It seems like the “in” thing to be predicting this summer is that the Miami Dolphins will become the champions of the AFC East, ending the regin of the New England Pats. A lot of so-called experts predict this based on the hot ending the that Dolphins had last season under Nick Saban, and the fact that despite the Pats winning two of the last three Super Bowls, they are getting older, and Tom Brady simply does not have the tools around him to get it done, and the defense is lacking.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remind everyone that we are talking about the New England Patriots. Like em or not, they are simply the team that in my opinion will not go away, and for the first time in awhile, they do not have quite the bulls-eye on their back that goes along with being the Super Bowl Champions. Sure teams will be fully aware of who the Pats are before they play them, I just don’t think that “we beat the champs” incentive will be there like it was over the last two seasons.
I think before we write off New England, there had better be some realization that they A: Still have one of the top 2-3 quarterbacks in the game, B: May have found the steal of the draft with running back Laurence Maroney from Minnesota, and C: Bill Belichick as their head coach, a coach that does not take to losing lightly. I realize that Deion Branch, the teams best wide out, is still holding out, but let him miss a game check or two, and suddenly Branch will find his way back to the Pats.
The Pats first five games before the bye week are all shaping up to give a firm indication as to the rest of the season: at home vs Buffalo, at the Jets, at home for Denver, at Cincy and at home for Miami. If the Pats can get by the Dolphins and off to a good start, people will start to remember how good the Pats are once again.
As for Miami, an opening night game at Pittsburgh, followed by home games vs Buffalo and Tennessee, then on the road at Houston and New England make it look like the week five game vs New England will be the early determining factor as to who will run with the division. The Dolphins problems may come in December, with games at home vs New England, at Buffalo, vs the Jets, then a season ender at Indy.
While the Dolphins look poised to be a contender, don’t forget Ronnie Brown is now the ONLY back with any promise on the roster, and over his last 4 games last season ran for only a total of 118 yards, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. The security blanket of Ricky Williams is gone, and if Brown gets nicked up, the running game will be in serious trouble.
Same goes for the QB spot, where Daunte Culpepper continues to defy the odds and come back from major knee surgery. Behind him are Joey Harrington and Marcus Vick, meaning again, if he goes down, the Dolphins will be scrambling. Don’t forget Culpepper, with all the distractions in Minnesota last year, wasn’t exactly having a stellar season, throwing for 6 TD’s and 12 INT’s in the 8 games he played.
Time will tell if indeed the Pats are ready to hand over the AFC East crown. I say not this year, despite what a lot of the media and fans around the country seem to think. The Pats still have too much fight left and a lot to prove after last years downfall in Denver. For the Dolphins, there are still plenty of question marks, and it won’t be a walk in the park to wrestle the title away that easily.