1) Which team in the AFC East has been the biggest surprise (positive or negative) and why?
Tyler Dunne: New England. Even without Tom Brady, the Patriots were supposedly loaded on both sides of the ball. After getting blown out by Miami and slipping by the Jets and 'Niners, it's clear this is a much different Pats team that may struggle to compete for the playoffs.
Dan Leberfeld: Obviously the Miami Dolphins are the biggest positive surprise. After that blowout loss to Arizona in Week Two, it looked like it was going to be a long season in Miami. But now they look like they can contend for the Division title. When you beat New England and San Diego in consecutive games, you are a playoff contender in the AFC. And the Dolphins success this season is in large part due to a gift the Jets gave them in the middle of the summer by the name of Chad Pennington.
Alain Poupart: Buffalo might have the best record at 4-1, but you can't go against the Dolphins here. It's not just that they're 2-2, but that they beat New England and San Diego in back-to-back games. And in convincing fashion, regardless of the seven-point margin against the Chargers. For a team that was 1-15 last year, this is heady stuff.
Jon Scott: I have to say New England on the negative side. Has the absence of one player affected the league outlook as much as the Patriots loss of Tom Brady? On the positive side, it's obviously Miami. I would have said Buffalo, but I expected Buffalo to be competitive based on the way their season shook out. I'm not sure who - if anyone - saw the turnaround in Miami after their first two games. Can they sustain it, or was it trickery that netted them those two wins, that's what I want to know, they look like they're for real
2) Who has been the best offensive and defensive player in the division (and why)?
Tyler Dunne: Brett Favre and Joey Porter. Favre has resurrected a franchise - currently leading in the NFL in passer rating (110.8). He turns 39 this week, but you'd never tell. One year after finishing as the MVP runner-up, Favre remains a rare player who can single-handedly take over a game. Porter's walking is finally matching his talking in Miami. With 5.5 sacks through four games, Porter is making the Dolphins relevant again.
Dan Leberfeld: The best offensive player in the division has been Chad Pennington. To take a team that looked like a 1-15 type club, and make them a playoff contender, is a pretty good accomplishment. Pennington has made the Dolphins viable. They would probably be 0-4 right now without out him.
The top defensive player would be Marcus Stroud in Buffalo. While the Arizona game wasn't pretty, this defense has been pretty solid and having Stroud in the middle of the defensive line has been a key. He is his old dominant self again after a couple of down years in Jacksonville due to injuries.
Alain Poupart: I hate to be a homer, but I don't see anybody on the Jets, Bills or Pats who has been as impressive offensively as Ronnie Brown. The guy already has six touchdowns and he had a game for the ages against New England. On defense, I'm trying really hard not to go with Joey Porter because I don't want to be Dolphins-intensive. You clearly could make a case for him. But I'll go with Jets CB Darrelle Revis, who clinched the season-opening victory at Miami with an interception in the end zone and helped the Jets build that huge lead against Arizona with a pick-six in the second quarter.
Jon Scott: Offensive player would be a tough choice between Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown. I'll give the nod to Pennington because without him, Miami would be stuck in the mud with a few Ronnie Brown tricks. Brown is good, but someone has to run the offense, and no insult intended to the other QBs on their roster, they needed help. Defensively it looks like the nod goes to one of the unsung heroes in the division year in and year out Aaron Schobel. Though Stroud gets credit for Buffalo's success also, I think the Buffalo defense would be average if Schobel left.
3) What player has come out of nowhere to be a big factor for the team this year?
Tyler Dunne: Jabari Greer. When Buffalo drafted Leodis McKelvin in the first round last April, Greer (and maybe - maybe - a few of his family members) were the only people that expected him to still be starting at this point. But through the first quarter of the season, Greer has a firm grasp at starting cornerback. He has broken up five passes, returned an interception for a touchdown to completely change the momentum in Buffalo's win at St. Louis and he is third on the team in tackles.
