QuarterbacksThis season, Tom Brady returns with renewed confidence and a rehabilitated knee. Bad news for AFC East secondaries, which have fallen prey time and time again to Brady and the Patriots' relentless aerial attack. In 2007, he set an NFL record with 50 touchdowns, incising opposing defenses with brain surgeon-like precision. Head for the hills. Tom Brady is back.
The Buffalo Bills expected Trent Edwards to be a solid backup to JP Losman when they took him in the third round of the 2007 draft. A year after the organization gave Edwards the tentative reigns of a starter, he returns as the no-hesitation number one. Command of the no-huddle offense, an injury-free season and utilization of his superb receiving corps could make Edwards the future of this franchise – but this is the make-or-break year.
Matt Cassel's departure to Kansas City leaves the Pats' in desperate need of a solid backup in case Brady goes down again. New England showed interest in Michael Vick, but didn't reel in the troubled quarterback. Still, this is an easy decision.
The Edge – New England
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed Bills running back Marshawn Lynch a three-game suspension to start the 2009 season, the Bills went from "Beast Mode" to "Panic Mode." The Bills were also in danger of losing Fred Jackson, the backup with No. 1 style talent and contract frustrations. While the front office renegotiated with Jackson, they shopped around and landed Dominic Rhodes.
Now, the Bills could end up boasting one of the most dangerous running back trios in the league if the depth stays healthy and Lynch stays fresh. Each has a unique style that complements the others. Lynch's "Beast Mode" grills shine bright underneath his facemask. A power back who loves contact, he's a bruiser with the attitude to match. Fred Jackson combines a punishing style with a silky smoothness — an ability to find the seam and emerge from the pile still running could create screaming headaches for opposing defenses. He also has shown to be a solid receiving back, becoming a favorite check-down target for Edwards last season. Rhodes, a seasoned veteran from the Indianapolis Colts, brings leadership to a huddle that is still finding an identity. Watch out for young Xavier Omon – a fourth-stringer who has shown promise at camp.
They say that dinosaur's died over 65-million years ago – but when looking at some of the Pats' running backs, there is evidence that some dinos reside in Boston.
Sammy Morris is in his 10th season, Kevin Faulk 11th and Fred Taylor 12th. There's no shortage of rundown legs in New England's backfield. The Pats hope off-season acquisition Taylor will pump some life into the subpar running game. This is also the make-or-break season for Laurence Maroney, a former first-round draft pick whose consistency has roller-coastered up and down. He has shown he can run the ball, but a knack for injuries could leave him in danger of losing his starting role.
The youth, speed and depth of Buffalo's backs outweigh the beyond-veteran-just-plain-old of New England.
The Edge – Buffalo
The AFC East has two of the most self-centered, narcissistic receivers in the game today. Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Dynamic. Record-setters. Egotistical. Say whatever you want about their age or their attitudes, they're both still elite receivers.Randy Moss' career went from outstanding to mediocre — and back to outstanding. While with the Vikings and Daunte Culpepper, he boasted double-digit touchdowns in six of his seven seasons. Then he went to Oakland and did what every good player does when they become a Raider – regress. He wasted two seasons twiddling his thumbs until New England's front office gave him a shot at redemption. In his first season with the Pats, he caught 23 touchdowns. Belichick unleashed Moss on the NFL, turning him from a shamed has-been to a terrifying deep threat.
Jeff Garcia became the first to fall to Terrell Owens in San Francisco. Donovan McNabb had his hands full in Philly before T.O. ripped that locker room apart too. Three years, no Dallas Cowboy playoff wins and Tony Romo's shredded confidence gave ‘Boys owner Jerry Jones all the ammunition he needed to chase T.O. out of town.
But now, just like Moss, T.O. has been given a shot at redemption. His numbers on the field certainly allow his ridiculously outlandish swagger off the field. An "off" year for T.O. is 10 touchdowns. Even at 35, the cat can still ball. Hopefully, the first-year T.O. will show up in Buffalo this season. If it does, expect good things. If not….well, everyone has seen what happens.
If you look out of the spotlight, it's amazing to see how much depth each team has at receiver. Ever since he displayed his deep-threat talents, Lee Evans has been double-teamed. With T.O. taking some coverage, the veteran Bill might have his biggest year yet. Josh Reed, Steve Johnson and a healthy James Hardy give Edwards unlimited options downfield.
New England possesses one of the deadliest slot threats in the NFL – Wes Welker. With 100+ receptions in each of his last two seasons, he has become a favorite target for Brady. Veteran Joey Galloway may still have some gas left in the tank, giving Brady a go-to third option.
The depth and skill set are similar, but when factoring in whose throwing the ball, New England takes it. Brady makes his receivers better, while this year Buffalo's receivers will make Edwards better.
The Edge – New England
After seeing B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly annihilate Buffalo's line last Saturday night at Lambeau Field, many are convinced there is much work still to be done. Bills' center Geoff Hangartner looked like top soil being pushed back by a bulldozer in overdrive. The Packers exposed the Bills' inexperience in dealing with the 3-4 defense – the same scheme every AFC East opponent runs. To be successful, the Bills' line must mesh together and know how to counter four linebackers, or Trent Edwards is in for a long (and painful) season.
The Patriots' offensive line consists of seasoned veterans who have been to Super Bowls and back. The Pats' front-five is so good that New England fans are able to watch Brady drop back in the pocket and then go for an extended bathroom break, returning only to see Brady still in the pocket. Nick Kaczur, Matt Light and Logan Mankins are some of the primary reasons for New England's success in past years.
Skill, veteran leadership and superb run- and pass-blocking make this a no-brainer.
The Edge – New England
Spencer Timkey is an analyst for BuffaloFootballReport.com. Contact him at TIMKEYSM@sbu.edu.
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--- BILLS/JETS PART I (premium)
--- BILLS/DOLPHINS PART I (premium)