good 8 DE/LB'ers, and the big ability of shutdown corner Darrelle Revis and run clogger LB David Harris and they could survive.  A reality check says 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 with a few swings in our way.  Predicting 10-6 again would be a pipe dream but one does not know how teams perform year to year, so optimistically maybe the good teams could throw the Jets a few Wins.

Phinsider: How much of a negative impact will the losses of Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, and London Fletcher have on Buffalo's defense this season?

Buffalo Rumblings: I don't fret too much about the loss of the two linebackers.  Spikes is nearing the end of his career, and he's lost a lot of his speed at this point.  He's also quite fragile - it seems like he was dinged up nearly every game last season, missing chunks of playing time along the way.  As for Fletcher, he had nice stats for us, but the majority of his 146 tackles were made too far downfield for him to have been considered truly effective in this defense.  The only thing those two brought to the defense that will be missed is leadership.
    The loss of Clements hurts a bit more.  I don't think I need to remind you how especially effective Clements was against your Dolphins (save that 2005 game where Chris Chambers made him look absolutely silly).  There was no shot at re-signing him for $80 million; to be honest, I doubt we'd have offered half that.  Our style of defense (Tampa 2) does not place emphasis on cornerbacks; it requires pass rushers.  That's why we went out and traded for a holdout pass-rushing DT (Walker) rather than attempt to re-sign Clements.  You're seeing this trend everywhere with the Cover-2: Indy let Nick Harper and Jason David walk.  Chicago probably won't keep both Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher next year.  Buffalo is ahead of the curve with this development.
    Honestly, I don't expect to see much of a drop-off defensively this season.  I expect there will be growing pains early, especially with a rookie MLB in Paul Posluszny calling the shots.  But the talent level, in my mind, is equal.  As long as our defensive line can consistently create pressure on quarterbacks, we should once again finish near the middle of the pack.  The only thing that scares me is our still-weak run defense, but again, I expect that to improve as the season wears on.

Phinsider: How much of a distraction, if any, will this Asante Samuel issue be and how much of an impact on the football field would Samuel's absence be?

Pats Pulpit: Short answer: It depends. I'm not going to worry about it unless it remains unresolved when we get to preseason. Until then, it's not a distraction at all. New England's players and fans went through something similar last season with Deion Branch, but this is different, and while a lot of the fans flipped out, the players took it all in stride.

The players know the deal. This is a business, and if a teammate deems it necessary to holdout, that doesn't impact their own preparation and mostly doesn't affect other players' relationships with the club.

(By the way, the Patriots lost other receivers than just Branch. Even with a crew of cast-offs, second raters and an aging veteran (Troy Brown), Brady worked well with the receivers, though it took a while for them to all get on the same page. By the way, it's pretty much a whole new crew of receivers again.)

But losing an excellent cornerback is a lot different from losing one of several receivers, and losing Samuel could potentially have a much greater impact on the field. I liked Samuel right off the bat three years ago when a lot of people said he was just another mediocre corner who's too short for the NFL. Last season certainly showed how valuable he can be -- at least in the right system.

The problem is New England really doesn't have anyone to adequately replace him. Ellis Hobbs is a good bookend, but he's obviously already on the field. Otherwise, it's Ray Mickens, Randall Gay, Antwain Spann, Chad Scott and the aging Tory James. All serviceable. None particularly awe-inspiring. There's always the chance Troy Brown plays a little more defense than usual with the Patriots now stacked at receiver and the d-backs (especially with all the injuries the last few years) needing an extra hand.

By the same token, I'm not ready to pay him $10 million a year, as some teams allegedly would. (I wrote about my doubts when the Boston Herald reported the Jets were one of those teams.) And I doubt anyone's going to give up two first-round picks on an unmatched offer sheet.

The defensive secondary might already be the weakest link this season, so the Patriots need to do whatever is possible and reasonable to keep Samuel in Foxboro. But ultimately they need to stay true to form, and that means trading him if he can't accept the $7 million raise they've already offered him. I don't foresee them letting Samuel sit at home for 10 games and then dealing with it in mid-November.

There's a major deadline in exactly one month (July 15), so we'll know a lot more then.

Now, to check out my responses to their questions, head on over to either Buffalo Rumblings, NY Landing Strip, and Pats Pulpit.