2007 Preview: AFC East

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 02, 2007

The AFC East looked like a one-horse open sleigh at the start of the 2006 season. It turned into the toughest division in football. It sent two teams to the playoffs, the Dolphins proved surprisingly resilient with a winning record against Quality Opponents, and the AFC East posted the best out-of-division record in football.
The Patriots remain the class of the division for the foreseeable future. Even with the temporary losses of Richard Seymour (out six weeks on PUP list) and Rodney Harrison (four-week suspension for involvement with human-growth hormone), they might be the class of the entire league right now.
But the footsteps are getting as loud as the CHFF crew racing across a hollow tin floor in tap shoes on the way to the all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet: the Jets beat the Patriots in New England last year, the Dolphins crushed the Patriots with a shocking 21-0 December win in Miami, and the year began with Buffalo putting a 19-17 scare into New England at Foxboro.
(last year's record: 12-4; 2-3 vs. Quality Opponents; lost to Indy in AFC title game) 
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
Major additions:
RB Sammy Morris (Miami)
TE Kyle Brady (Jacksonville)
WR Donte' Stallworth (Philadelphia)
WR Wes Welker (Miami)
WR Randy Moss (Oakland)
LB Adalius Thomas (Baltimore)
Major subtractions:
RB Corey Dillon (released/retired)
TE Daniel Graham (Denver)
LB Tully Banta-Cain (San Francisco)
P Todd Sauerbrun (Denver) 
Draft choices:
1 (24) Brandon Meriweather, db, Miami.
4 (127) Kareem Brown, dt, Miami.
5 (171) Clint Oldenburg, ot, Colorado St.
6 (180) Justin Rogers, lb, SMU.
6 (202) Mike Richardson, db, Notre Dame.
6 (208) Justise Hairston, rb, Central Connecticut St.
6 (209) Corey Hilliard, ot, Oklahoma St.
7 (211) Oscar Lua, lb, Southern Cal.
7 (247) Mike Elgin, g, Iowa.
New England sucks because:
Gillette Stadium is so quiet it reminds us of the girls we slept with in college. It's a combination of poor acoustics, highest-in-the-league ticket prices that force out the unseemly, boisterous drunks (you people, in other words) and a fan base that's grown blasé about winning. Toss in a generally reserved and inexpressive regional Yankee zeitgeist and, well, you have a stadium that will never be confused with one of the over-stuffed, over-lubricated, under-aged hot-chick-filled madhouses of the SEC. But if fan noise is your biggest problem, you ain't doing half bad.
New England rules because:
The Patriots are in the midst of a historic period of dominance. Over the last six years, New England has:
  • won five division titles
  • played in four conference title games and
  • won three Super Bowls 
Their 59 wins over the past four years, including playoffs, tied an NFL record (Dallas, 1992-95). Along the way, the Patriots set every win streak in NFL history:
  • most consecutive regular season wins (18)
  • most consecutive postseason wins (10) and
  • most consecutive overall wins (21)
Yet here they are in 2007, with the potential to field the most dominant team in franchise history and perhaps one of the great teams of all time. It's good to be a Patriots fan ... even if they bottle it all up inside.
Patriot shivering on the Cold Seat:
Running back Laurence Maroney. New England's defense finished second in the league in scoring last year and is stacked with big names and blue chippers through all three levels of the unit ... including some boosted by human-growth hormone. The underappreciated offensive line is big and young and battle-proven. And, for the first time, a quarterback who already has one of the most impressive resumes in NFL history will find speedy, big-name talent at the end of his two-time Super Bowl MVP-caliber passes.The potential chink in the armor? A running game that will fall on the shoulders of talented but unproven second-year man Maroney. He was hurt at the end of 2006, when he shared duties with potential future Hall of Famer Corey Dillon. When he did play, he averaged a solid 4.3 YPA. Most teams will take it. But, until we see otherwise, there is no proven No. 1 ballcarrier in the New England backfield.
