|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
|NFC EAST||NFC NORTH||NFC SOUTH||NFC WEST||AFC EAST||AFC NORTH||AFC SOUTH||AFC WEST|
|2004 BUFFALO BILLS|
Bill Nobis, BillsReport.Com
Last Season's Record: 6-10 (3rd AFC East)
Last Playoff Appearence: 1999 AFC wildcard playoff loss to Titans, 16-22
Key Matchup(s): New England 10/3 and 11/14, Miami 10/17
Notable Returnees: RB Travis Henry, LB Takeo Spikes, WR Eric Moulds, CB Nate Clements, QB Drew Bledsoe, DE Aaron Schobel, DT Pat Williams
Notable Additions: OT Chris Villarrial (Bears), CB Troy Vincent (Eagles), WR Lee Evans (1st Round draft pick), RB Willis McGahee (off of IR)
Notable Subtractions: CB Antoine Winfield (Vikings), OG Rueben Brown (Bears)
Offensive Overview: New head coach Mike Murlarkey and offensive coordinator Tom Clements have been working hard on rebuilding Bledsoe's confidence and timing after coming off his worst season as a professional. He'll be helped by an offense that will be first looking to run, trying to generate a power attack with RB's Travis Henry and Willis McGahee. It's very safe to say that the starting job in the backfield is Henry's, but McGahee may be the most interesting player in the NFL to watch this season. The real key to the Bills offensive success this year will be determined chiefly by the success of the offensive line. If this line does not gel early or if it suffers injuries pretty much at all, then the chances of getting the kind of play out of it to allow Drew Bledsoe to be useful begin to diminish to zero. This is no longer any big secret that Bledsoe needs far better than an average offensive line simply to be effective and more good than harm.
Defensive Overview: The defense was easily the high point of last years team, finishing 2nd overall thanks to the addition of LB Takeo Spikes and DT Sam Adams. If they can keep up the same level of solid performance then it might give the Bills some time for their offense to gel. The biggest question mark is relying on young unproven DEs Ryan Denney and Chris Kelsay to help provide some pass rush along with RDE Aaron Schobel (11 1/2 sacks in 2003). In the secondary the Bills are hoping that they simply swapped Antoine Winfield for veteran Troy Vincent, although secondary depth is still a concern. Fans should also watch how the DL holds up against some of the best RBs in the NFL with matchups against Fred Taylor, Jamal Lewis, Corey Dillion, Rudi Johnson, and Shaun Alexander. If Ricky Williams hadn't retired the Bills would've nearly faced a premier back every week.
Special Teams Overview: Punter Brian Moorman was one of the best in the league last season and hopefully will repeat that performance. Kicker Rian Lindell is coming off of an average year and Bills fans will definitely want to see improvement.
Predictions: Depending on some big question marks (the offensive line, Bledsoe, lack of pass rush, first time head coach) the Bills could be set for an improvement or a repeat of last season. The Bills play a tough schedule but still realistically stand a chance of finishing above .500, we're going to say a 9-7 finish and second in the AFC East.
|2004 MIAMI DOLPHINS|
Lane Adkins, DolphinDigest.Com
Last Season's Record: 10-6 (Second place in the AFC East division)
Last Play Off Appearance: 2001
Key matchup(s): Non-division road games against 2004 playoff potential teams; Denver, Seattle and Baltimore. Intra-divisional games will be tougher in the 2004 season as the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills improve heading into the new season.
Star Power: DE Jason Taylor, CB Sam Madison, CB Patrick Surtain, MLB Zach Thomas, WR Chris Chambers.
Notable Additions: WR David Boston (trade – San Diego), WR Marty Booker (trade - Chicago), QB A.J. Feeley (trade - Philadelphia), CB Reggie Howard (FA - Carolina), OT Damion McIntosh (FA – San Diego), OT John St. Clair (FA – St. Louis), OG Jeno James (FA – Carolina), S Antuan Edwards (FA – Green Bay).
Notable Subtractions: RB Ricky Williams (retired), WR David Boston (knee surgery, lost for season), DE Adewale Ogunleye (trade - Chicago), S Brock Marion (FA - Detroit).
Offensive Overview: For a team that averaged just over 19 points-per-game last season, losing impact players before the season begins isn’t what was on the menu in Miami. The retirement of running back Ricky Williams leaves a huge void in the Miami offense and will definitely impact the offensive philosophy. Williams accounted for 37-percent of the Miami offensive output and over 76-percent of the rushing yards the team gained in the 2003 season. Without an established rusher in the backfield to replace Williams, Miami will not have the confidence nor the ability to pound the football consistently with Travis Minor and Sammy Morris. A. J. Feely was brought into Dolphins camp this off-season to solidify the quarterback position, but incumbent Jay Fielder has slightly been the better candidate as the starter for a Miami offense that struggled mightily throughout the preseason. Fielder was named starter by Head Coach Dave Wannstadt as pre-season came to a close. Losing wide receiver David Boston will hamper an offense which was looking to have the ability to become explosive in the passing game. Recently acquired wide receiver Marty Booker will team well with starter Chris Chambers to provide the Dolphins a formidable starting duo. Due to questions in the running game, tight-end Randy McMichael tends to be in line for a busy season as a dependable receiver in the intermediate passing game and dump-off threat. An offensive line which has been average has been revamped and is expected to be an improved unit in time. With the issues surrounding the Miami offense, the offensive line could prove critical to the early season success of the Dolphins while the team searches for playmakers and an identity.
