2006 Season Previews
AFC East
New England Patriots (Last Year: 10-6).
Major Additions:
RB Laurence Maroney, WR Reche Caldwell, WR Chad Jackson, NT Johnathan Sullivan, OLB Jeremy Mincey, CB Eric Warfield, K Stephen Gostkowski, K Martin Gramatica.
Major Subtractions:
QB Doug Flutie, WR David Givens, WR Tim Dwight, OT Tom Ashworth, OLB Willie McGinest, CB Tyrone Poole, K Adam Vinatieri, KR Bethel Johnson.

Offense This Year: If you're looking for an offense that can both administer a slow, painful, ball-controlling death, and score quickly almost at will, look no further than New England. At times, it seems as though the Patriots' scoring unit has no weakness. One of the main reasons for this is obviously Tom Brady, the best quarterback in the NFL. Brady, who is 68-21 as a starter, will tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with four Super Bowl rings if he claims one more.

Brady will have the running-back tandem of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney in the backfield. The former gained just 3.5 yards per carry last season, and is obviously on the down side of his career. But that's where Maroney comes in; the University of Minnesota product is capable enough to carry the load if Dillon is finished.

Brady may have lost receiver David Givens (59 rec., 738 yards) to Tennessee, but he still has Deion Branch (78 rec., 998 yards, 5 TDs), as well as newly acquired Reche Caldwell and rookie Chad Jackson. The Patriots also have Troy Brown and one of the elite tight-end duos in the league; Ben Watson and Daniel Graham combined for 676 yards and eight touchdowns in 2005.

The offensive line, which surrendered 28 sacks last year, took a small hit with the departure of Tom Ashworth. However, New England's front is still comprised of a formidable quintet that can still get the job done. Offensive tackles Matt Light and Brandon Gorin, guards Logan Mankins and Steve Neal, and center Dan Koppen will ensure that Brady remains well protected.

Defense This Year: Although New England's defense used to be one of the top units in the NFL, it yielded 3,703 passing yards in 2005. However, that statistic can be explained when considering how injured the secondary was. Cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Randall Gay, and safety Rodney Harrison all missed significant time. Factor in that inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi was out for half the year, and you can understand why New England struggled.

Unless the Patriots are snake bitten once again, they should be able to boast a respectable defense. Nine of 11 starters are back from a year ago. Poole has been replaced by Ellis Hobbs, who played exceptionally well in his rookie campaign; while Willie McGinest's departure to Cleveland created a void at one of the outside linebacker positions. Tully Banta-Cain, a seventh-round pick in 2003, will take the former Pro Bowler's spot. I liked Banta-Cain coming out of California, but time will tell if he's talented enough to start for a Super Bowl-caliber squad.

The rest of the stop unit is completely sound. The Patriots maintain one of the elite three-man defensive lines in the league (Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour). Bruschi, meanwhile, will join Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin in a sound linebacking corps. As for the secondary, Harrison's return should be able to spark a defensive-back group, led by corner Asante Samuel and free safety Eugene Wilson.

Schedule and Intangibles: What to do about Adam Vinatieri's departure? The Patriots have substituted the most clutch kicker of all time with a pair of unproven commodities. Martin Gramatica hasn't kicked a field goal in three years, while rookie Stephen Gostkowski has never attempted one as a pro. At least New England has Josh Miller, one of the top punters in the game. ... The Patriots are nearly unbeatable at home, possessing a 25-3 record the previous three seasons. ... New England has a very relaxing schedule. Potential punching bags include: Buffalo (twice), New York Jets (twice), Minnesota, Green Bay, Detroit, Houston and Tennessee.

Additional Reading: The Real Ultimate QB Depth Chart

Analysis: I'm not sure why everyone is picking Miami to win the AFC East. The Dolphins have a solid squad, but the Patriots are still the best the AFC East has to offer. Unless they suffer tons of injuries again, a fourth championship in six years is a very realistic possibility.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in the AFC East).