2006 "Real Wins" (based on point differential): 12.2 (3rd)
2006 Quality point differential: -1.8 PPG (t-10th)
2007 Fillabilty Grade: A-
2007 Quality strength of schedule: (35-61; .365), 5th toughest
The Patriots were one play away from another Super Bowl appearance last year. But it's no surprise they fell short. The 2006 Patriots simply weren't as good as their champion counterparts of 2003 and 2004. Those teams each won seven games against quality opponents in the regular season, and an NFL record 10 including playoffs. They were an incredible 20-1 combined vs. Quality Opponents over the two seasons. The 2006 Patriots? Just 2-3 against winning clubs – 4-4 including playoffs. But the 2007 version appears stacked: a legendary coach, a legendary quarterback at the peak of his career, a boatload of new offensive weapons, and a defense that finished among the league leaders in every major category last year. The biggest obstacle? A potentially brutal schedule. New England plays 8 games against 2006 playoff teams, facing 7 of the other 11 teams that made last year's postseason tournament. That doesn't even count a game against Pittsburgh, who will surely be improved over last year's tumultuous 8-8 squad, or the two games against a pesky Miami team that always plays New England tough: note Miami's 21-0 shutout of the Patriots last year. This should be a great team but, given the obstacles in the way, the 13 or 14 wins on the lips of many hopeful New England fans seems unrealistic.
COLD, HARD PREDICTION: 12-4, 1st in AFC East
Miami Dolphins
(last year's record: 6-10; 3-4 vs. Quality Opponents)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
Major additions: 
TE David Martin (Green Bay)
T Mike Rosenthal (Minnesota)
LB Joey Porter (Pittsburgh)
K Jay Feely (N.Y. Giants)
Major subtractions:
QB Joey Harrington (Atlanta) 
RB Sammy Morris (New England)
WR Wes Welker (New England)
G Damion McIntosh (Kansas City)
DE Kevin Carter (Tampa Bay)
DT David Bowens (N.Y. Jets)
K Olindo Mare (New Orleans) 
Draft choices:
1 (9) Ted Ginn Jr., wr, Ohio St.
2 (40) John Beck, qb, BYU.
2 (60) Samson Satele, g, Hawaii.
3 (71) Lorenzo Booker, rb, Florida State.
4 (108) Paul Soliai, dt, Utah.
6 (181) Reagan Mauia, rb, Hawaii.
6 (l99) Drew Mormino, c, Central Michigan.
7 (219) Kelvin Smith, lb, Syracuse.
7 (225) Brandon Fields, p, Michigan St.
7 (238) Abraham Wright, de, Colorado.
Miami sucks because:
Miami has become an institutionally flawed organization, a Cincinnati with palm trees. Dan Marino, the most prolific quarterback of all time, couldn't win there. Jimmy Johnson, a two-time Super Bowl champion, couldn't win there. A consistently stellar defense couldn't win there. College coaching stud Nick Saban couldn't win there. For some three decades, the Dolphins were one of the marquee organizations in the NFL. Even in the 1990s, as they moved onto a quarter century without a Super Bowl title, they remained a team everyone expected to compete year after year. Now, they're Just Another Team. And that's sad.
Miami rules because:
Miami is like a 24-hour-a-day wet dream for middle-aged men. Who cares if the team is going nowhere? Forgive our pigskin sacrilege, but there are much better things to watch in Miami than football. Have you seen the women down there? Even the chicks who were extras on "Miami Vice" 20 years ago still retain their hotness. Helps explain why the Hurricanes cranked out one national title after another over the past 25 years, but rarely banged out the Orange Bowl.
