A Look Around the AFC East

<p>What's going on around the AFC East? Chris Timoney takes a look at what the Patriots division rivals are up to, including off-season roster changes and what they might be looking for in the upcoming NFL draft.</p><p>Chris is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider and we're happy to continue to bring you his insights on the team, the changes around the NFL, and how it all affects Patriot Nation.</p>

PHOTO: New England Patriots wide receiver David Givens (87) reaches but can't make the reception as Buffalo Bills' Terrence McGee (24) defends.

Catching Up With The Jones’?
By Chris Timoney, Site Contributor

Winning 3 out of the last 4 Super Bowls haven’t made the New England Patriots complacent. The roster and coaching staff that left Jacksonville in early February has been changing rapidly. The day after the Super Bowl, New England was already down an offensive and defensive coordinator. Since the Pro Bowl the Patriots have been right in the thick of all the free agency frenzy, although New England has been doing more subtraction than addition.

Nevertheless, Pats fans have all the faith in the world in what Bill Belichick will do to get his team back to the top of the mountain. Well what about the other teams in the AFC East? Remember them? It may be hard to recall that there are 3 other teams who finished behind two consecutive 14-2 campaigns by the Patriots, but they’re there as they’ve always been. These teams must be getting tired of New England winning all the time. So in this pre-draft free agency period what are they doing about it?

Let’s take a look...

NEW YORK JETS

Chad Pennington

Division Standing: 2nd
2004 Record: 10-6 * Wildcard
Last Game: Loss, 17-20 OT @ Pit

The JETS turned their record around from a disappointing 6-10 in 2003 to a fairly credible 10-6 this past season. How’d they do it? With QB Chad Pennington’s arm an issue all season Curtis Martin figuratively and quite literally carried the load for New York’s offense. Had Paul Hackett and crew not have pulled a Marty Schottenheimer and blown the Jets’ playoff game in Pittsburgh, then the Jets would have made an additional trip up I-95 North to play the AFC title game in Foxboro.

We all know what happened in Pittsburgh for the Jets. As a result, Paul Hackett is out and Mike Heimerdinger is in as the new offensive coordinator. It’s expected that Heimerdinger will steer the Jet’s offense in the direction of finesse passing and away from the power running game they’ve been known for. To do this New York has traded with the Washington Redskins to regain the services of wide receiver Laveraneus Coles.

Paired up with Justin McCareins, Coles provides the Jets with two serviceable possession receivers and they’ll probably seek a down field threat in the draft or in the continuing free agency period although the choices are getting slim. The one guy who would really help out the Jets “new” passing attack, Plaxico Burress, looks to be headed for that other New York team.

Curtis Martin had what one would call an outstanding season for the Jets and should be a future Hall-of-Famer. Martin showed no signs of slowing down last season and was under used in the Jets post-season. He ran for 1,697 yards in the regular season and will again be the feature back of the offense. Keep in mind, Martin has a lot of tread left on those tires.

Aside from good run blocking and Martin’s obvious talents, backup running back Lamont Jordan was a big factor why Martin didn’t wear out towards the end of the season. Jordan is now one of the cast of characters on Al Davis’ Oakland team having signed a lucrative free agency deal. To counter this loss, the Jets have brought in Chiefs running back Derrick Blaylock.

Blaylock should fill Jordan’s shoes nicely and has proven that he’s got big game potential. In the Chief’s game in New Orleans Blaylock found himself as the starter via injuries and rushed for 186 yards. He also put up 90 yards and 4 TD’s against a stingy Atlanta D earlier in the season.

The Jets have also have signed Broncos tight end Jeb Putzier to an offer sheet and should Denver not retain Putzier they’ll get a 6th round pick from New York. The Jets would then have a new starting tight end considering it looks as though they’re ready to part ways with Anthony Becht. The last truly productive tight end was Johnny Mitchell in 1995.

There’s also word that Jay Fielder may be brought in to serve as Pennington’s backup. Fiedler's addition could be insurance against Pennington’s arm acting up during the season. It would also spare Jet’s fans from having to sit through a Brooks Bollinger experience. Some people might rather sit through a country music festival with their eyes forced open Clockwork Orange style than watch Bollinger under center, Jet fans included.