Defensive Overview: The Dolphins are a team predicated by their defense. To live and die with the defense may be an understatement heading into the 2004 season. Miami’s defense in the 2003 yielded just 16.3 points-per-game, third best in the league. Expected to remain stringent against the run, the Dolphins did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 2003. The Dolphins will press more in the 2004 with their cornerbacks to add pressure the opposition. Additions of 2004 draft selection Will Poole and Reggie Howard in the secondary provide the Dolphins the opportunity to match Surtain against the opposition’s top receiver or slot receiver in certain defensive sets. Replacing veteran Brock Marion at the free-safety spot has not been an easy task, with Antuan Edwards and Arturo Freeman taking turns filling in alongside starter Sammy Knight at strong-safety. The linebackers are solid, but not spectacular, Zach Thomas is very solid manning down the middle, but questions abound regarding the long-term consistency of an aging weak-side linebacker Junior Seau. Morlon Greenwood is the starter on the strong-side and had shown improved consistency and a better understanding of the defense and his responsibilities heading into the 2004 season. The loss of Ogunleye will hurt the Dolphins heading into the season. With one of their defensive lineman leading the league in sacks in three of the past four seasons, Miami does not have a locked in pass-rushing talent opposite Jason Taylor on the defensive line. Expect Taylor to see increased double-teams due to the lack of a consistent presence at the left defensive end position.
Special Teams Overview: The Dolphins return game is solid with Travis Minor returning kickoffs and Charlie Rogers returning punts. Both are explosive types which should provide Miami with consistent field position in the 2004 season. Punter Matt Turk does not have a booming leg, but has shown the tendency to be consistent with the ability to drop the ball inside the opposition 20-yard line with regularity. Place-kicker Olindo Mare is coming off an average 2003 season where he connected on .759 of his attempts. For a Miami team which figures to struggle putting the ball in the end-zone early in the season, the Dolphins will need a consistent, if not outstanding season from their veteran kicker.
The Dolphins will show progress if.... the team can find consistency on the offensive side of the football. Heading into the 2004 season, Miami enters without a true threat in the backfield, inconsistency along the offensive line and at the quarterback spot. The Dolphins string of 14 consecutive seasons without a losing record could be in jeopardy heading into the 2004 season. With questions remaining at the quarterback, running back, and offensive line positions, Head Coach Dave Wannstedt will either prove to be a coach worthy to keep his job or ultimately become one of the unemployed in South Florida.
|2004 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS|
|Author: Jon Scott, PatriotsInsider.Com
Last Season's Record: 14-2, AFC East Champs, AFC Conference Champs, Superbowl Winners
Last Play Off Appearance: 2003-4 Superbowl XXXVIII
Key matchup(s): Sept. 9th Indianapolis AFC Conference Championship rematch (9:00 pm on ABC); Oct. 10th Miami, 1st rematch without Ricky (1:00pm CBS); Nov. 22nd @ Kansas City MNF (9:00 pm on ABC); Dec 20th @ Miami MNF (9:00 pm on ABC)
Star Power: Tom Brady, QB, 5th , 6-4 225; Troy Brown, WR, 12th, 5-10 196; Ty Law, DB, 10th, 5-11 200; Adam Vinatieri, PK, 9th, 6-0 202; Tedy Bruschi, LB, 9th, 6-1 247; Rodney Harrison, S, 11th, 6-1 220
Notable Additions: Corey Dillon, RB (Cincinnati), Josh Miller, P (Pittsburgh), Ben Watson, TE (1st round draft), Vince Wilfork, DL (1st round draft), Keith Traylor, DL (Chicago)
Notable Subtractions: Ted Washington, DL (Oakland), Damien Woody (Detroit), Terrell Buckley, DB (Cut), Chris Akins, S (Miami)
Notable Returnees: Rosevelt Colvin, LB (returns from IR); Russ Hochstein, OL
Offensive Overview: The offense that is the Patriots revolves around one player, and that is Tom Brady. When Brady is given time, his passes are sharp, he finds the open receiver and he can lead a team down into Vinatieri's FG range. As a testament to both Superbowl wins, Brady's ability to drive the team down the field lead late in the game led to Vinatieri winning both games with his foot. Gone is the slow plodding Antowain Smith, in with rookie Cedric Cobbs and FA Corey Dillon. The offseason addition of Dillion from the Bengals gives the Patriots the every down back they need to balance their attack. Coach Bill Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weiss must have had to pinch themselves when looking at their WR corp. Not only have the players gained valuable experience, but also those with injuries or question marks have impressed in camp (notably David Patten). The team added TE Ben Watson (1st round), who should remind pats fans of the days of dependable Ben Coates. The concern for this offense is if either Brady gets hurt, OR the additions to the OL don't mesh well after losing C Damien Woody and Mike Compton. The line seemed to rally around Brady last year, and 2nd year C Dan Koppen , veteran Joe Andruzzi will be counted on again this year. Look for a more balanced attack this year. There still may be the occasional Troy Brown end around, but you can bet on a much-improved threat from play action pass with Corey Dillon in the backfield.
