last updated 6/10/2008 7:30pm
After reviewing Scout.com's recent NFL Rankings, PI Insiders shared their thoughts.
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1) Do you think the Patriots will be able to win the AFC East again?
LoVell Parkman: Yes, the New England Patriots will win the AFC East title again. I don't think it will be as easy as most make it out to be. Every team in the AFC East improved during the off-season. The Jets made the biggest improvements and will be the Patriots main concern regarding the AFC East.
Shane Leketa: Even though I feel that the New England Patriots will win the AFC East yet another year, it will not be as much of a cakewalk as last year was. Both the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills shored up a lot on their teams and the Dolphins are in a rebuilding phase but you never know how much they may spoil the show. If I were to pick just one challenger, I am going to have to throw the New York Jets out there. They made some great off season moves and signings so, I think it is going to be much tougher to surpass them even though the Patriots may be gunning for the Jets more and more as conspiracies unfold.
Kevin Saleeba: The Patriots will win the AFC East again with ease. The Dolphins are in a constant state of transition with a lot of unknowns and without Jason Taylor, things have gotten worse. The Jets were a big disappointment and will continue to flounder under the direction of Eric "the Rat" Mangini leading the organization. The Jets are also in need of a quarterback. The Bills played the Patriots tough last year and showed signs of turning the club around, but they still need a quarterback, because J.P. Losman is almost as bad as Chad Pennington. The big bright spot for the Bills is defensive end Aaron Schobel leading a tough defensive, but unfortunately, they just don't have enough pieces to take down the Patriots in the east.
Jim Poore: It isn't a question of whether the Patriots can win the AFC East again, but by how many games. They are still clearly the class of the AFC East, but truthfully the division still really isn't that good. I think the Jets of a couple of years ago were a fluke, and Buffalo will continue to be lousy. The wildcard will be Miami. Though awful last year, they do have some talent, and now they have Bill Parcells running the show. This doesn't mean they are going to contend for the division crown, because they won't. They need a couple of more years at least, but they will at least be competitive this year.
Jon Scott: Every year I think the Patriots are due for a let down, but early on in the season it becomes readily apparent that the rest of the division hasn't caught up to them. That's the same case this year. The rest of the AFC East has made strides - how could they not in Miami? -- But not enough to make the division in doubt. The biggest challenge will probably be from the Bills as long as they don't have a major personnel problem due to injury or other. The Jets out a lot of effort in improving this year, and they've definitely done that, but without a legitimate quarterback, they're the third best team.
2) Are the Patriots legitimate Super Bowl contenders?
Parkman: The Patriots are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Like most teams they have a few question marks, but as long as they have a healthy Tom Brady and Bill Belichick they will contend again this year. They have improved the team in one are of concern (linebacker) and has the possibility of a better overall unit (defensive backfield) than last year. But until the newcomers get to know one another it is a big question mark. Enough players back from an 18-1 season make them contenders again.
Leketa: I do believe in my heart of hearts that the Patriots are contenders but, like any team in the NFL, they are going no where if they can't stay healthy. The second thing that concerns me is the off-field effect that the Patriots are facing. With stories such as drugs, drama and that ever annoying term that begins with "spy" and ends with "gate", I hope that they will not distract this team but rather motivate them. Only time will tell.
Saleeba: The Patriots will always have a legitimate shot of being a Super Bowl contender as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are in town. The biggest questions will be on the aging defense. If the new blood can make an impact on the defensive side of the ball, expect them to play deep in the playoffs again.
Poore: Of course the Patriots are legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl. However, that does not mean they are the TOP contender. They are right there though. I think they have taken a step back, and their defense might be a concern. I am still not sold on any of the cornerbacks. Their offensive line could be a concern after their play in last year's Super Bowl, but I think everything will be settled there before the season begins. As long as the offensive line holds up, their offense should again be very, very good.
Scott: The oddsmakers have the Patriots the clear favorites to not only make it to the Super Bowl but to win it. Looking at the areas of the roster that needed attention, the team did enough to address their deficiencies. Injuries notwithstanding, I think they have a solid shot at returning to the Super Bowl.
3) Which AFC playoff contender(s) will challenge the Patriots chance to return to the Super Bowl?
Parkman: The Chargers, Colts and Jaguars are the biggest and most legitimate contenders from the AFC.
Leketa: Well I can clearly state two teams that are always in the Patriots way ... Colts and Chargers but there are a few more teams that may stand in the way ... the Broncos, the Browns and even though you will all laugh at me with saying it but, don't be surprised if the Raiders are spoilers this year with a young but very talented new Quarterback and Running Back tandem. I know I may be reaching but, I think they might be a dark horse.
Saleeba: The Colts and Chargers will remain in the hunt in the AFC, but my pick to go to the Super Bowl is the Jaguars. David Garrard has really raised his game to another level last season. He leads a team with a bruising running game with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor and their defense is one of the best in the league.
Poore: I think it is going to be the same old, same old in the AFC for contenders. The Patriots of course will be right there, as will the Colts and the Chargers. I think the Colts and the Patriots will probably be the co-favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, though I don't think either team will be as good as last year. I don't think San Diego has what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. Cleveland and Jacksonville will again be pretty decent, but not good enough to get very far. One team that I think is on the rise is Houston. They won't get to the Super Bowl, but they might sneak in as the last playoff team.
