The More Things Change…

With training camps opening in less than a week, the Patriots, among other AFC East teams, have a lot of work to prepare for the challenges they will face in 2005. Fantasy sports writer Joe Levit takes a look around the division, sharing his thoughts on the changes affecting these teams.

PHOTO: Willis McGahee #21 of the Buffalo Bills runs against the Cleveland Browns December 12, 2004 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Getty Photo)

The More Things Change…
By Joe Levit, Patriots Insider

It is a strange fact of the AFC East this season. Despite the defections of coordinators for New England, the ascendancy of J.P. Losman in Buffalo, the better behavior of David Boston in Miami and the probable health of Chad Pennington for the Jets, some key sets of circumstances have become or stayed the same for all four team offenses.

New England Patriots

One of the key tactics that the Patriots have used to power their way to three Super Bowl victories in the last four seasons is the off-season acquisition of talented football players. These players always fit a couple of certain criteria. Either they are talented players who have tasted little professional success and are therefore hungry to win, or they are talented players who have been beleaguered by a bad reputation, often deserved, and have a chip they would like to get off their shoulder.

This year is no different. In sticking with that formula, the Patriots picked up cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chad Scott to shore up their secondary. Obviously the fact that the Patriots survived with rookies and out-of-position players at cornerback last season does not mean they would like to make a habit of it.

On offense, the team brought in Tim Dwight and David Terrell. Dwight is a great fourth of fifth wideout and an ace returner on special teams when healthy. Terrell is the intriguing player of this bunch. He was the eighth pick in the 2001 draft, but has never scored more than the four touchdowns he did as a rookie. In fact, despite increasing his yardage significantly each of the last two years after a low in 2002, he has only reached the end zone once in both of the last two seasons. However he did see his highest average per catch in 2004, at 16.6 yards, so he could be finally ready to have a breakout season. Because the Patriots don't have any veteran players his size, and since he did play his college ball with quarterback Tom Brady, it is entirely possible that an old rapport could mean good things for New England this season.

New York Jets

After a two-year stint in D.C., Laveranues Coles returns to New York, the site of his initial success in the league. And it comes at a good time for the Jets. Santana Moss never quite worked out for Gang Green, and the team had to rely upon Curtis Martin to an unbelievable degree last season. So much so that Martin logged a career-high 371 carries and led the league in rushing.

Coles plays through pain and hasn't missed a game since he became a starter in 2001, though he has had issues with turf toe over the years. This means the Jets will have a steadying veteran who can consistently work over opposing secondaries.

Opposite Coles will be Justin McCareins, who logged a disappointing 770 yards and four scores after his coming out party the year before as a Titan. In a reunion of sorts, he will now play under Mike Heimerdinger again, who was his offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Perhaps this move will give McCareins the makeover he needs to continue to improve as a young receiver.

Miami Dolphins

After spending years in a committee circumstance with also-talented Carnell Williams at Auburn, Ronnie Brown looked ready to break free in the NFL with a chance to establish himself as a terrific back full-time for the Dolphins. Miami, who used the number two overall pick in the 2005 draft to select Brown, was desperate to find a top-notch running back to fill the production they did not replace when Ricky Williams left them high and dry before the 2004 season.

But, in an odd twist of fate, it is entirely possible that Brown will at least begin his professional career as part of another committee. Ricky Williams is progressing toward a return to the field, and though he will ultimately be required to serve a four-game suspension to begin the season this year, he does have the experience and talent to take away some carries from Brown starting in week 5, especially if Brown gets off to a slow start or gets injured.

Those four weeks will be a critical period for Brown, as it is his opportunity to prove without doubt that he was worthy of being selected second from the college ranks this season. Brown will face the Broncos, Jets and Panthers before the bye, and then the Bills in week 5 before Williams could return to play in week six against Tampa Bay. Those are some tough run defenses, so it may prove difficult for Brown to post an impressive to start the season.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills finally were able to replace Peerless Price when rookie Lee Evans came on down the stretch last year with some consistently impressive receiving efforts. Evans pushed the ineffective Josh Reed to the slot receiver role, and rookie Roscoe Parrish could push Reed to the bench.

The Bills have had some very mediocre years at tight end recently. Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus combined for seven scores last year, but both are attempting to return from injured knees this season. The Bills used the 86th overall pick of the 2005 draft on a tight end that they felt certain could become a factor in the passing game. Unfortunately, Miami product Kevin Everett, who had looked in great in mini camps this year, suffered a knee injury of his own, and will miss his rookie season. It will be yet another year of unimpressive play from the Buffalo tight ends.


Based in Boston, Joe writes columns for Sports Illustrated (SI.com) and thehuddle.com and provides fantasy football entertainment for corporate and client appreciation events (fantasyfootballspeaker.com). A member of the PFWA and FSWA he be reached at joelevit_writer@yahoo.com.

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