SEARCH THE UPPER DECK BLOG
Previous Divisional Previews
Expected Wins- 7.21
Scouting Wins- 8.27
DVOA Wins- 5.3
2008 Record- 7-9
7-9, 7-9, 7-9. I suppose Lions fans would love to have that as their last three years, but fans are not happy in Buffalo. The Bills are not one of the NFL’s wealthier franchises. A few more bad seasons and we might be looking at the Toronto Bills. Surprisingly, the Bills won the Terrell Owens derby. Owens signed a 1-year contract and will attempt to prove 2008 was just an off year, but I doubt he will regain his old form. In 2008 Owens was absolutely awful against press coverage. He now is relegated to being a #2 or slot receiver, as opposed to being a top threat. No matter how Owens performs, the deal was a financial success. The Bills sold over 55,000 season tickets, the third-highest in the franchise’s history.
Quarterback Trent Edwards completed over 65% of his passes last season, but only averaged 6.5 yards per attempt. The Bills fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert so I am not sure if their planned rollout of the new K-Gun offense has been canceled. If the Bills do come out with a no-huddle shotgun offense, Edwards will have a chance to prove he can be more than a dink and dunk quarterback.
Running back Marshawn Lynch will start the season with a three-game suspension. He gained over 1,300 yards from the line-of-scrimmage last season, but is not the game-breaking threat that the Bills had expected him to become. RB Fred Jackson was quite effective in limited usage in 2008 and will begin 2009 as the starter. The Bills signed RB Dominic Rhodes to provide some depth for the first few games of the season, and perhaps as a 3rd option thereafter.
Wide receiver Lee Evans is the Bills’ best offensive player. He is an elite deep threat. If Terrell Owens can draw some of the defense’s attention, Evans should have a monster year. Evans has faced near-constant double-teams and will probably continue to do so until Owens proves himself. WR Josh Reed is a decent slot receiver. The Bills have a deep receiving corps, but only Evans and Owens are considered threats.
The Bills’ offensive line has been reworked. They signed Geoff Hangartner to play center, drafted Alex Mack (1st round) and Andy Levitre (2nd round) to play right and left guard, moved right tackle Langston Walker to left tackle, and moved Brad Butler from right guard to right tackle. Whew. If the rookies live up to their draft status, the line will be much improved over 2008. There are major concerns about the tackles, particularly in run blocking, and the Bills might make a trade to improve their offensive line.
The Bills’ pass rush dropped off noticeably after defensive end Aaron Schobel went out due to injury. The Bills drafted defensive end Aaron Maybin with their second 1st round pick. He might be the best pure pass rusher in the draft, but he missed training camp and won’t be used on run downs. Defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcus Stroud were quite effective for the Bills in 2008 and both return as starters. The Bills have solid defensive line depth.
Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny led the team with 110 tackles in 2008 and was highly effective patrolling the middle of the field. LB Keith Ellison plays very well in space and is a very good pass defender. LB Kawika Mitchell should benefit from the return of Schobel. Mitchell led the team with 4 sacks in 2008 and should have even more this year.
Cornerback Terrence McGee had a rough 2008. The ascension of CB Leodis McKelvin should take some heat off of McGee. The Bills have great CB depth and I feel they stole CB Jalrus Byrd in the 2nd round. Byrd will move over to free safety. Strong safety Donte Whitner is healthy. Whitner is a ferocious hitter and will be effective playing near the line of scrimmage. If Byrd is not ready to start, Ko Sumpson or Bryan Scott will start at free safety.
Even with kicker Rian Lindell having an off year in 2008, the Bills had the best special teams in football. They consistently have great special teams and should again in 2009.
The Bills’ defense will go as the pass rush goes. If the Bills can pressure the quarterback, their defense should be very good. The Bills were 4-1 before Schobel got hurt. Of course, just because the Bills have Schobel back and added Maybin, there is no guarantee they get to the quarterback. On offense the addition of Owens could juice up the passing game. I have very low expectations of that actually occurring. I do expect the defense to be better, but the schedule is also harder. I expect Owens to implode at some point and take the Bills’ season with him. 6-10.