Scott: The top threats to the Patriots at this time have to be the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers. Both teams have a legitimate core group of players with playoff experience. The Patriots have trouble stopping Manning and his targets. That will continue as I expect Indy to return to the playoffs though Jacksonville has made some amazing strides recently. I think Pittsburgh's time has passed. They have loads of talent, but the AFC North will be one of the toughest divisions in football, and the survivor will be battle tested, but probably beat up by the time they get to the postseason, including my AFC North winner Cleveland.
4) What's the biggest area of concern for New England at this point?
Parkman: Offensive play calling. Josh McDaniels' has not done a good job of mixing plays especially in key situations. It needs to be more then Brady to Moss on deep passes. He needs to use his tight ends more. He also needs to adjust to what the defense is doing. More often than not he has no clue and had has no answer to what some of the defenses are doing. Look at the Eagles and Ravens games last year. Not to mention playoff games like the Chargers and least we all forget the Giants in the Super Bowl. Second is a brand new defensive backfield and third is the offensive line in particular the right side, guard and especially right tackle.
Leketa: Well an easy area of concern is the defensive secondary. This team is rolling the dice with a young and inexperienced defensive unit since letting Samuel, Gay and Wilson go through free agency. This is a lot of trust in the system that has brought them a large amount of success in the past. I can remember that both Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson made impacts their rookie seasons, but this is a very complicated and intricate defensive system they are joining so again, only time will tell. I think that if the defensive line can stay healthy and put pressure on the QB all of the time, then things may open in the secondary.
Saleeba: Like I have said in the past, that defense has a lot of question marks. They are getting old. Hopefully rookie linebacker Jerrod Mayo will cut the mustard and will inject some life into the defense. With Asante Samuel gone, the defensive backfield will be shaky at best. Brandon Meriweather showed nothing last year and Rodney Harrison is getting long in the tooth. If Ellis Hobbs is their best corner going into the season, they will have major trouble covering anyone.
Poore: I think it is once again going to be the defense. I think the cornerbacks are a huge question mark, and the linebackers are another year older. Jerrod Mayo will help, but Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel are slowing down. The defense will always be pretty good as long as Bill Belichick is running things, but I don't know if pretty good is going to be enough in the long run. I think the offensive line could be a question mark, as I think the New York Giants might have exposed them a bit in the Super Bowl. The Patriots might have taken a step back, but they are still many steps ahead of most teams.
Scott: Injuries are the biggest concern right now. It's too early to tell what the new players will do until we see them in a game, even a preseason game. Watchign guys run around in helmets and shorts is a nice way to see what their body language looks like, but you have no idea of what their makeup speed is until they put the pads on. Also their ability to be in the right position at the right time is another factor. I think the defensive secondary is one area I'm concerned about with three newcomers, and possibly three new players seeing significant playing time. The interior linebacker position is the second concern.
5) Which NFC team will make it to the Super Bowl?
Parkman: This will be the year Dallas finally wins a playoff game. In fact they should win enough to make it to the Super Bowl. Contrary to popular belief, Jerry Jones is not the devil. He just sold his soul to make it to and win a Super Bowl that's all. The Cowboys have talent at every position and should make it to the Super Bowl in spite of Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips.
Leketa: I have to say something that I thought I would never say ... Jerry Jones has made some great moves this off-season. I know that the Cowboys are a popular pick but I can't disagree with the pick. With the signing of Terrell Owens and the bringing in of Pacman Jones, I think if Tony Romo can keep his head out of the TMZ celeb clouds, then this should be the team to beat in the NFC.
Saleeba: I think the Dallas Cowboys will rebound from last year's bad playoff loss to the Giants. That team has too much talent to not be Super Bowl contenders for the next three years. The only thing holding them back is Bum's son. Wade Phillips is one of the worst coaches in the league. If they can overcome his poor coaching, they should be in the Super Bowl.
Poore: I am not sure there are too many teams other than Dallas. I think they will be the most popular choice among fans. I don't know if Tony Romo is good enough to get them to the Super Bowl though. I think the Giants will once again be very good, but I think another Super Bowl appearance is very unlikely. The Seahawks will again win the NFC West, but will stop there. The NFC South will be a pretty good division, but I don't think any of the teams will make it to the Super Bowl. The Bucs were a fluke last year, though I think New Orleans and Carolina will both be pretty good. The NFC North is up for grabs, but a division win is all we are going to see. So I have to go with Dallas, but I think more by default than anything else.
Scott:If I had to pick a team, I'd say Dallas based upon what they were able to do through the draft and the offseason. Although they traded some guys away, and may not have their exact roster from 2007, I think the additions they made especially Mike Jenkins will shore of the weaknesses on that team. If not Dallas, I can see the Packers and the Seahawks in the hunt. I have serious reservations about Tavaris Jackson or I'd put Minnesota in the mix.
The Patriots Insider roundtable consists of a group of longtime contributors to the website. We will host roundtable discussions on the boards at PatriotsInsider.com, on the Patriots Insider Radio show, and through these roundtable Q&A articles. If you have a question you would like the group to address, be sure to send it in HERE: Email Patriots Insider We will choose a number of fan questions to answer in each roundtable.