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I don’t have a problem saying the Jets are the favorite to win the AFC East. The Jets finished the season much stronger than the Patriots and Dolphins, along with having a better overall off-season than both teams. When you look at the roster of all three teams, the Jets have the most overall talent. Yet, that is obviously no reason to write off the defending AFC East Champs, New England, along with their Hall of Fame coach and quarterback or a talented, improved Miami team. The AFC East should be a three team horse race that isn’t sorted out until December, sorry Buffalo.
Let’s look at the arguments of the three contenders for a division title in 2010, along with what could hold them back.
New York Jets – The argument for the Jets starts with their defense. They have the best one in the division and the best one in the NFL. Whenever you play defense the way this team does, you are going to be competitive week in and week out. Last year’s defensive depth chart has been supplemented by Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, Jason Taylor, Brodney Pool, and a healthy Kris Jenkins, which is a scary thought for opposing offenses. On their offense, Mark Sanchez made strides in last year’s playoffs and should carry that over into his second year. He will have better chemistry with Braylon Edwards after having a whole off-season to work with him and he was given another major weapon with the addition of Santonio Holmes. Regardless of how much they contribute running the football, LaDainian Tomlinson and Joe McKnight will provide good pass catching options out of the backfield to help Sanchez.
The questions about the Jets start with the two second year players they will be relying on to carry their offense, Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene. Sanchez needs to make the previously mentioned strides so he isn’t throwing 20 interceptions to 12 touchdowns. Greene still has to prove he can be a lead back for an entire season. The Jets may miss Thomas Jones in a big way, especially if LaDainian Tomlinson is as washed up as he looked in 2009. They will need a young player to step in for the departed Alan Faneca at left guard and it remains to be seen if/when Darrelle Revis will join the team.
Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins are built in a similar mold to the Jets. They want to run the football and play an aggressive, physical defense. Their defense was inconsistent and struggled heavily against the pass in 2009 but they are banking on their young secondary improving and new additions to their front seven to lead to improvements. Karlos Dansby will boost the linebacker core. They expect Cameron Wake and rookie Koa Misi to lead their pass rush. First round pick Jared Odrick should be a quality addition to their defensive line rotation. On offense, Miami finally added a number one receiver by trading for Brandon Marshall, who is one of the most explosive players in the NFL. Chad Henne has the arm strength to push the ball down the field, which should create more running space for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams,
The Dolphins young corners still have to prove they can slow down opposing passing offenses, especially when they are facing players like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Santonio Holmes. They have already loss Phillip Merling for the season, which hurt their defensive line depth and they are going to miss Joey Porter and Jason Taylor to an extent. On offense, Ronnie Brown is never healthy and they don’t have a number two receiver to put opposite Marshall. Despite the world being ready to send him to Canton, Henne still has to prove he can lead a team to the playoffs and throw more touchdowns than interceptions in a season.
New England Patriots – Brady and Belichick, which means the Patriots always have a shot. Randy Moss and Wes Welker (who it appears will miraculously be ready for the start of the season) aren’t half bad either. The Patriots passing game will be able to put points on the board consistently and Belichick will get the most out of what they have on defense. New England’s defense still has quality talent at all three levels with Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Merriweather.
The Patriots lack of a running game could hold them back in 2010. Simply put, they don’t have a number one back. They will also be relying on a bunch of young players in their passing game outside of Moss and Welker, like Brandon Tate, Aaron Hernandez, Taylor Price, and Julian Edeleman. Their secondary has question marks and will also be relying on a collection of young, unproven players. Overall, their defense isn’t an elite unit anymore. The Patriots are coming off an absolute woodshed beating from the Ravens in their building to end the 2009 season, it will be interesting to see how they bounce back from that.
AFC East Battle