The calendar has barely flipped to August, but NFL fans are already fidgeting over the upcoming football season. Fantasy draft boards are being drawn, jerseys are being sold out and bottles of barbecue sauce are being collected by the case in preparation of tailgating. It’s something about football season that just seems to provide people with a little extra motivation after a long and dry summer.

With training camps in session and the first preseason game scheduled to kick off this Sunday, the AFRO was motivated to do a division-by-division preview that will run weekly until the end of August starting with the NFL’s Eastern divisions— just in time for the season opener.

AFC East
The New England Patriots have owned this division for years (six titles in the last seven seasons) but the tide is starting to shift. The New York Jets have exploded onto the scene over the last year-and-a-half with a surplus of additions accompanied by supporting hype. On paper, the Jets’ roster is ridiculous. Loaded with playmakers, personalities, future and ex-stars, New York is as close to a “Super Team” as there is in the league. Gang Green split its season series with the Patriots last year but could be ready for outright ownership if sophomore signal caller Mark Sanchez expands his game to another level.

Sanchez threw 20 interceptions in his rookie debut and will definitely have to lower that number if the Jets are to match their extended expectations. They’ll also have to figure out how to appease top cornerback Darrelle Revis, who remains at an impasse with ownership over a contract extension.

The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills round out the division as title hopefuls, but only the Dolphins appears as a credible threat to both the Patriots and Jets. The cards are stacked in New York’s favor but New England still offers the best quarterback-coach combo in the division with the seemingly immaculate Tom Brady and game plan extraordinaire Bill Belichick.

With Brady and Belichick the Patriots have been impossible to dethrone in the division. And, their leadership, coupled with some talented youth on defense, could help guide New England to another AFC East crown.

NFC East
Over the past few seasons, you haven’t been able to spell NFC East without the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. The three teams have rotated the title of division winner while playing deep into January on most years. Aside from the Eagles, this season should be no different. Both New York and Dallas return strong rosters from a season ago, while the Eagles will be breaking in new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb after trading long-time signal caller Donovan McNabb to division rival, the Washington Redskins.

McNabb’s departure could be Washington’s gain, however. Many believe the six-time All-Pro still has another three to four seasons left of top-level talent, which could propel the Redskins to “dark horse” status in the division. Washington will be outfitted with a new head coach (two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan) and new offensive and defensive schemes. But trying to fit several new fixtures into one season will make toppling the more consistent Giants and Cowboys tough for a hungry Washington team.

New York and Dallas split their season series last year as the Giants limped to an 8-8 finish. New York dealt with key injuries and missed time from members of their offensive line, running backs, defensive line, linebackers and secondary last season. The only positions of note that remained intact was franchise quarterback Eli Manning and his receiving corps, who both shared breakthrough seasons. Dallas, however, steered clear of the injury bug for most of the year and won their first playoff game since 1996 last January. A talented roster will be eager to expand on that accomplishment but questions remain around an offensive line that was destroyed in a six-sack, 35-3 playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The offseason departure of 12-year veteran Flozell Adams surely won’t help a line in flux.

Fewer teams were decimated more by injury than the Giants were last year. A clean bill of health and a questionable Cowboys offensive line could equal a NFC East title for the New York Giants this year.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO