It’s that time of year again. The weather is cooling down. The smell of fresh cut grass is in the air. It smells like fall. That’s right, it’s football season. With the preseason ending and regular season play looming just days away, it’s time for all you football fanatics to get the inside scoop on what to look for in 2003. Since Quinnipiac is located in Southern New England, we will focus on the AFC East, the New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s take an indepth look at each team in this division.
Buffalo Bills: The Buffalo Bills went into the off-season looking to improve a defense that allowed almost twenty five points per game.
In acquiring LB Takeo Spikes from Cincinati and DT Sam Adams from Oakland did a fine job of improving a porous defense. While they released some veteran players on the defensive side of the ball, their acquisitions look to outweigh their losses.
Offensively, the Bills look to put up big numbers on the scoreboard again this season. Travis Henry posted 1,438 yards rushing and 13 TD’s last year. Add to that 309 yards receiving and one touchdown reception, and Henry looks to be a solid back in the NFL. The only question mark for Henry will be if he can hold on to the football, he fumbled a team high 13 times last year.
That is why the Bills added Olandis Gary, a former 1,000 yard back with Denver, and gambled by using their first round pick on injured Miami standout Willis McGahee who is now expected to be ready to play by week 6. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. However, it is yet to be seen if the loss of his number two wide receiver, Peerless Price, will ground this high flying attack. Eric Moulds is a solid number one receiver, but Josh Reed needs to prove himself as a legit number two if this Bills offense looks to score twenty-four points per game again this season.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins took their stingy defense and made it even tougher to score on. During the off-season, the Fins added veteran LB Junior Seau to the mix. Even though he is accustomed to playing inside LB, he will have no trouble adjusting to the outside so that the playmaking inside LB Zach Thomas can continue to single handedly shut down opponents running attacks.
The Dolphins also added depth to their secondary by signing from New Orleans and CB Terrell Buckley. For a defense that was already solid, the Fins did a good job of making other AFC East coaches dread the day they have to make offensive game plans to oppose this D.
On the other side of the football, the Fins did not make many moves. They acquired QB Brian Griese from Denver. However, a preseason toe injury will sideline him for at least the first month of the regular season. That pushes young QB Sage Rosenfels up to number two on the depth chart.
Jay Fiedler will continue to be the starting quarterback, as neither of the previous mentioned QB’s look to challenge him for the starting job. The Fins signed WR Derrius Thompson, formerly with Washington, but he does not look to be higher than their number three receiver at best. RB Ricky Williams will continue to be a threat to any defense he faces. Last year’s leading rusher will continue to exert his dominance on the field.
New York Jets: The New York Jets recorded little player movement on the defensive side of the ball. The loss of Safety Damien Robinson to Seattle could hurt the Jets secondary if they do not find a suitable replacement. They signed DB Tyrone Carter from Minnesota, but he isn’t likely to fill the void left by Robinson’s departure. The addition of Defensive Tackle Chester McGlockton from Denver looks to be a smart move. He will anchor a strong defensive line alongside Defensive End John Abraham and the fourth overall pick from the 2003 draft Dewayne Robertson from the University of Kentucky. This defense should to be solid again this year.
Offensively, the Jets were hurt by the loss of Quarterback Chad Pennington who sustained a wrist injury. He will be out a minimum of ten to twelve weeks, possibly even the entire season. That leaves the Jets the option of starting Vinny Testaverde, Jaime Martin, Todd Husak, or rookies Marquel Blackwell, and Brooks Bollinger. No matter who Herm Edwards chooses as his starter, none of these candidates will be able to match the production of Pennington. The Jets also lost fourth year wide out Laveranues Coles to the Redskins. The addition of veteran wide receiver Curtis Conway from San Diego will help, but will not make up for the loss of Coles who put up career high numbers in 2003 in both receptions and yards. Both Coles and Pennington had breakout years last season for the Jets. Now the Jets must play this year with neither.
The Jets special teams also experienced a makeover this season. The loss of speedy Kick Returner Chad Morton to Washington hurt the Jets return game. The Jets also lost veteran Kicker John Hall to the Redskins. To replace Hall, the Jets brought in former Minnesota kicker Doug Brien.
New England Patriots: Heading into the off season, the Patriots looked to improve one of the league’s worst run defenses. For starters, the Pats switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. Needing another Linebacker to play in this formation, the Pats signed Rosevelt Colvin from Chicago, the best LB available. Safety Tebucky Jones was traded to the New Orleans Saints on draft day for a third and a seventh round draft pick. To fill his spot, the Pats signed hard hitting Safety Rodney Harrison from San Diego. Harrison does not match the speed of Jones, but what he lacks in speed will be made up for in veteran leadership. The addition of Nose Tackle Ted Washington will clog up the middle and allow pro bowl DT Richard Seymour, who moved to RE for this season, more opportunities to exploit blockers in one-on-one situations.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots glaring weakness is at running back. Antowain Smith has not returned to his 2001 form as the Pats had hoped. Fifth year back Kevin Faulk has looked good in camp, but has yet to prove he can handle a starting job.
Quarterback Tom Brady led the NFL with twenty-eight TD passes last season. The addition of speedy receivers Dedric Ward from Miami and the selection of Bethel Johnson in the draft from Texas A&M only increase the speed of what is questionably the fastest receiving corps in the league. Second year tight end Daniel Graham should have more of an impact on offense now that he is healthy.
New York Giants: Defensively, the Giants remain much the same as last year. They lost Cornerback Jason Sehorn to the Rams. However, their secondary still looks solid with a lot of young talent including S Omar Stoutmire, S Shaun Williams, CB Will Allen, and CB William Peterson.
The front line remains strong with Defensive Ends Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes. Linebacker Michael Barrow will also play a big role in stopping opponent’s offenses.
The return of Wide Receiver Ike Hilliard will help out the Giants’ offense immensely. Amani Toomer will have more success now that the Giants have a talented wide out for both sides of the formation. Second year Tight End Jeremy Shockey is only going to get better, and that is scary for defensive coordinators around the league. Tiki Barber is still a legitimate starting running back, and should continue to post good numbers. However, Quarterback Kerry Collins will have to prove that he can still run this offense. There is plenty of talent around him. If he plays well, look for this offense to score a lot of points.
The addition of Brian Mitchell from Philadelphia, the best kick returner in NFL history, improves the Giants special teams. They lost Kicker Owen Pochman to the Packers, but made up for the loss by signing Mike Hollis from the Bills.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles Defense was one of the best in the league last year. However, this off season the Eagles lost some key players. Linebackers Shawn Barber (Kansas City) and Barry Gardner (Cleveland) departed via free agency, Safety Blaine Bishop was released, Defensive End Hugh Douglas signed with Jacksonville, and Cornerback Al Harris was traded to the Packers. The Eagles did little to replace these departures as they only signed Linebacker Nate Wayne from Green Bay. This is because the Eagles feel they have the talent to fill these voids. While most of the players they lost are getting older, they are still very effective playmakers in this league. The Eagles defensive performance will largely revolve around whether or not this talent lives up to its expectations.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles still look like a high-flying offense. Quarterback Donovan McNabb is unquestionably one of the best quarterbacks in the league. His athleticism and playmaking abilities drive this offense.
Running back Duce Staley ended his holdout and will be in an Eagles uniform this season. His quickness out of the backfield will continue to give defensive players a headache.
Wide receivers Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell are going to be counted on to make plays as the Eagles #1 wide out, James Thrash, is out indefinitely with a head/neck injury. Tight End Chad Lewis is still one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL. He will have to pick up some of the slack, as the Eagles are counting on a big year from him.
Predictions: The Buffalo Bills improved a weak defense. With this upgrade, look for the Bills to be in the hunt for a Wild Card playoff berth. They will have a tough time winning the AFC East, as both the Patriots and Dolphins have more talented teams. The Dolphins will once again win ten games, but that will not guarantee them a playoff berth in the close running AFC. If they can not prove they can win in December, they will be watching the playoffs from their living rooms.
The Patriots will play much better on defense this year. This will allow their offense to be more effective. However, if they can not find an answer to their running back questions, they could also find themselves watching the playoffs at home.
The Jets looked to repeat as AFC East Champions, but with the injury to Pennington, they do not have a high caliber quarterback. This will be the reason they won’t win enough games to qualify for the playoffs.
The Giants have a serious shot at winning the NFC East this year. If they perform the way they did down the stretch last season, they will be in the playoff hunt.
The Eagles are once again the team to beat in the NFC East. Key losses on Defense will bring them closer to the pack, but they still look to be playing in January.