Miami Dolphins (Last Year: 9-7).
Major Additions:
QB Daunte Culpepper, QB Joey Harrington, WR Derek Hagan, TE Justin Peelle, OT L.J. Shelton, OT Mike Pearson, OLB Sedrick Hodge, CB Will Allen, CB Andre Goodman, S Deke Cooper, S Travares Tillman, S Jason Allen.
Major Subtractions:
QB Gus Frerotte, QB Sage Rosenfels, WR David Boston, OT Stockar McDougle, CB Sam Madison, CB Reggie Howard, CB Kiwaukee Thomas, S Lance Schulters.

Offense This Year: I think we can all assume that Nick Saban prays every night for Daunte Culpepper's health and availability. Some reports I've read note that Culpepper may not be ready until the middle of October. If that's the case, Saban will have to choose between Joey Harrington, who has looked awful in practice, and Cleo Lemon, who has not thrown a single pass in his three-year career. However, considering that the Dolphins scored at least 23 points in every game after Week 11 with Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels at the helm, they should be fine no matter what happens.

Miami's outstanding supporting cast was responsible for its ability to score despite having Frerotte under center. At running back, Ricky Williams is no longer with the team, which may not be a bad thing. In his rookie campaign, Ronnie Brown managed 907 yards at 4.4 yards per clip. Giving Brown, a punishing runner, all of the team's carries will pay off.

The team's starting quarterback will have a multitude of talented weapons at his disposal. Miami's No. 1 receiver, Chris Chambers, totaled 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2005. Marty Booker is a solid No. 2, but the second option on offense is tight end Randy McMichael, who has registered at least 580 yards in each of his previous three seasons. Rookie wide out Derek Hagan will also be in the mix.

The offensive line may have surrendered only 26 sacks last year, but the left tackle position is of some concern. The current starter is recently acquired L.J. Shelton, a Cleveland Browns reject. Culpepper's blind side will not be well protected.

Defense This Year: Miami's defense registered a mind-boggling 49 sacks last year, and still managed to be ranked sixth against the run. That said, it had problems defending the pass; the Dolphins yielded 3,307 passing yards. In an attempt to fix this problem, Saban acquired a brand-new secondary. Travis Daniels, who played extremely well in his rookie campaign, will play alongside three new teammates: cornerback Will Allen, and safeties Deke Cooper and Travares Tillman. First-round pick Jason Allen is also expected to contribute. That said, I'm not sold that Miami's problems at defensive back have been resolved. Jason Allen is inexperienced; while Will Allen, Cooper and Tillman just aren't that good.

The Dolphins' front seven has stayed intact. The defense should once again be able to put immense pressure on opposing signal callers. Defensive end Jason Taylor (12 sacks) anchors the hectic pass rush, which also features ends Kevin Carter (6) and David Bowens (5), and defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday (5).

The middle of Miami's stop unit is also sound. Run-stuffer Keith Traylor efficiently clogs running lanes at nose tackle, while middle linebacker Zach Thomas is still one of the best in the business. However, there is some concern at outside linebacker, currently occupied by mediocre Sedrick Hodge and inexperienced Channing Crowder.

Age is starting to be a concern for the Dolphins. Five players in the team's front seven will be at least 30 by the time the season starts: Taylor (32), Thomas (33), Carter (33), Traylor (37) and Holliday (30). They should be fine for another season or two, but expect a major overhaul sometime soon.

Schedule and Intangibles: Teams that finish up on a hot streak usually carry that momentum over to the following season. Miami won its final six games in 2005. ... The Dolphins have one of the top staffs in the NFL. Coaching alongside Saban are offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and defensive coordinator Dom Capers. ... Miami is almost unbeatable in September; the team is an amazing 33-13 since 1992. The Dolphins also have the fifth-best home record in the AFC since 1995, owning a respectable 58-30 mark. Combine those two together, and Miami is nearly unbeatable in September home games, especially those that commence at 1 p.m. The team gets to enjoy two such contests (Bills and Titans) this season. ... Olindo Mare is still one of the top kickers in the NFL; he nailed 7-of-8 attempts from beyond 40 yards in 2005. ... The Dolphins' relatively easy schedule should allow them to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Miami will coast through the likes of: Buffalo (twice), Jets (twice), Tennessee, Houston, Green Bay and Detroit.

