How Bills stack vs. AFC East

Buffalo looks like a stronger team with veteran players such as Drew Bledsoe, London Fletcher and Eddie Robinson. But the other teams in the AFC East aren't sitting around doing nothing. They're trying to get stronger too. The biggest acquisition, bigger than Bledsoe to Buffalo, is running back Ricky Williams to Miami. The Dolphins think he will provide the long-term running game they have lacked since the 1970s. Here's a look at each team in the division.

Miami Dolphins

vs. Buffalo: Sunday, Oct. 20, 1 p.m.

at Buffalo: Sunday, Dec. 1, 1 p.m.

Miami in '01: 11-6

Key losses: DE Kenny Mixon (Vikings), P Matt Turk (Jets), SS Brian Walker (Lions).

Key acquisitions: DT Larry Chester (Panthers), RB Robert Edwards (Patriots), TE Hunter Goodwin (Vikings), RG Leon Searcy (Ravens), RB Ricky Williams (Saints), offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Key draft picks: C/G Seth McKinney, Texas A&M (D3, 90th overall), TE Randy McMichael, Georgia (D4, 114th overall).

Current strength: Defense. Even with Williams at running back, defense remains Miami's strength. The team is moving Daryl Gardener to left end to save his ailing back, which has hampered him the last two seasons. Larry Chester is expected to take Gardener's tackle position next to Tim Bowens. Consequently, there may be some drop-off in the effectiveness of Miami's front-four.

In the defensive backfield, third-year man Arturo Freeman will take over for Brian Walker at strong safety. Freeman started four games last year when Walker and Brock Marion were injured. He's aggressive, but this will be his first full year starting.

Current weakness: Offensive line. Brent Smith and ex-Bill Marcus Spriggs will compete for the starting LT job. Both are coming off serious knee injuries. LG Mark Dixon recovering from leg surgery. The team tried to replace C Tim Ruddy this off-season, so it's not super confident in his abilities. Miami signed Leon Searcy to compete with Todd Perry at right guard. RT Todd Wade needs to play with more consistency.

How they compare to the Bills: The Dolphins have a stronger running back with Ricky Williams instead of Lamar Smith. But Smith did a number on Buffalo in last season's finale, rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown. In its current condition, the Bills' defensive line has a very weak left side, so Williams could have a couple of big days for the Bills, particularly with new coordinator Norv Turner, who helped develop Stephen Davis in Washington. Defensively, with some key players missing, Miami will not be as strong as it has been in past seasons, which is better for the Bills' retooled offense under Kevin Gilbride.

 

New England Patriots

at Buffalo: Sunday, Nov. 3, 1 p.m.

vs. Buffalo: Sunday, Dec. 8, 1 p.m.

New England in '01: 14-5

Key losses: QB Drew Bledsoe, LB Bryan Cox, WR Terry Glenn, DT Brandon Mitchell, LB Roman Phifer, CB Terrence Shaw.

Key acquisitions: TE Cam Cleeland (Saints), TE Christian Fauria (Seahawks), SS Chris Hayes (Jets), WR Donald Hayes (Panthers), CB Tom Knight (Cardinals), DE Rick Lyle (Jets), DT Steve Martin (Jets),

Key draft picks: TE Daniel Graham, Colorado (D1, 21st overall), WR Deion Branch, Louisville (D2, 65th overall).

Current strength: Defense and Bill Belichick. The Patriots don't appear to be overly blessed with talent, but Bill Belichick in past years has managed to craft a formidable defensive unit out of spare parts. If you take a look at the number of defensive losses and the number of acquisitions, it wouldn't appear that the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year. They've shuttled a lot of players on and off their roster as if they were 3-13. But their unit is extremely opportunistic, and should be good again, if for no reason other than Belichick is a genius.

Current weakness: Wide receiver and tight end. Troy Brown and David Patten have their limitations as pass receivers. Both are undersized, though gutsy. At TE, the Patriots have Jermaine Wiggins, who is not a blocker. They need a more versatile TE. That's why they drafted TE Daniel Graham and WR Deion Branch with their first two picks.

How they compare to the Bills: Buffalo sacked Tom Brady 11 times last year. He was no God back then. The New England defense was good, but Buffalo was in both games in the fourth quarter, with the home game going into overtime. Though New England won the Super Bowl, they're one of the least-feared NFL champions in history. They only scored three offensive touchdowns in the postseason last year. And they won the Super Bowl! Amazing. Buffalo matches up very well with New England.

 

New York Jets

at Buffalo: Sunday, Sept. 8, 1 p.m.

vs. Buffalo: Sunday, Nov. 24, 1 p.m.

New York in '01: 10-7

Key losses: DT Shane Burton, DT Steve Martin, LB James Farrior, CB Aaron Glenn, SS Victor Green, LG Kerry Jenkins, P Tom Tupa, T Ryan Young.

Key acquisitions: CB Donnie Abraham (Buccaneers), CB Aaron Beasley (Jaguars), LB Sam Cowart (Bills), LG Jumbo Elliott, SS Sam Garnes (Giants), G Dave Szott (Redskins), P Matt Turk (Dolphins), DT Larry Webster (Ravens).

Key draft picks: DE Bryan Thomas, UAB (D1, 22nd overall), FS John McGraw, Kansas St. (D2, 57th overall), TE Chris Baker, Michigan St. (D3, 88th overall).

Current strength: Linebackers. While the Jets have retooled their defensive backfield and defensive line, they've significantly strengthened their linebacking corps with the addition of ex-Bill linebacker Sam Cowart as a replacement for free agent James Farrior, who has since signed with the Steelers. Sure, signing Cowart was a long-term risk, and granted, he hasn't played weakside ‘backer in the NFL, but he's smart, and if he stays healthy, New York's linebackers – middle ‘back Marvin Jones and strongside ‘backer Mo Lewis – will flourish. Then it will be one of the tougher defenses to run the ball on.

Current weakness: Quarterback. Vinny Testaverde is 38 and aging and backup Chad Pennington has proven to be too inconsistent. The Jets signed Testaverde to a five-year deal in the off-season though, realistically, New York only expects him to play another two years. When Testaverde hits a slump – missing receivers and throwing interceptions – coach Herman Edwards knows the Jets could be in trouble. Pennington hasn't demonstrated much in the preseason, nor in practice, though the Jets maintain he's more of a "game-player" than a "practice-player." Sounds pretty fishy.

How they compare to the Bills: The Jets are not an overwhelming team. They're going to have to rely on defense to keep things close and the offense to score just enough points. Offensively, Buffalo matches up well with New York, which has a questionable defensive line and secondary. Defensively, Buffalo should be able to handle the New York passing game, but when it comes time to stop Curtis Martin, that could be a difficult task.


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