The 2009 NFL Preview
The AFC East and North


New England (19 – 0) ~ I think this New England team has the potential… the potential… to be significantly better offensively than they were two years ago.

I’m not drunk.

I’m not kidding.

See I blame the loss of the perfect season on something very few people mention… the loss of Sammy Morris. People brush right past it… don’t even think about it really… because they kept winning after he was lost. (And winning… and winning.) But something was different after he went down. That’s right around the time they stopped demolishing everyone by halftime, and even had a few clubs threaten to end the perfect regular season.

This year, the offense is deeper than that group. Fred Taylor is coming in as depth… not as a starter. If he could stay healthy, even if there are problems, I don’t think he’d have any troubles delivering 15-plus quality carries a game.

Once again, defenses have to face the choice of Randy Moss or Wes Welker… only this year Joey Galloway presents the fastest option Brady has ever had as his third receiver.

And while they have lost a ton of experience on defense… Bruschi and Seymour most recently… I think there are some young players ready to make significant contributions.

On top of all that… special teams… they’re good with that as well.

Heck… because they finished second in the division last year, they don’t play the normal rotation of Pittsburgh, San Diego and Indianapolis this regular season. Just Indy… possibly the weakest of those three. And if they earn the top seed, they quite possibly only play one of those clubs in the playoffs.

They need to avoid injuries. But I honestly believe that quietly, they expect perfection this year. This team will be favored every week and will be leveling the opposition from the first week. And they will be driven and motivated to reach new heights this season.

And as if all of this wasn’t enough… in four games, the Pats are supposedly going to wear throwback uniforms. I have to move on… I’m getting too excited.

Miami (8 – 8) ~ Can we please stop the wildcat talk? Something like 25-years ago, Walter Payton lined up as quarterback for the Bears. Teams have used the formation before. This isn’t something new.

It comes down to execution, pure and simple. The Dolphins did use a variety of formations last season, one of which was called the wildcat, and they performed from those formations very well. And like Tampa Bay in baseball last season… alot of things went perfectly for the Dolphins in 2008. And, just like the Rays, I expect them to be good… a motivated, hard working, well run organization… but to take a step back in 2009.


Let’s look at their schedule.

Last year they went 11-5. Let’s just say… for giggles… in 2009 they split with the Patriots and win the rest of their divisional games. That’s 5-1. (And I think we agree, 5-1 is being generous.) Of the other 10 games…

They open at Atlanta.

Because they won the division last year, they get Pittsburgh and San Diego on their schedule.

The rotation gives them Tennessee and Indianapolis along with the remainder of the AFC South.

The other NFC opponents include New Orleans and Carolina.

Two against New England… Atlanta… Pittsburgh… San Diego… Tennessee… Indianapolis… New Orleans… Carolina.

That represents half of their schedule.


Even in the best of circumstances, I don’t see how this club gets to 10 wins.

I have always liked Chad Pennington. I think he runs the best play action I have ever seen. (It’s a thing of beauty. Simply gorgeous.)

I like the team attitude that’s developing here.

But this team has the misfortune to be in the same division as a juggernaut… and the misfortune of facing a few costs associated with last year’s success.

Buffalo (7 – 9) ~ I’m going to leave them with 7 wins. Once I had it all balanced… so the wins equaled the losses across the NFL… it felt too late to begin adjusting a game or two up (or down) only to have to balance it with corresponding losses (or wins) in a different place. But… more so than I’m believing with any other team… 7 wins is way too optimistic for this bunch, and I should probably reconsider. This has all the makings of a very ugly season.

Things are set up nicely enough. Cleveland… Kansas City… and some other games where they may even send the more talented offense on to the field. They’ll even play the Jets in Toronto as part of that exciting home on the road effort they are developing. Sarcasm aside, there are wins on that schedule.

On the other hand…

You heard about Turk Schonert… right?