Dan Leberfeld: I would say Greg Camarillo in Miami. It's amazing in life what you can find out about someone when you give them a legitimate chance to show what they can due. The Stanford product has been terrific for the Dolphins. Hey, he has nothing to lose. If he wasn't playing for the Dolphins, the Stanford graduate would probably have a great job on Wall Street. Oh wait a minute, those don't exist anymore. I guess he's better off with the Dolphins, and they are glad he's there.
Alain Poupart: The biggest reason the Bills are 4-1 has been the play of QB Trent Edwards, and there was no indication coming into the season he'd be a guy the team could count on to produce fourth-quarter comebacks.
Jon Scott: This is tough for me as I've seen what Miami and New York can do first hand. I still have to give the nod to a Buffalo player, Paul Posluszny their middle linebacker, just over Lee Evans their receiver. Poz didn't play the majority last year due to a broken arm. He's arrived on the scene in Buffalo and has made an immediate impact on the team. Honorable mention goes to Philip Merling who is key to making the Dolphins defense one worthy of attention.
4) Which rookie do you see making the biggest impact as the season progresses?
Tyler Dunne: Jake Long. Yeah, really reaching out on limb here with the first overall pick. But Long plays a key role on Miami's "Wildcat" offense, sliding to the right side of the line for Ronnie Brown's runs up the middle. So far he's been stout against heavyweights Richard Seymour, Luis Castillo and Travis LaBoy in this role. If the Fins' rushing attack keeps rolling, look out.
Dan Leberfeld: Jerod Mayo in New England. It's not easy to start at linebacker as a rookie in New England's complex system, and he's doing it. And as the season progresses, and he gets more comfortable, he will only get better.
Alain Poupart: Because I don't want to totally ignore them, I'll go with the Patriots here and say ILB Jerod Mayo. He's looked pretty good so far and the Pats will need for their defense to remain solid enough for them to make the playoffs.
Jon Scott: It's tough not to give the nod to the home team Patriots on this one for their selection of Jerod Mayo. He joined a unit run by ancient middle linebackers and beat out reserves who haven't seen the field much (or at all) at this point. Mayo's presence in the middle allows the Patriots to focus on other ways to shore up the defense. Just think, if Mayo wasn't there, Junior Seau would be back in the middle for New England, and that may not have worked out as well as it did previously.
5) What record do you expect your team to have by the half way point of the season and why?
Tyler Dunne (Bills): Buffalo will probably fall back to earth a little and be 5-3 at the halfway point. With injuries bogging down the likes of Aaron Schobel and Terrence McGee on defense and Trent Edwards' situation up in the air, the Bills will probably lose two of their next three games (San Diego, Miami, N.Y. Jets). The Bills have made a habit of getting their act together late in games. Look for these late-game heroics to slip away more often as the season wears on.
Dan Leberfeld (Jets): The team I cover the New York Jets, I think they will be 6-2 at the midway point. They have a somewhat easy schedule the rest of the first half of the season, and Favre is getting more comfortable every week.
Alain Poupart (Dolphins): I'll go with 4-4, which certainly is better than I would have suggested at the start of the season. I actually was tempted to say 5-3 because of how impressive the Dolphins have been in their last two games. Really, the Dolphins were really, really good in every aspect against New England and San Diego, except for special teams. With the Dolphins, the situation has gone from trying to figure out which team they actually could beat to trying to figure out if there's a team they legitimately they don't have a shot of beating. That's an amazing transformation.
Jon Scott (Patriots): Though New England has a 75% positive record now, I'm not sure if I'm ready to say Matt Cassel can continue that trend. Although, there are many similarities to Tom Brady's first year as a starter (2001) when they went 11-5. The team began 1-3 then beat three of their next four to make 4-4 at the midway point. Cassel still makes far too many mistakes to be close to Brady-esque.
Just like 2001, three of the Pats next four opponents are San Diego, Denver and Indy. Brady played them as a pseudo rookie during the same stretch in 2001 and won 2 out of 3. San Diego and Indianapolis look mortal now, so I believe the 2008 version of the Pats can do close to the same winning 2 out of the next 4. A 5-3 record by the midway point is probably where they'll end up.
Trivia nugget, does anyone remember Indy was in the AFC East
at that time?