2011 AFC East Preview
by Marc Lawrence
With NFL East division teams leading the charge with a combined total of 14 games played in Conference title tilts this new millennium, including a league high five championship game appearances games by squads located in the AFC EAST, it speaks to the strength of this group.
So does the division’s 148-95-5 ATS mark away from home in games versus sub .667 opposition since 2000, including a sterling 17-5 ATS record in this role when taking eight or more points.
Leading the charge is Mr. Personality himself, Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots. While his persona is creepy, his manhandling of AFC East division foes that are off back-to-back losses is downright sinister, going 21-3 SU and 20-4 ATS in his NFL career in these affairs.
The Jets went from the hunter to the hunted last year and managed to stay one step ahead of the posse in the process when they landed a spot in the AFC title game for the second-straight season. Interestingly, under head coach Rex Ryan, the Flyboys are 0-3 SU and ATS in games win which they’ve had a week off.
Meanwhile, Miami owner Stephen Ross’ hiring of minority celebrity owners failed to improve the team on the field last year and it appears this may be Tony Sparano’s swan song, especially if the Fish fail to improve on last year’s eyebrow-raising 1-7 effort at Sun Life Stadium.
And then there’s Buffalo, a team that has enjoyed only one winning season this millennium. The addition of solid defensive talent and the promise of improvement from last year’s heralded first-round RB C.J Spiller lends hope to Chan Gailey’s troops being a mild surprise in 2011, especially with all the buzz in this division pointed elsewhere.
Note: Team writeups excerpted from the 2011 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine, with various addendums included after the NFL Lockout was lifted. Designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.
TEAM THEME: HANGING CHAN
For a team that has won three division games in three years, it wasn’t exactly Christmas in April the day the 2011 NFL schedule was announced. Not when you’re awarded the 2nd toughest opponent schedule (last year’s foes were 137-119) in the league. Going right to work in the draft at that point, the Bills chose to pass over their future franchise quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) in favor of rebuilding with immediate-impact defensive players. DT Marcell Dareus has the look of a Pro Bowler and he’ll be relied on heavily to plug a rush defense that ranked dead last (4.8 DYPR) last season. Meanwhile, head coach Chan Gailey will hang his hat on the arm of journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who did a nice job when pressed into duty last season. “We like our quarterback,” said Bills GM Buddy Nix. “We think Fitz is a smart guy, he’s a tough guy. He threw for 3000 yards and had a really good year. Our players believe in him. He's a leader for us, so he's our quarterback." Not exactly Tom Brady-like praise, but he’ll have to do for now.
PLAY ON: vs. Washington (10/30)
FAST FACT: Gailey is 1-13 SU and 3-10 ATS away vs. non-division opponents.
TEAM THEME: FISH OUT OF WATER
Frustration is measured many ways. The disappointment that accompanies it lasts until it is detached. The 2010 season for the Dolphins was an anomaly, for sure, when they became the only team in NFL history to win five more road games than home games in the same season. As a result Miami was home for the holidays for the second straight year. Meanwhile, the resolve the Dolphins have in QB Chad Henne was expressed in this year’s draft when they passed on the chance to select QB Ryan Mallett in the 2nd round, opting to trade up and land RB Daniel Thomas instead. Thomas, a former quarterback in high school and junior college, has a level of comfort with running the Wildcat offense. Tony Sparano, a noted offensive line guru before taking the reins in Miami, was able to fix the interior line that broke down in front of Henne last season when he selected C/G Mike Pouncey, the twin brother of Maurkice, a Pro-Bowl center as a rookie last season, in the first round. Remember, Sparano inherited a 1-15 team and has turned it into a playoff contender. Expect them to get back in their element this season.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. San Diego (10/2)
FAST FACT: Miami is 8-0 ATS as a road dog of less than four points under Sparano.
TEAM THEME: PATSIES
This much we know for sure. The playoff loss to the Jets last year showed nothing is more important than protecting the franchise, Tom Brady. When hurried he becomes merely mortal. The first step in that remedy was the selection of OT Nate Solder of Colorado. To their surprise Solder was the highest rated left tackle in the draft and they snagged him up with the 17th pick of the draft. They also reeled in troubled QB Ryan Mallett in the 3rd-round who will learn his craft from Brady. Mallett could be the quarterback of the future or swapped as a trade commodity. Rest assured, the 34-year old Brady plans on being under center for awhile, telling NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner that he was planning on playing 10 more years. Let’s hope a case of Brett Favre Fever doesn’t impair his thought process. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick’s immediate cause of concern is that the Patsies haven’t won a playoff game since the 2007 season and his troops have gone one-and-out two straight years in the playoffs. And most alarmingly, their stats went backwards last season despite 14 regular season wins. Uh oh.
PLAY ON: home vs. NY Jets (10/9)
FAST FACT: Tom Brady is 10-1 SU and ATS as a dog off a loss in his NFL career.
TEAM THEME: WTF
Would did the New York Jets and ‘Hard Knocks’ have in common with Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘True Lies’? The titles fit the two personalities to a tee. And speaking of personalities, there is perhaps none more brash than Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan who admits that “I’m even more than I can stand.” What Ryan can’t stand is losing another conference championship game. There is no truth to the rumor that Ryan was more disappointed at falling one game short of the Super Bowl for the 2nd straight year last season than he was when he learned his wife had come down with a bad case of athlete’s foot. Characters aside, Ryan upgraded an already dominant defense with DL Muhammad Wilkerson and Kendrick Ellis (a 3rd-round steal) with his first two selections in this year’s draft. Remember this when evaluating teams from a defensive perspective: only three of them held foes to season low yardage four times last season – the Chargers, the Giants and the Jets. Only one of them made it to the playoffs. To which Ryan responded, “What the f**k!”
PLAY ON: vs. Oakland (9/25)
FAST FACT: The Jets are 9-1-1 ATS in road openers.
Get all of Marc Lawrence's winning NFL picks for the upcoming 2011 season at Vegas Experts.