Defensive Overview: The Patriots Defensive unit appears to be well populated with skill players, but not household names. Gone is perennial run-stuffer Ted Washington, and the physical cover corner Terrell Buckley. In are players like Keith Traylor, and Rookie DL Marquise Hill. Hill Traylor, Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and rookie 1st Rounder Vince Wilfork should make for a pretty solid defensive line. Belichick being the ever-minded defensive genius that he is also has a sold LB core manned by versatile Mike Vrabel (superbowl TD), the ever-present Tedy Bruschi, recently returned from injury Rosevelt Colvin and aging Ted Johnson. The DL to LB experiment for Dan Klecko (son of Jets great DL, Joe), is going well. In Belichicks 3-4 scheme, Klecko seems to have found his niche. As an undersized DL, he would get lost on run plays, as a LB, Klecko fills holes quickly, and has the size to be a serious run stuffer. The concern for the team is the secondary. With Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel in the backfield, its unlikely teams will fear taking shots deep. Obviously Ty Law will have to be accounted for, but Rodney Harrison has proven this preseason that without a good pass rush, teams may be able to beat the Patriots deep. Look for the Patriots to try to get to the QB quickly with different schemes up front, akin to the days in Pittsburgh, which gave the team the nickname "Blitzburgh." With more inexperience in the backfield, Law will be counted on again to keep the Pats in striking distance for Vinatieri's foot.
Special Teams Overview: The Patriots Special team is well known for the leg of Adam. Adam Vinatieri that is. You can feel his confident swagger as he launches 50 yard FGs in practice. With the return of Vinatieri, the FG unit is set. The team added Pittsburgh punter Josh Miller, who has a pretty decent leg. Miller had no trouble booting 60 yard Punts in camp. The question is; can he launch one on a consistent basis in game situations? That was the knock on him in Pittsburgh. The return game is still in flux, as starting WR Troy Brown continues to takes turns returning kicks.
Team Prediction: Now that Ricky (Williams) has retired, and Drew (Bledsoe) is facing a make-or break season, and the Jets annual move of players to the NFC East has happened, the Patriots are in better shape this year to go win back-to-back Superbowls than in 2001. It's hard to find another more complete team out there in a division ripe for the taking. The Patriots will be able to win the Superbowl again, if; 1) the referees don't go overboard trying to make up for last season. 2) If for some reason the injury bug hits the offense.
|2004 NEW YORK JETS|
Denis Savage, JetsConfidential.Com
Last Season's Record: 6-10 (4th place in AFC East, 10th in Conference)
Last Play Off Appearance: 2002
Key matchup(s): at New England, Oct. 24, at Buffalo, Nov. 7, vs. Seattle Dec. 19
Star Power: Chad Pennington, QB, 5 years, 6-3, 225 lbs.; Curtis Martin, RB, 10 years, 5-11, 210 lbs.; Santana Moss, WR, 4 years, 5-10, 185 lbs.; Kevin Mawae, C, 11 years, 6-4, 289 lbs.; John Abraham, DE/LB, 5 years, 6-4, 256 lbs.; Shaun Ellis, 5 years, DE, 6-5, 285 lbs.
Notable Additions: Justin McCareins (acquired via trade with Tennessee), Eric Barton (Oakland), David Barrett (Arizona), Quincy Carter (Dallas).
Notable Subtractions: Dave Szott, Mo Lewis, Marvin Jones, Sam Garnes, Aaron Beasley.
Notable Returnees: Wayne Chrebet, Dewayne Robertson, Sam Cowart.
Offensive Overview: Chad Pennington recently signed one of the richest contracts in NFL history. He has the pocket poise and leadership demeanor that can bring the Jets a Championship. His receiving corps has been upgraded with the addition of McCareins but the team will only do as well as the running game. Curtis Martin has been doing it for so long – a time will come when he no longer can. Whether that is this year or not remains to be seen. LaMont Jordan is his backup and big things have been expected from him but Martin gets the carries.
Defensive Overview: The Jets will play a hybrid 4-3/3-4 under new defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. The Jets front line has as much talent as any in the league. Former first round picks line up everywhere and their maturation will go a long way in determining the success of the defense. Abraham will lineup everywhere and must be accounted for, while the linebackers have a new dimension of speed which should aid in the running game. The plan is to attack and create havoc along the line, whereas in the past it was a read a and react defense.
Special Teams Overview: Santana Moss is as dangerous as they come in the punt return game. He has the speed and vision to break one at any moment and team’s gameplan against giving him the ball. Doug O’Brien is solid from within 40 yards but long range is not his forte. Toby Gowin is looking to recoup after a down year. He is the Jets fourth punter in as many years and will likely handle kickoffs.
The Jets have snuck into the playoffs twice in the last three years and can do it again this year if they remain healthy – a big if. With Miami down and likely out, the Jets can get 10 wins out of their somewhat weak schedule.