Our buddy Turk was the offensive coordinator. He was fired, with the reason cited being the horrendous performance of the offense this summer. Now… let’s focus on this for a moment. Isn’t the preseason about testing things out, working on problems, finding out about the unknown players, and not necessarily about playing your best players while trying to win all of the games? And didn’t the big acquisition… cry-baby Owens… sit out most of the preseason because one of his little piggies was bothering him?

In other words… exactly what was he being judged on? How was horrendous being determined?

According to Schonert, he claims he was actually fired because the offense he was developing was too complex.

Think about that.

In a division with New England…

In a division where the Dolphins are going to be a steady, strong defense and the Jets are now being led by a defensive-minded coach…

Apparently there are accusations that Buffalo wants to put in a simple offense. And they’re not exactly loaded with weapons that you would fear based on an ability to execute basic patterns with outstanding efficiency.

Simple and straightforward, you can’t stop us… that works for the Lombardi Packers.

Concentrate on coloring inside the lines, make things easier for the alligator-armed Owens?

Yeah. Umm… that’ll work.

There is a very good chance this team will spin out of control before Halloween.

New York (Jets) (6 – 10) ~ I know Thomas Jones had a big year in 2008, and has been fairly steady for New York. Got it.

Their best running back and biggest threat is Leon Washington.

Honestly? I like the Jets. I think Mark Sanchez has been perfect so far in the way he handles himself and approaches the club. And I think Rex Ryan could ultimately be a good coach with them.

But neither one of those two is ready for what this division is going to throw at them.

Instead of a roster of Jets issues though, let me describe the New York problems this way.

Have you ever heard the old talk about football playing styles? You know… theories like if you play in the north, you need to concentrate on running the ball, and run it well, because that’s all you do when the cold weather hits. Some times you’d hear announcers talk about divisions being assembled with all the teams looking similar (say tough on defense… with the NFC East being a great, and current, example).

Well… I don’t think the Jets are going to send a team on the field in 2009 that is the team they want on the field. I think they’re looking for defensive backs in the hopes that what they find can run with New England. (They can’t… and won’t… but about 20% of their active roster looks to be safeties and corners. And while they may not be the only ones dressing more than 10 players in those roles, that’s huge if they also stay big on quarterbacks and sacrifice roster spots for receivers and running backs because of it.)

I know changing game plans helps and all of that. But, I can’t recall a time when a team was successful setting up their roster based on what everyone else was doing. I don’t know if I’m explaining it properly… but I think there needs to be a proactive element to your team instead of a reactive element in order to be successful. I think you need to be able to do something… anything… well. I think you need an identity. Yeah… that’s it… an identity defines it about as well as any word does.

The Jets to me look like a team assembled not to do anything well, but rather assembled because they are concerned about what other teams do well.

Remember when Shelley Duvall was in Popeye and she sang about Brutus? She was trying to come up with something positive to say about him, and she finally arrived at the idea that Brutus was large. And… that’s about it. “He’s large.”

Meet the New York Jets. We have a rookie quarterback that we think is talented. And New England passes the ball very well, so we have lots and lots of safeties.

And… that’s about it.

Pittsburgh (11 – 5) ~ There are basically two kinds of people writing about Pittsburgh. Both of them are incredibly wrong. Type number one… giving them too much respect. (Note: The Steelers are not the team of the decade. They could be… but only by going undefeated and winning a title this year. Stop giving them too much respect.) And type number two… giving them too little respect. (Other than Brady, only one active, starting quarterback in the NFL has two titles… and he plays in Pittsburgh. Stop saying they beat weak opponents. Because it doesn’t matter… they beat them.)

Now don’t get me wrong… Pittsburgh is a very good club. But they aren’t going to have an undefeated season. And even if they win a Super Bowl this year, they will have three wins and three appearances, while New England will have three wins, four appearances, and lots more conference playoff success. So don’t go crying about some lack of respect while trying to make the Steelers out to be the best team of the last 10 years.

Now, on that other side of the argument… too little credit. As I said, there are only two active, starting quarterbacks in the league with multiple championships. Brady is one. Pittsburgh has Roethlisberger. They deserve credit… he deserves credit… give them the respect.

