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We are getting closer and closer to the start of the NFL season with each passing day, thankfully. I started this series of "Players to Watch" with the AFC North edition in late July, it's time to take a look at the AFC East, where there are even more headlines. Is Brady back to his '07, Super Bowl-bound self? Is T.O. poised for the same statistical success that he had in San Fran, Philly and Dallas? Will Mark Sanchez have a Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco-type rookie season? Can Miami repeat?
Lets take a look at the offensive side of the ball first..
I understand that most NFL fans and casuals will be looking more at the acquired super-star Terrell Owens, but if you don't like reality shows, you may want to forget about Owens and focus your attention on the team's franchise quarterback instead. The acquisition of Owens will, without a doubt, help Edwards greatly, but a poor running game will hurt him at the same time. I expect Edwards to have more success under center than in '08 (2,699 yards, 11 TD, 10 INT, 85.4 rating), especially when Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch returns from his three game suspension.
Edwards showed signs of success in '08 after leading the Bills to a 5-1 start after the team's 23-14 victory over the eventual AFC West champion San Diego Chargers. Six of the team's ten losses after their victory over San Diego in week seven were by ten or less points. So, Buffalo certainly can play with their opponents, being shut-out just once (13-0 in week 17 match-up with division-rivals New England), and putting up 54 points in a game (against the weak, QB-less Kansas City Chiefs, but still). With the improved offense around him, Edwards is poised for a career-year despite being in the East.
The elusive, 5-10, 190-pound wide-out is in the thick of the competition in Miami's training camp this season, and, in my opinion, has a good chance at beating out the 27-year old Greg Camarillo, who is currently battling a knee injury in camp. Having Bess on the field will boost quarterback Chad Pennington's confidence and allow him to really air-it-out. We learned last year that Pennington still has it in him (3,653 yards, 19 TD, 97.4 rating in '08) to win ball games and Bess's presence will only bring good things to this team.
Davone's rookie numbers (54 receptions, 554 yards and a TD) are very similar to Camarillo's of last year. But, Bess has the edge right now because he is healthy in camp, and is more versatile (can help Ted Ginn Jr. in the return game, as well) than Camarillo. Davone never really showed super stardom last year (didn't have a single 100-yard performance), but he is consistent and if he gets more balls thrown his way he should produce.
By the end of training camp, Bess will be the second wide-out, behind Ginn Jr., and Camarillo will be the slot receiver.
Nothing new here. As always, the All-Pro QB will be (actually, he already is) the center of attention this fall. The big question still looms: is he really healthy, can he come back and have another '07-like season?? After watching his training camp workouts and listening to his interviews, it appears so. While Brady was working on his comeback this off-season, New England's front office went out and added a little depth to his offense. They brought in veteran running back Fred Taylor to accompany Laurence Maroney and added a deep-threat (Joey Galloway) to add depth around Pro Bowl wideouts Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The offensive line is already filled with Pro Bowlers, but they even helped out the 28-year old Benjamin Watson, currently battling an undisclosed injury in camp, by acquiring the former New York Jets TE, Chris Baker.
Right now, this offense is looking as dangerous as ever. All-Pro offensive line protecting an All-Pro quarterback, who is throwing to three Pro Bowl wide receivers (11 PB appearances between Moss, Welker and Galloway). You add in the fact that they have a more than capable run game with Maroney and Taylor, and you've got yourself the formula of a Super Bowl championship. All the defense has to do is hold their ground.
Yes, that's right, the Jets' 2009 success doesn't fall on rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, it falls on the team's running game, which is led by Jones. At this point, we don't even know if Sanchez will start the season under-center (although I really don't know why you would put your offense in the hands of Kellen Clemens). But, no matter who is playing quarterback for Rex Ryan's Jets, the offense will need a capable running back. Jones ran for 1,300+ yards and 13 TD's with Brett Favre playing quarterback last season. This year, Jones may see the ball come his way even more because of the fact that New York's passing game will be rather weak. Favre's strong arm will not be throwing passes (for anyone, for that matter) and Laveranues Coles left for Cincinnati this off-season. Those two key losses mean only one thing; New York will be run-heavy again this season. Truthfully, why not? When you have a solid RB combination of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington (76 carries, 448 yards, 6 TD's in '08), I would be a run-heavy offense too.
Jones (36 receptions, 207 yards, 2 TD's) and Washington (47 receptions, 355 yards, 2 TD's) may actually end up being the team's go-to guys coming out of the backfield as well. This is the effect of having a thin WR corps, and lack of a solid red zone weapon.
Countdown: 35 days until the regular season kicks off!