Dolphin shivering on the Cold Seat:
WR Ted Ginn Jr. Perhaps its unfair for a rookie to sit there freezing on the merciless Cold Seat, but there sits Ginn, the 178-pound target of every Miami fan's ire. Clearly, he could not have felt welcomed when his selection by Miami in the first round of the 2007 draft elicited a wave of highly publicized anger among Dolphins fans, who wanted Brady Quinn – or anyone posing as the quarterback of the future. The last we saw Ginn, he was limping around the Ohio State sidelines after suffering an injury in the national title game. His preseason was inauspicious: 4 catches for 38 yards, with little to show in the return game, either. But if he's going to win over Miami fans, he'll have to heal lepers, walk on water, and maybe even learn to speak Spanish.  
2006 "Real Wins" (based on point differential): 7.2 (19th)
2006 Quality point differential: +3.0 PPG (7th)
2007 Fillabilty Grade: B
2007 Quality strength of schedule: (26-70: .271), 2nd easiest
The Dolphins were better than their 6-10 mark of 2006 – much better. They were one of the best in the league against Quality Opponents, and faced a tough schedule. For 2007, they have the advantage of facing one of the easiest schedules in football – their 2007 opponents posted a dreadful 26-70 record against Quality Opponents last year. With a solid offseason (B on the Fillability Index) and a new offensive coach in Cam Cameron, the Dolphins will be moving on up.
COLD, HARD PREDICTION: 9-7, tied for second place AFC East
(last year's record: 10-6; 1-3 vs. Quality Opponents; lost to New England in wildcard round)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
Major additions: 
RB Thomas Jones (Chicago) 
DE Kenyon Coleman (Dallas)
DE David Bowens (Miami)
Major subtractions:
RB B.J. Askew (Tampa Bay)
QB Patrick Ramsey (Denver)
Draft choices:
1 (14) Darrelle Revis, db, Pittsburgh.
2 (47) David Harris, lb, Michigan.
6 (177) Jacob Bender, ot, Nicholls St.
7 (235) Chansi Stuckey, wr, Clemson. 
The Jets suck because:
They're the third most popular team in two different states, somewhere behind the Giants and Rutgers in New Jersey, and behind the Giants and Bills in New York. They're about to enter their 40th year without a Super Bowl title. And the historic face of the franchise, Joe Namath, is best known these days for his awkward, drunken and ultimately failed sideline pick-up efforts – which kind of reminds us of ourselves. And that's not good.
The Jets rule because:
Chad Pennington's is one spot ahead of Tom Brady on the all-time passer rating list. Have you ever looked at the list of all-time passer rating leaders? It's pretty amazing. The No. 1 position is held by Steve Young. The No. 4 position is held by his predecessor, the immortal Joe Montana. Clearly, the two benefited from playing in a revolutionary offensive system. Great players? Yes, among the very best ever. But when you see two guys from the same organization and the same era so close atop the leaderboard, a statistical outlier if you will, it's rational to conclude that additional forces were in play beyond just their innate talent. The rest of the top six is filled by contemporary dome quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper and Marc Bulger. The oft-injured Pennington, it turns out, is the top outdoor, cold-climate quarterback on the all-time list of passer rating leaders. Now if he could only stay on the field ...
Jet shivering on the Cold Seat:
QB Chad Pennington. With the football fellatio over (see above), it's pretty obvious the hopes of the upstart Jets rest squarely on the shoulders of Fragile Chad. 
  • Pennington played 15 games in 2002. The Jets went 9-7 and won the AFC East.
  • Pennington played 13 games in 2004. The Jets went 10-6 and made the divisional round of the playoffs.
  • Pennington played a full 16 games for the first time in his career in 2006. The Jets went 10-6 and made the playoffs.

In 2003 and 2005, seasons in which he played a total of 13 games, the Jets went 10-22. 

2006 "Real Wins" (based on point differential): 8.7 (12th)
2006 Quality point differential: -4.3 PPG (15th)
2007 Fillabilty Grade: B+
2007 Quality strength of schedule: (34-67; .337), t-11th toughest
Yes, the team is clearly more solid and competitive under head coach Eric Mangini. His approach appears that it will give the Jets a team to contend with for years to come. But without Chad – or with ineffective play from him – it's clear Mangini's job becomes infinitely more difficult. A tougher schedule, an improved AFC East (probably), more of a bullseye on their back. The Jets will be solid, but a repeat of 2006's 10-6 mark is unlikely, .