Expected Wins- 7.03
Scouting Wins- 7.24
DVOA Wins- 6.4
2008 Record- 11-5
I am a Chad Pennington fan. He has the weakest arm in the NFL and still managed to lead the Dolphins to 11 wins in 2008. A repeat will be very tough. The wildcat offense surprised teams last year. The Dolphins drafted quarterback Pat White in the 2nd round of the draft. White will add a passing threat to the wildcat. Backup QB Chad Henne has a strong arm and will see playing time if Pennington struggles or the Dolphins fall out of contention.
Running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are both in contract years. Williams was ineffective in high leverage situations last year, although he did have some success in the wildcat. Ronnie Brown is in fantastic physical condition and should have another great year.
Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has amazing potential. He still needs to improve his technique but managed to be the Dolphins’ most productive receiver in 2008. If he continues to improve he could develop into a star. WR Greg Camarillo is coming off ACL surgery and could lose his job. WR Davone Bess was a pleasant surprise and filled in well after Camarillo was injured. The Dolphins drafted wide receivers Patrick Turner (3rd round) and Brian Hartline (4th round) to improve their receiving corps. Hartline should provide an immediate boost to the special teams. Turner is likely to be used as a goal line threat. Pat White might also be used as a slot receiver. Tight ends Anthony Fasano and David Martin are both excellent as receivers. Neither is a great blocker.
The Dolphins are blessed with a great pair of offensive tackles. Left tackle Jake Long was a Pro Bowl alternate in his rookie season and is still improving. Right tackle Vernon Carey played very well in 2008 and earned a six-year contract. The interior of the line is not quite as strong, but center Jake Grove should be a better fit for the offense than departed center Samson Satele.
Linebacker Joey Porter had a monster year in 2008. His 17.5 sacks were second most in the NFL. It is highly unlikely he comes close to that this year and the Dolphins have taken steps to give him help. They re-signed defensive end Jason Taylor and imported linebacker Cameron Wake from the CFL. I’m not sure how much Taylor has left, but Wake is an excellent speed rusher and should provide an immediate boost on passing downs. The pressure will be on defensive tackle Tony McDaniel. The Dolphins had to let DT Vonnie Holliday leave due to salary cap considerations and McDaniel is going to get those snaps. Overall the Dolphins don’t have a great front seven, but it should be good enough to get the job done with a little help from the secondary.
The Dolphins grabbed cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft, respectively. They will be asked to grow up fast as CB Will Allen is the only starter left from last season. Allen is still playing at a high level. The Dolphins signed CB Eric Green and he will play across from Allen until one of the two rookies plays well enough to break into the starting lineup. Strong safety Yeremiah Bell has excellent field coverage. The Dolphins will miss departed safety Renaldo Hill. Gibril Wilson will take over Hill’s role. Wilson was extremely productive as a strong safety for the Raiders. Actually, upon further reflection, Wilson and Bell are two of the most physical safeties in the NFL and could prove to be an excellent pairing.
The Dolphins’ lousy special teams were a reflection of the coverage units, not of the kicker and punter, who were both quite good, particularly kicker Dan Carpenter. The coverage units were not a point of emphasis for the Dolphins, so I don’t expect much improvement.
By most objective measures the Dolphins should have a losing record this season. They start at Atlanta, then face Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, and follow that up with a trip to San Diego. The schedule eases up a bit after that, but it is still one of the hardest in the NFL. Still, I have faith in Chad Pennington and Bill Parcells. I’ll give the Dolphins the win I took away from the Patriots due to the Seymour trade and that will leave them with an 8-8 record.
New England Patriots
Expected Wins- 11.48
Scouting Wins- 10.82
DVOA Wins- 11.4
2008 Record- 11-5
The Steelers are the defending champions. The Chargers are the DVOA wunderkinds. The New England Patriots are the team to beat. They are the favorites and remain so even after the trade of Richard Seymour. They may not have won a Super Bowl in the last four years (while the Steelers won twice in that span), but quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are still the most respected people at their respective positions.