Analysis: If I were more confident regarding Culpepper's status, I would give Miami at least one more win. That said, the Dolphins' projected victory over Jacksonville in Week 13 will be good enough to propel them into the postseason.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in the AFC East).

New York Jets (Last Year: 4-12).
Major Additions:
QB Kellen Clemens, QB Patrick Ramsey, WR Tim Dwight, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, C Trey Teague, C Nick Mangold, DE Kimo von Oelhoffen, DE Monsanto Pope, CB Andre Dyson.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jay Fiedler, FB Jerald Sowell, OT Jason Fabini, G Jonathan Goodwin, C Kevin Mawae, DE John Abraham, CB Ty Law, S Reggie Tongue.

Offense This Year: Pick a quarterback, any quarterback. New head coach Eric Mangini has four players to choose from: Noodle-armed Chad Pennington, whose shoulder has lost all of its strength after a few surgeries; Patrick Ramsey, who lost his job to 850-year-old Mark Brunell last season; rookie Kellen Clemens; and Brooks Bollinger, who happened to improve in every game he played in 2005.

I believe Mangini will go with either Pennington or Ramsey. If that's his direction, I couldn't disagree more. Bollinger displayed a good amount of poise toward the latter stages of last year, as he threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins in Week 15. In fact, the Jets scored an average of 24.3 points per game during the final four weeks of the season. Meanwhile, Clemens is clearly the franchise's quarterback of the future. Mangini should start Bollinger unless Clemens is ready to play. The team's second-round pick needs to suffer through his growing pains while the squad is rebuilding.

The Jets took a major step in doing so through the draft. Rookies D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold will respectively replace left tackle Jason Fabini and center Kevin Mawae. However, despite New York's efforts to rebuild the front, the team still has holes at right guard (Brandon Moore) and right tackle (Adrian Jones).

And speaking of rebuilding, the Jets need to find a substitute for Curtis Martin. He may be headed for the Hall of Fame, but the 33-year-old is clearly past his prime; he averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in 2005.

New York also failed to add another target for the quarterback who wins the starting gig. Laveranues Coles, who compiled consecutive 1,200-yard seasons in 2002 and 2003, needs some talent around him. The Jets' No. 2 wide out is Justin McCareins, who probably isn't good enough to start. Tight end Doug Jolley (324 yards, 1 TD) is also mediocre.

Defense This Year: Defensive end John Abraham's departure to Atlanta isn't the only change the Jets' defense experienced this offseason. In fact, Mangini and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton have decided to utilize the 3-4 scheme instead of the traditional 4-3. While New York may have lost Abraham and his 10 sacks, they picked up Kimo von Oelhoffen, a prolific 3-4 defensive end. Von Oelhoffen, along with end Shaun Ellis and nose tackle Dewayne Robertson, will form a decent line that will improve the team's 15th ranking against the run.

The line should be able to interfere with opposing offensive fronts, allowing a solid linebacking corps to make plays. Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma, one of the best in the business, plays alongside veteran Eric Barton and the improving Victor Hobson. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas needs to be replaced, however; the Jets must acquire a pass-rushing linebacker in the offseason of 2007. Keep in mind that New York only compiled 19 sacks if you exclude Abraham's 10.

The secondary will be without Ty Law and his 10 interceptions, but it should be able to manage. Well, at least the corners will. Justin Miller is turning into a shut-down cornerback; David Barrett registered five picks in 2005; and Andre Dyson is one of the best tertiary options in the league. Safeties Kerry Rhodes and Erik Coleman both appear to have bright futures, but I don't think the latter is ready to start in this league. Rhodes, meanwhile, had an impressive rookie campaign and can only get better.

Schedule and Intangibles: I think Mangini will be a good coach in the future, but he'll be a miracle worker if he gets New York to the postseason this year. ... Kicker Mike Nugent, a rookie in 2005, needs to improve his 7-of-12 from beyond 40 yards. ... Miller is one of the better kickoff returners in the NFL; he took one back last season. ... The Jets' last-place finish has granted them an easy slate. Soft opponents include: Tennessee, Detroit, Houston, Green Bay and Oakland.