COLD, HARD PREDICTION: 9-7, tied for 2nd in AFC East.
BUFFALO BILLS             
(last year's record: 7-9; 1-7 vs. Quality Opponents) 
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
Major additions:
G Derrick Dockery (Washington)
T Langston Walker (Oakland)
Major subtractions:
RB Willis McGahee (Baltimore)
LB London Fletcher (Washington)
LB Takeo Spikes (Philadelphia) 
CB Nate Clements (San Francisco)
Draft choices:
1 (12) Marshawn Lynch, rb, California.
2 (34) Paul Posluszny, lb, Penn St.
3 (92) Trent Edwards, qb, Stanford.
4 (111) Dwayne Wright, rb, Fresno St.
6 (184) John Wendling, db, Wyoming.
7 (222) Derek Schouman, te, Boise St.
7 (239) C.J. Ah You, de, Oklahoma.
Buffalo sucks because:
Have you been there? It's a kind of a dump ... and befitting of a team, and a city, that just can't shake its Loserville status. The Bills won the 1965 AFL title game – a nifty 23-0 shutout of the Chargers – but it's been a rocky tumble in a barrel over the gridiron Niagra since. The city really sealed its fate – and the enduring animosity of the Cold, Hard Football Facts – in 1999, when Wade Phillips benched legendary winner Doug Flutie before the playoff game against Tennessee. The organization has never recovered – zero playoff appearances and one winning season (9-7) since – and it won't recover until all Buffalonians unite and beg forgiveness of Flutie, the Gridrion Gods and all decent, hard-working football-loving fans across the universe.
Buffalo rules because:
For all its dump-itude, here are plenty of reasons to love Buffalo. Few of them will help on the field, but still plenty of reasons for the rarely given love of the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Here they are:
  • The Sausage Maker. Your one-stop shop for all your sausage-making needs is right there in Buffalo. Reason enough to call Buffalo each autumn.
  • Marv Levy. As far as we know, the Hall of Fame coach is the only World War II veteran still active in North American sports management. And for that, he earns our unending hymn of praise. He's also the guy who gave a young coach named Bill Walsh his entry into the college ranks back at Cal in 1960.
  • Wings. Buffalo's contribution to the culinary world provides approximately 63 percent of our weekly caloric intake (and introduced us to the woman of our dreams).
  • Buffalo's fans. They've been through a lot, but – like a CHFF troll pining for the scent of a woman they don't have to pay for – they continue to hold out hope that one day they'll wake up and find the last 40 years were all a bad dream.
Bill shivering on the Cold Seat:
Head coach Dick Jauron. He was a fairly solid defensive back in the NFL, and perhaps the best player to come out of the Ivy League in the last 35 years. As a coach? Not so much. Since leading the Bears to an improbable 13-3 record in 2001 (and a one-and-done visit to the playoffs), Jauron has compiled a 19-34 (.358) record as an NFL head coach. And that record translates to Not For Long in any sport.
2006 "Real Wins" (based on point differential): 7.7 (17th)
2006 Quality point differential: -7.9 PPG (22nd)
2007 Fillabilty Grade: D
2007 Quality strength of schedule: (36-58; .383), 4th toughest
The deck is clearly stacked against the Bills: they face the fourth toughest schedule in football this year – at least based upon 2006 records. Can you envision them going better than 2-4 against the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins? We can't. The Bills were a miserable 1-7 against Quality Opponents last year. This year, they open with an absolutely miserable schedule: seven of their first eight opponents had winning records last year, and six made the playoffs. For those of us like the Cold, Hard Football Facts who take a big-picture view of football, it spells a long season for the culinary capital that gave us SausageMaker and the Buffalo wing.
COLD, HARD PREDICTION: 5-11, fourth place AFC East

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