For the first time in a long time in the AFC East, everyone is talking about a team that doesn't play in New England. The New York Jets continue to be the talk of the division coming off an impressive 2009 season that ended with an appearance in the AFC Championship game. In the offseason, the Jets have continued their momentum into the offseason, adding several big pieces that should pay dividends in the 2010 season. After being the most consistently dominant team in the league for nearly a decade, the Patriots could possibly be on the verge of falling out of prominence.
This isn't to say that the Patriots are going to be a pushover in 2010, as they still have an elite quarterback in Tom Brady as well as one of the best coaches in the game in Bill Belichick. Though they had a relatively disappointing first-round playoff exit in 2010, there are still plenty of pieces for the Patriots to make noise in 2010, yet their overall erosion certainly is a concern moving forward. New England tickets have remained prominent commodities but the Patriots will need to make some improvements if they are to again make a run at a Super Bowl.
While the Patriots used to be able to simply outscore their opponents week in and week out thanks to one of the most prolific offenses the league has ever seen, they are noticeably not the same offensive team that they were before Brady's ACL injury. Star wide receiver Randy Moss is also heading into his final year of his contract and has made it fairly clear that he won't be playing in New England in 2011, mostly due to New England's reputation as being tight spenders.
Their top pass catcher, Wes Welker, is in serious trouble with a very bad knee injury that could hinder his career moving forward. Julian Edelman had a nice playoff game starting in the stead of Welker but it's unlikely that he can come close to matching Welker's production week in and week out. The Pats also have an inconsistent defense with a lack of big-time talent and have struggled to run the ball over the last couple of seasons.
The dominant defense in the division also now belongs to the Jets, who have seemingly gotten even better with the addition of Antonio Cromartie from San Diego. Playing across from Darelle Revis, Cromartie should round out one of the elite one-two cornerback combinations in the league. Even though the move to release Thomas Jones was a questionable one, their offensive line is good enough for Shonn Green and new addition LaDainian Tomlinson to still make the Jets a fearsome running team. As quarterback Mark Sanchez continues to improve heading into just his second season in the NFL, 2010 could be the first time in a long time that the Patriots will not be the favorites in the division.
On the positive side, the Dolphins and Bills are still less them formidable. The Dolphins have significant quarterback issues and running back Ronnie Brown is coming off of another big-time injury, making them a fairly mediocre team moving forward. The Bills on the other hand are still aspiring to mediocrity, as they have a myriad of problems, from quarterback and offensive/defensive line issues to lack of speed in their linebacking crew. With the Dolphins and Bills, the Patriots should have three to four wins built into their schedule, which gives them a significant push toward reaching the playoffs yet again.
Though the Pats have remained fairly quiet this offseason, they are closing in on at least one solid signing in tight end Alge Crumpler, who most recently played for the Tennessee Titans. As of March 18th, the Pats were closing in on a deal with Crumpler, which would make him Brady's top tight end option after the departure of Benjamin Watson. Some have argued that Crumpler has declined substantially over the last couple of years, but it could be a result of Vince Young's mediocre passing abilities. Tom Brady is much better at hitting tight ends in seam routes down the field and could find Crumpler to be a very reliable target.
But Crumpler is a small piece for a team that needs a couple of big ones. The Patriots need to draft well on the offensive and defensive fronts to set themselves up to regain their AFC East dominance as the Jets continue to breathe down their neck. They could also use a top-tier running back and another impact receiver if they want to retain their reputation as one of the most explosive teams in the league. If they don't find the players to make them more consistent running the ball and on defense, the Patriots might just become the second best team in the AFC East not only for 2010 but in the years following.