1. Bill Belichick, New England
Some say Belichick will have a tainted legacy because of Spygate. Others can't deny the beast that lurks within the cutoff sweatshirt. Those three Super Bowl rings are an attribute to his coaching genius.
Belichick's career record of 153-90 is something you'd see from a tenured high school football coach. Since succeeding Pete Carroll in 2000, he has suffered just one losing season – his first. A perfect regular season record, three Super Bowl rings and two AP Coach of the Year awards later, Belichick has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
New England didn't even make the playoffs, but last year attests to Belichick's superior coaching. Tom Brady goes down in Week One playing the Kansas City Chiefs. The prognosis? Out for the year. Instead of shopping around for a replacement, Belichick starts Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school. And somehow, the Patriots go 11-5. That's coaching.
With Brady back, Belichick should outcoach the division again.
2. Tony Sparano, Miami
You've got to give Tony Sparano a lot of credit. He took a team that went 1-15 in 2007 and turned them into division champions. The Dolphins started the '08 season 0-2, rekindling fans' horrific nightmares of the previous season.
For a long time, the Patriots have been the "O'Doyle Rules!" bully of the school. Sparano refused to be intimidated by Belichick or the Patriots defense. In Week Three, he unleashed the "Wildcat" offense. Running back Ronnie Brown left the Pats "D" is utter confusion and terror every time he touched the ball. Sparano thoroughly outcoached Belichick that day (although the next time the two teams met, Belichick crushed the Dolphins).
Sparano led the Dolphins to their first playoff berth in eight years and a division crown one season after their 2007 one-win flop. With a strong pass rush and fairly consistent offense, Sparano could lead the Dolphins to another double-digit win total this year.
3. Dick Jauron, Buffalo
The nine-year playoff drought has chipped away almost all of Bills' fans patience. They want change, and they want it now. Another 7-9 season and they'll be calling for Jauron's head. Don't expect mediocrity to fare very well after this season, especially with T.O. residing in Orchard Park.
A 57-77 career record shows exactly what Jauron shows on his face after the Bills score a touchdown – blandness. Jauron did win 13 games with the Chicago Bears and an AP Coach of the Year award in 2001, but has failed to replicate that greatness. One trip to the postseason – in 2001 – is all that stands out on his resume.
Three consecutive 7-9 seasons has made this fan base restless. There are a lot of people nervous about T.O. throwing Edwards under the bus, but fans should worry about T.O. going after Jauron and the coaching staff. We've seen Buffalo's reluctance to throw the ball downfield, and if T.O. doesn't get what T.O. wants…well, you've seen what happens. So unless Jauron works some magic and can return to coaching form of 2001, don't expect to see his face on Buffalo's sidelines next season.
4. Rex Ryan, New York
Ryan grew up around football. His father Buddy coached both the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. His brother Rob is the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. The defensive schemes created by papa Ryan are still used today.
Ryan will have his hands full this season commanding troops who are without a leader in the locker room. With rookie Mark Sanchez fighting for the No. 1 spot at quarterback, Ryan will need to maintain a delicate balance should there be a power struggle.
Although the Jets finished third in the division last year, expect them to put up a good fight. If Ryan can get Sanchez to produce and if he can improve the secondary, the Jets should be happy with their new coach.
Spencer Timkey is an analyst for BuffaloFootballReport.com and has worked for WGR550 Radio this summer. Contact him at TIMKEYSM@sbu.edu.