In my mind, Pittsburgh falls into the middle of these extremes.

They are incredibly well coached. One of the best coaching staffs in the league. You will not catch them unprepared for a contest.

Roethlisberger and the offense are talented… and I think Ben has proven his ability to drive the team in tough situations. Oh, yeah, and I love the way Hines Ward plays.

And the defense… well, the defense is special.

This is a very, very good team. They might finish the year with the best defense in either conference. The offense will put up some big numbers in some games, and should be respectable in all of them.

They win at home… all the time… just like you set out intending to do.

After a brutal 2008 schedule, this year they have some room to breath. No New England for once. The AFC West for the AFC rotation. And out of the big three headaches the NFC North could give them, they only have Chicago on the road… with Green Bay and Minnesota traveling to them.

11 wins shouldn’t be a problem. Get a few breaks… and a top-two seed is possible. I just don’t think they’ll be able to do better than New England or San Diego for the full season in the end.

Baltimore (9 – 7) ~ While Pittsburgh gets away from New England… Baltimore doesn’t. And they get Green Bay and Minnesota as road games.


In fact… Kansas City as a nice opener, followed by a trip to San Diego, Cleveland, at New England, Cincinnati, and at Minnesota. I’m feeling a 3-3 record… 3-0 at home, 0-3 on the road… by the time the Ravens reach a week 7 bye.

The key to their season comes after the bye though… in weeks 8, 9, and 10. Denver… Cincinnati and Cleveland. If they tread water early, they could easily move forward right here. And then… well… look at Detroit and Oakland on that schedule! The Ravens will be in a sweet position if they can be around 6-3 when Indianapolis arrives on November 22nd. Unfortunately, if they aren’t at 6-3 or better, then the stretch of Indy and Pitt at home with a trip to Green Bay that follows could end their season.

They will present a solid, and deep, running attack. And there is no defense that gets as insulted when scored upon as this group. This is a driven, emotional team.

I like what I’ve seen from Joe Flacco… reminds me alot of Roethlisberger actually. Not quite elite, but can win a game by his own play if he needs to, and capable of leading a championship-level club. He’s just not there yet.

Cincinnati (6 – 10) ~ Can you tell me the name of Cincinnati’s running back? Ok… how about any Cincinnati running back?

And I ask because this club just feels strange to me.

We all know Carson Palmer. Worthy of respect even though when you check things out he’s accomplished very little. (I think he’s going to be compared to Drew Bledsoe ALOT before all is said and done.) T.J. Houshmandzadeh is gone… so one of the most interesting (for whatever reason), and arguably more talented groups of wide receivers in the league, has lost what I believe is their most talented and reliable part.

And in the end, I’m just not seeing where this offense is going to be able to control the ball with a pounding and dominant running game, or move the ball with a consistent passing attack.

After that, there is a chance the Bengals have a defense that could be challenged to be the third best in this division. I think they’re better than Cleveland’s group… but what is that telling you?

Because of the schedule they won’t be hideous, but I think as November rolls around more people will be thinking of them as the Bungals again.

Cleveland (5 – 11) ~ Last year I saw a few flashes… really few… worthy of note. I don’t mean that the Browns were great, or even that there is hope for the future. But, both of their quarterbacks seem capable of delivering a couple of solid games. Braylon Edwards is a good receiver. And so we have the makings of an average football team here.

But last year also showed signs of lackadaisical play. Little effort. An inability to score.

Welcome to limbo.

They won’t threaten a winning record.

They won’t be looking at the first pick in the draft next year.

What I worry about is things like Eric Mangini. What the hell? Is he deliberately trying to do a bad job? Because this not naming a quarterback mystery, united with some other moves… or lack thereof… really seems to raise more questions than answers. And if he had a reputation growing with his players in New York about whether or not he could lead, then he isn’t doing himself any favors here in Cleveland.

I’m predicting a boring season for Cleveland. (So watch them go out and upset Minnesota to start things off, then use a weak schedule to stay in the playoff discussion long after they should have been dead. Hey… Mangini did that in New York too.)

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at