New England Patriots:
Offense: Offensively the Patriots will be explosive, especially with Tom Brady back in the fold. Randy Moss is a match up nightmare, while Wes Welker is a perfect fit in the slot. They also brought in speedy veteran Joey Galloway, who will be looking to return to his old form after suffering a season ending injury last season. The Pats are masters at reviving older player’s careers, so don’t be surprised if Galloway has a big year. They will also be hoping for a resurgence from Fred Taylor, who had one of the least productive seasons of his career in 2008/09. The Pats prefer a running back by committee approach, however, so look for a solid, but not spectacular year from Taylor. Their offensive line has great chemistry, and there is plenty of depth behind the starters as well.
Defense: The defense is a bit of a question mark this year. Gone are stalwarts, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel. They did do a good job of drafting on this side of the ball, as well as bringing in starters through trades and free agency. This should still be a very solid unit though with Vince Wilfork manning the middle and emerging star Jerod Mayo at middle linebacker. I also expect Brandon Meriweather to break out this year, and rookie corner Darius Butler has huge potential. The Patriots will also play some 4-3 this season to give opponents a different look from their base 3-4. This year’s defense may not be as good as what Patriot fans are used to seeing, but luckily their offense should give them some big cushions.
Offense: The Dolphins were the surprise team of last season, going from a one win team to division champions. This year should be a lot more difficult for them, with the return of Brady coupled with the toughest schedule of any team. The Dolphins stole Pennington from the Jets, and he delivered with a career year. He doesn’t have a very strong arm, but he is incredibly accurate, and rarely turns the ball over. He also has a very good line protecting him, highlighted by their bookend tackles Jake Long, who was a Pro Bowl alternate in his rookie year, and Vernon Carey, one of the best right tackles in the league. The also have a nice trio of running backs in Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Patrick Cobbs. The weakest part of this offense is at receiver where there isn’t really a go-to guy. Ted Ginn Jr. is still developing, Greg Camarillo is merely a possession receiver, and Devone Bess is solid yet unspectacular in the slot. Rookie Brian Hartline has impressed in pre season play, but what this group really needs is for Ginn to live up to his lofty draft status.
Defense: I really like the Dolphins defense this season, and it should be one of the stronger units in the league. They should get an excellent pass rush from Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, who looks to be back in his old form, as well as Cameron Wake, who comes south after dominating in the Canadian Football League. Their defensive line is led by nose tackle Jason Ferguson, while Kendall Langford and fellow rookie Philip Merling were outstanding last year. The secondary should be improved after being Miami’s focal point in the offseason. Gibril Wilson comes over from the Raiders, and is a tackling machine at safety, while rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have both flashed tremendous upside at corner in the preseason. Look for this defense to keep the Dolphins in many close games this year.
Offense: It’s never a good sign when an offensive coordinator gets fired in the preseason, but that is exactly what happened to Turk Schonert. To say the Bills’ first team offense struggled in the preseason would be putting it lightly; they were absolutely pathetic in trying to run their new no-huddle offense. Trent Edwards is public enemy number one right now in Buffalo, and will be eaten alive if his struggles continue into the regular season, not to mention TO will surely throw one of his trademark tantrums. For Edwards to not be run out of town he is going to need a completely rebuilt line to give him time in the pocket. The Bills don’t return a starter at a single position along the offensive line, and will be starting two rookies at both guard spots. They will also have to open up holes for Marshawn Lynch, who will miss the first three games serving a suspension, and backup Fred Jackson. The Bills are stacked at wide receiver with Lee Evans and the aforementioned Terrell Owens as the starters, along with the ultra-tough Josh Reed and the speedy Roscoe Parrish in the slots. They are also hoping rookie Shawn Nelson can produce for them as a rookie at tight end.
Defense: The key for the defense will be generating a pass rush. Last year they got no production from their ends after Aaron Schobel was lost for the season. He is back healthy now, and they were finally able to sign 11th overall pick Aaron Maybin after a long holdout. Maybin has looked good in the preseason, but until he puts on some more weight and muscle he can’t be counted on running downs. The starting linebackers are solid, however there is little depth behind them. The secondary didn’t look very good last season, but that was mostly a chain reaction from the defensive line not getting any pressure on the opposing QB. Leodis McKelvin took over as starter midway through last year and has all the makings of an elite corner, not to mention he is also a dynamic return man. Donte Whitner is the other standout in the secondary at the free safety position. Just like on offense, the key for the Bills is in the trenches.
New York Jets:
Offense: It didn’t take long for the Jets to name Mark Sanchez their starting quarterback, and just like any rookie QB, he’s had his ups and downs in the preseason. Expect the Jets to protect Sanchez by running the ball a ton, and they have two excellent backs in Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Jones is coming off a monster year where he led the AFC in rushing yards, while Washington can simply be described as a playmaker. It will be interesting to see if the Jets can land disgruntled Broncos’ wideout, Brandon Marshall in a trade because there really aren’t many weapons for Sanchez to work with. Jerricho Cotchery is not a number one receiver, and behind him there is only David Clowney and Chansi Stuckey, neither of whom have much production in the NFL to speak of. Dustin Keller is probably Sanchez’s best option to throw to, and he plays tight end. Unfortunately Keller is not a very good blocker, which forces him to have to be subbed out in certain situations. The offensive line is very good, but if any of the starters get hurt the unit could suffer as a whole because of their lack of depth.
Defense: Head coach Rex Ryan brings his attacking style defense to the Jets, and from what I’ve seen of it in the preseason, they will be blitzing a lot. There is a lot of talent on this side of the ball, and Ryan seems to be great at getting the most out of his players. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins is the center piece, and his ability to take up blockers frees up everyone else to make plays. They are stacked at linebacker with David Harris and ex-Baltimore Raven, Bart Scott in the middle, as well as Calvin Pace on the outside. Harris is an emerging star, while Scott is fiery, emotional player that can make plays all over the field. Pace lived up to his large price tag for the most part notching 7 sacks off the edge last year, and if Ryan can get Vernon Gholston to play up to his potential they will put a lot of pressure on opposing QBs. In the secondary, Kerry Rhodes is one of the best safeties in the league, while Jim Leonhard is another Raven coming to the Big Apple to join Ryan. Darrelle Revis is a great fit for handling man to man coverage responsibilities in Ryan’s defense, while Lito Sheppard will be looking to bounce back after struggling in Philadelphia last season.