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NFL's AFC East preview. Go 'Phins!!

10 things to watch for in the AFC East

By BILL LANKHOF, Toronto Sun

1. The Patriots have ruled this division for six of the last seven years but the Jets advanced to the AFC championship last year and the Dolphins have upgraded their roster.

Tom Brady is still the top of the class and he has a long list of reliable receivers. Despite all the talk about Wes Welker’s health the bottom line is that the Patriots’ plan for him to be available for the season opener against the Bengals and Terrell Owens. Then there are Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Julian Edelman and at mini-camps Brady was glowing in his assessment of second-year receiver Brandon Tate.

But, there are issues on the offensive line, particularly on the left side and the Jets are transitioning into a championship contender behind sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez. Only 23, he has taken on a leadership role. “This is my offence. You need to own it,†he told reporters when training camps opened. “When you walk in a room, people should know: That’s the quarterback. That’s our guy.â€

Brady couldn’t have said it better.

Brandon Marshall, the big off-season acquisition in Miami has been injured but gives the team a downfield threat. While he hasn’t had the fanfare of Sanchez, Chad Henne is nicely maturing into a solid NFL starter. If he does falter, Chad Pennington is recovered from injuries and has probably looked better than any quarterback in camp.

All three teams are playoff calibre.

The Bills? Well, about the only good news is that Buffalo should get a very nice draft choice next year. So, how about those Sabres?

2. Who’s on guard? Patriots left guard Logan Mankins remains unsigned and unhappy. He watches Brady’s blind side and is the key blocker on many running schemes. Nobody pays any attention to the offensive linemen until some linebacker buries the star quarterback under 250 pounds of fury. Brady is gold. He’s money in the bank. But there’s not much use having a Fort Knox if you haven’t got someone to guard the door.

3. Take us to your leader: Problem in Buffalo is they don’t have a leader. Bills’ new head coach Chan Gailey stressed there will be an open quarterback competition, but Trent Edwards has been taking first-team snaps. This will be an on-going controversy because this team is going to lose a lot. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a sixth-year journeyman who finished last season as the starter. Then there’s Brian Brohm, a former second-round pick by the Packers. Many observers like him — mostly because they haven’t seen him mess up yet. There’s truth in the adage that the most popular guy in town is the backup quarterback.

4. Sad sacks: The Patriots need to improve their defence and are looking to first-round pick Devin McCourty to shore up the outside at cornerback. Pats ranked 22nd in sacks per pass play.

5. Table for Mr. Sanchez? Another year like last season and Joe Willie Namath will have to find another town to own. Sanchez may be the New York quarterback to eclipse the memory of the iconic Namath.

6. FOLK LORE: Kicker Nick Folk has a tough act to follow, replacing Jay Feeley. Folk was cut by the Cowboys last year after rushing back from an injury and missing 10 of 28 field-goal attempts. Jets need him to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2007.

7. Maroney baloney: The Patriots can’t wait much longer for Laurence Maroney to have a breakout season. In five seasons the running back has started only 14 games, has never rushed for more than 900 yards and fumbles too much.

8. WAITING ON SPILLER: C.J. Spiller, the ACC’s player of the year last season, was being counted upon to make a significant impact on a Buffalo offence ranked 25th or worst in yards gained in each of the past seven seasons. Instead, he’s unsigned.

9. REX WATCH: So, what’s the over-under on that vein in Rex Ryan’s forehead exploding?

10. DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER: The Jets are more than a team with the league’s most celebrated rookie QB. They were No. 1 in defence, had three Pro Bowl players on the offensive line, the No. 1 rushing attack and Sanchez has Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes who weren’t around at the beginning of last year. In this division, it doesn’t get any better.

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The Jets are overrated...

No they're not (unless for some bizarre reason Revis doesn't come back into the fold). Overconfident (and that might bite them in the ass), yes, overrated (by the vast majority), no.

I fucking hate the Jets but I think they'll take the division, fingers crossed they don't. Sophmore jinx on Sanchez? Hopefully.

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Damn! He's actually looking in pretty good shape!

That whole situation stinks. I'm torn on this one, seeing Fat Albert on his back, gassed, for most of last season was awful and I'm glad Shannie's cracking the whip because the Skins need an asshole (that's not Dan Snyder) at the helm but Fat Albert came in 40 pounds lighter this year and he's really not a nose tackle (that's what Shannie wants him to play primarily).

The Skins are the second biggest travesty in the NFL ......


(but of course I've already ingested tons of the kool aid and have the mind set that McNabb is leading them to a wild card)

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I have mixed feelings about this. In a way, he is completely right, he is supposed to make $1 million this year, compared to Nnamdi Asomugha’s $15.155 million? (I know there is more to it than just the guaranteed money, bonuses, etc, etc.) Also, with football, you have to make your money in your prime, you never know when one play could end your career. On the other hand, we are comparing to a contract written up by the Raiders. That's like looking at the nutritional values of McDonald's meals.

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