Brady is coming off a major ACL injury and hurt his shoulder in a preseason game against the Redskins. He is expected to regain his old form. It helps that he is throwing to wide receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss. There are positional battles over the third WR spot and at tight end, but regardless of how they turn out, the Patriots’ passing game is still terrifying to opposing defenses. Defenses are forced to spread out and that leaves holes for the Patriots’ running game. Belichick knows running backs are fungible. Expect running backs Sammy Morris. Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, and Laurence Maroney to all get carries. If Brady goes down again, backup Andrew Walter is exceedingly unlikely to reprise the role played by Matt Cassel. The offensive line was not as bad as it looked last season, but remember the Super Bowl two years ago (Giants 17, Patriots 14). The line has played together for years, but is not terribly athletic. The Patriots used one of their four 2nd round picks on offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer. He has been impressive in the preseason and could step in at right tackle.
Trading defensive end Richard Seymour for a 1st round pick is a great long term move, but it will hurt the Patriots in 2009. Seymour is still a dominant defender, strong against both the run and the pass. With him, the Patriots were expected to bounce back defensively from a rough 2008. Without him, the Patriots’ defensive line looks a bit thin. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a powerful force up the middle. The Patriots grabbed defensive tackle Ron Brace in the 2nd round. Brace should be able to spell Wilfork and keep him fresh. Defensive end Ty Warren is quite good, although the loss of Seymour might hurt him. The Patriots have the depth along the defensive line needed to withstand the loss of Seymour, but he was a difference maker.
Miami exposed the Patriots’ linebackers in 2008. Veterans Tedy Buschi, Mike Vrabel, and Junior Seau are gone. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo had an absolutely fantastic rookie season and now takes over the leadership of the defense. Linebacker Adalius Thomas is returning from an arm injury. Linebackers Pierre Woods, Gary Guyton, and 3rd round pick Tyone McKenzie form a youth movement that the Patriots sorely needed. LB Shawn Crable was a 3rd round pick in 2008 and should be see some action this season.
I have confidence that the defensive line and linebacker corps will hold up, but last year the Patriots’ secondary got absolutely torched. The Patriots signed cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs to take over the starting jobs. They drafted Darius Butler in the 2nd round. He is solid in coverage, but is not a good tackler. The Patriots’ other 2nd round pick was strong safety Patrick Chung. He will compete for playing time with strong safety James Sanders and free safety Brandon Meriweather.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski deserved his Pro Bowl selection. The Patriots’ special teams are going through a bit of a transitional phase, but I don’t foresee too many problems. They drafted a long snapper, signed a new special teams coach, and have to decide on a new kick returner. The coverage units should be improved from last season.
The Patriots’ defense has become younger and faster (Shawn Springs excepted), but with the loss of Seymour, I’m not certain it’s better. The offense is all about Brady. Even without him the Patriots put up 11 wins. There are concerns about the defense. There are concerns about the offensive line. There are concerns about Brady’s health. There are no perfect teams. The Patriots have the easiest schedule in the NFL and should be competing with the Chargers for the best record in the AFC. With Seymour I’d go with 13-3, but without him 12-4 seems about right. 12-4.
New York Jets
Expected Wins- 7.16
Scouting Wins- 8.10
DVOA Wins- 6.2
2008 Record- 8-8
Some teams take their identity from other teams. Indianapolis’s defense was a descendent of Tampa Bay’s. Houston’s offensive line philosophy is borrowed from Denver. Kansas City is attempting to clone New England’s offense. The New York Jets are attempting to become Baltimore North, at least on defense. I can’t deny the appeal, but I don’t expect much from the Jets in 2009. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan were not typical rookie quarterbacks, and the Jets can’t expect that type of success the Ravens and Falcons experienced in 2008. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is the man the Jets believe will take them back to the Super Bowl. I watched Sanchez in college and I swear that I don’t get it. I thought he was a product of the talent around him. As a general rule you need a good quarterback to win the Super Bowl (and now for the rebuttal, Trent Dilfer). I can’t blame the Jets for going after the guy they believe in, but I am unconvinced.
Sanchez won’t have to carry the load on offense. If there is one thing that angered me about the 2008 Jets, it was their refusal to remain committed to the running game. The Jets have two Pro Bowl running backs, although one was invited as a kick return specialist. RB Thomas Jones led the AFC in rushing in 2008. He’ll have to share carries in 2009 with rookie running back Shonn Green. Green isn’t quick, but he should help the Jets improve their short yardage offense. RB Leon Washington is an elite scatback.
Wide receiver Jerrico Cotchery was a mediocre #2 receiver and is now being asked to step up and take the top spot. WR Chansi Stuckey was good in limited usage in 2008 and now has a chance to prove himself. The potential star is WR David Clowney. He is the fastest receiver the Jets have, and has been a preseason star, but only caught 2 passes in 2008 due to a collarbone injury. Tight end Dustin Keller blossomed in 2008 and should become one of Mark Sanchez’s favorite targets.
The real stars of the Jets offense are in the trenches. The Jets spent a lot of money (free agents left guard Alan Faneca and right tackle Damien Woody), high draft picks (center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson), and, well, right guard Brandon Moore was an undrafted free agent in 2002. He kind of messes up the narrative, but he played well in 2008 so I’ll forgive him. Ferguson was vastly improved in 2008, although he still has trouble against sheer power.
I hope defensive tackle Kris Jenkins is fully recovered from his herniated disk injury, because he was a monster for the Jets in 2008. Flanking Jenkins will be defensive ends Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas. Ellis led the Jets with 8 sacks in 2008, but will have to miss the 1st game of 2009 due to a suspension. I’m worried about the Jets’ defensive line depth, as all three starters are on the wrong side of 30, and Jenkins has questionable endurance.
I love the pickup of free agent inside linebacker Bart Scott. He’ll be paired with another good ILB, David Harris. They’ll be flanked by outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryon Thomas. Pace was very effective in 2008 and the Jets will miss him early in 2009 as he starts the season with a 4 game suspension. Trust me on this: linebacker Vernon Gholston sucks in practice too. The Pace suspension gives Gholston an opportunity to work himself back into the rotation. My expectations are… low.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is excellent. Revis needed help so the Jets traded for CB Lito Sheppard. CB Dwight Lowery is a good fit against slot receivers. Free safety Jim Leonhard should be able to replace Abram Elam. Strong safety Kerry Rhodes will be able to play closer to line of scrimmage with the addition of Leonhard. The Jets’ secondary looks pretty good on paper, especially if Sheppard can regain the form he displayed in 2006.
Under Mike Westhoff the Jets have consistently had good special teams units. 2009 looks to be no exception, although the Jets could use more consistency from whoever wins the starting punter job.
Well, the Jets can run the ball, stop the run, rush the passer, and cover receivers. It wasn’t a fluke that the Jets started 8-3 in 2008. If Sanchez is everything the Jets’ brass hopes, the Jets can make the playoffs in 2009. I’m a Jets fan so I’ll predict 6-10 and hope to be pleasantly surprised.
New England Patriots- 12-4
Miami Dolphins- 8-8
Buffalo Bills- 6-10
New York Jets- 6-10
Pittsburgh Steelers- 11-5
Baltimore Ravens- 9-7
Cincinnati Bengals- 6-10
Cleveland Browns- 6-10
Indianapolis Colts- 11-5
Tennessee Titans- 9-7
Jacksonville Jaguars- 8-8
Houston Texans – 7-9
San Diego Chargers- 12-4
Oakland Raiders- 6-10
Kansas City Chiefs- 5-11
Denver Broncos- 5-11
1. New England Patriots- 12-4
2. San Diego Chargers- 12-4
3. Pittsburgh Steelers- 11-5
4. Indianapolis Colts- 11-5
5. Baltimore Ravens- 9-7
6. Tennessee Titans- 9-7
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Diego Chargers
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
AFC Championship Game:
San Diego Chargers @ New England Patriots
New England Patriots
Super Bowl XVIV in Miami:
Philadelphia Eagles @ New England Patriots
Patriots 27, Eagles 21.
Man I hope I’m wrong about that. Enjoy the season and thanks for reading.
Seth Burn has degrees in economics, accounting, and philosophy. His background is in statistical analysis and game theory. He can often be found covering his eyes at Jets games. If you have any questions or comments they can be directed to his cat Molly via sethburnatgmaildotcom.