Defensively the Jet’s slapped the franchise tag on defensive end John Abraham and lost tackle Jason Ferguson to the Cowboys. Although no marquee signings have occurred on the defensive end they have added depth in tackle Lance Legree(formerly a Giant).

They will most likely key in on a young run stopper in the draft and of course anything can happen after the June 1st cuts. In all the new offense should be interesting to watch.

BUFFALO BILLS

Drew Bledsoe

Division Standing: 3rd
2004 Record: 9-7
Last Game: Loss, 24-29 v Pit

The Bills did a nice job of salvaging a potentially horrible season by winning 6 of their last 7 games after dropping the first 4 games of the season behind a dead offense. The offense woke up and the defense held tight to give them a chance in the Wild Card hunt.

Willis McGahee made his mark as the future starting running back and Travis Henry will likely end up elsewhere for the ‘05 season, probably in Arizona...enjoy the weather Travis, thanks for playing.

The big mystery for Buffalo is who will be handing the ball off to Willis. Buffalo cut Drew Bledsoe a few weeks ago which at the time translated as handing over the reigns to still unproven J.P. Losman. Then they signed disgruntled Browns backup QB Kelly Holcomb to possibly compete with Losman for the starting job. As it stands now, Losman will be the starter heading in to training camp. Holcomb will be the insurance plan for coach Mike Mularkey should Losman falter in what will be his first real season in the NFL. Last year Losman spent half the season recovering from a broken leg and the other half in mop up duty.

The offensive line lost some cohesiveness when left tackle Jonas Jennings left for San Francisco so the Bills hope former Bear Mike Gandy can fill that spot.

Defensively the Bills said good-bye to eight year defensive tackle Pat Williams (to Minnesota) who, with Sam Adams, made a nice pair of run stoppers in the middle of the Bills defensive line. If Buffalo can’t find a quality replacement for Williams then opponents will double team Adams all season leaving the Bills exposed to smash mouth up the middle runners.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

sammy morris
Sammy Morris

Division Standing: 4th
2004 Record: 4-12
Last Game: Loss, 23-30 @ Balt

The Dolphins’ big moves thus far have been defensively, more specifically on the defensive line where it’s believed that Miami will be switching to a 3-4 front. New head coach Nick Saban has brought in defensive ends Vonnie Holiday and Kevin Carter, two veterans who can also play inside. The signings of Carter and Holiday not only add experience but depth to what’s already a solid defensive line. Look for a lot of rotating players on that front line as Miami still has the services of defensive end standouts Jason Taylor and David and Tim Bowens.

In the secondary Miami has said hello to safety Tavares Tillman and good-bye to Arturo Freeman and Shawn Wooden. The Dolphins are hopeful that Tillman can overcome the injuries that have plagued him the past two seasons and truly come into his own under new defensive coordinator Richard Smith.

Offensively the Jay Fiedler era is officially over and the immediate future now rests on the arm of A.J. Feely. Feely took over the starting job once former head coach Dave Wannestedt left town. Feely showed glimpses of what he can do during the season when he threw for 300 yards and 3TDs against the Bills. Unfortunately in that same game he threw 5 picks.

Fortunately for Feely the offensive line will remain intact as left tackle Damion McIntosh agreed to restructure his contract. There will also be continuity at the wide receiver position as both Marty Booker and Chris Chambers return along with gifted tight end Randy McMichael. One guy who won’t return and probably won’t be missed is David Boston. The jacked up wide receiver was cut by Miami after failing his physical. Boston missed all of last season with a knee injury and the controversy over the fact that he tested positive for steroids in December. If Boston were a baseball player he’d be one of those who report to spring training missing 20-30 pounds.

For this to be a truly successful off-season, the Dolphins truly need a running back. Travis Minor doesn't appear to be able to cut it as feature back. Miami has the second pick in the draft and will most likely pick either Ronnie Brown or Cedric Benson. Both guys have 4 years of big time college football under their belts and should succeed behind and experienced offensive line right away. Sorry Sammy Morris fans but that’s the way it is.

Buffalo, Miami and New York have each made some decent moves improving their rosters. We'll see how they fare in the draft and the rest of the off-season.

Chris Timoney provides is a site contributor for the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: jakbrown. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by using the search feature on this site.

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