Analysis: Like John Madden always says, "If you have two quarterbacks, then you don't have one quarterback." Well, the Jets have four. I wonder how that's going to work out.

Projection: 6-10 (3rd in the AFC East).

Buffalo Bills (Last Year: 5-11).
Major Additions:
WR Peerless Price, TE Robert Royal, G Tutan Reyes, C Melvin Fowler, DT Larry Tripplett, DT John McCargo, CB Ashton Youboty, S Matt Bowen, S Donte Whitner, S Ko Simpson.
Major Subtractions:
WR Eric Moulds, OT Mike Williams, C Trey Teague, DT Sam Adams, DT Ron Edwards, S Lawyer Milloy.

Offense This Year: Much like Eric Mangini, Buffalo's new head coach will have to choose his starting quarterback. But unlike the Jets' situation, Dick Jauron has only two options. One is Kelly Holcomb, a 33-year-old journeyman. The other is J.P. Losman, the team's No. 1 pick in 2004. While it's fairly obvious that Losman is not talented enough to be the Bills' franchise signal caller, I think Jauron should at least be sure that he is a bust. It's not like Buffalo is going to the Super Bowl anyway.

In case you're wondering why I've deemed Losman a failure, the Bills averaged just 12.1 points with him as their starter, which happens to be worse than Alex Smith's appearances with San Francisco. Holcomb, meanwhile, has commanded the offense to 21.8 points per contest.

To be frank, Buffalo's scoring attack has a lot of problems. Excluding Lee Evans (743 yards, 7 TDs), the team has nothing at receiver. Eric Moulds is gone, and has been replaced by the overpaid Peerless Price, who disappeared after qualifying for the Pro Bowl in 2002. The tight end position is void of talent as well; starter Robert Royal compiled just 131 yards in 2005.

It only gets worse on the offensive line. The two guard slots (Tutan Reyes and Chris Villarrial) are fine, but the other three starters have nothing to offer. Left tackle Mike Gandy doesn't get the job done; right tackle Jason Peters is not a worthy NFL starter; and center Melvin Fowler is a career backup.

The one bright spot on Buffalo's offense, besides Evans, is running back Willis McGahee, who totaled 1,247 yards last season. However, given the problems on the offensive front, McGahee may have trouble matching his 3.8-yards-per-carry average.

Defense This Year: As bad as Buffalo's scoring attack is, it doesn't get much better on defense. In 2005, the Bills were ranked 27th against the run, and failed to maintain any sort of pass rush, with the exception of Aaron Schobel.

The largest void on the stop unit is at defensive tackle, occupied by Tim Anderson and Larry Tripplett. That duo is awful and will struggle against opposing ball carriers. Defensive end Chris Kelsay, who plays across Schobel (12 sacks), needed to be replaced this offseason. Meanwhile, Troy Vincent and Matt Bowen, the starting safeties, are a very slow pair, although rookies Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson are expected to replace them sometime soon.

As for some positives, the Bills' linebacking corps is one of the league's best. The unit is comprised of London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Jeff Posey and Angelo Crowell; the latter really stepped up when Spikes got hurt last year. Buffalo's starting corners -- Nate Clements and Terrence McGee -- are outstanding as well. However, the Bills have no one to back them up besides rookie Ashton Youboty.

Schedule and Intangibles: Just one year after going 1-of-3 from beyond 40 yards, kicker Rian Lindell was 10-of-13 from that distance. And speaking of Bills' special teams, Terrence McGee has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns the previous two seasons. ... This may sound odd, but Buffalo is nearly unbeatable in October and November home games. Maybe the cold, dark, gray, windy afternoons at Orchard Park have something to do with it. ... Prior to the Bills' Week 8 bye, they play Miami, Minnesota, Chicago and New England (twice).

Analysis: The Bills are probably in for another disappointing campaign. Brady Quinn is starting to look better and better.

Projection: 3-13 (4th in the AFC East).

2000 Season Preview
2001 Season Preview
2002 Season Preview
2003 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards

2004 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

2005 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

2006 Season Preview:
AFC East / AFC North / AFC South / AFC West
NFC East / NFC North / NFC South / NFC West
Playoffs / Awards / Simulation

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