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Saturday, June 20, 2009
Read this AFC East mailbag or regret it forever


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Before we get into this week's AFC East mailbag, I'd like to remind folks they can join me on Facebook.

You'll receive alerts to all of my blog posts the moment they hit cyberspace. You can interact with other AFC East fans (i.e. tell them how superduper your team is while calling their favorite players ninnies).

You can find me at various times of the day for a quick one-on-one chat, or you can post a question on my wall that I might use in my next mailbag.

We have a couple of Facebook submissions in this week's edition, in fact. Have a gander.

Joshua in San Diego wants to know how the tough AFC East schedule will impact the chances of Tom Brady having a big rebound season. He specifically mentions the cross-divisional matchups against the AFC South and NFC South, which feature some elite pass-rushers.

One of the keys to Brady's effectiveness is his ability to stand in the pocket, feel the coming defenders closing in and unflinchingly wait until the last possible moment to let the play develop before delivering.

As fabulously as Brady has looked throwing the ball in non-contact drills, there certainly is a mental component he hasn't encountered in his recovery from two torn knee ligaments. We won't know until preseason games how Brady reacts under live pressure.

All four AFC East offensive lines will have their hands full this year. Each team will face at least six of the top 11 sack leaders, and that doesn't include Jason Taylor.

Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter is on that list, but they also play the Pittsburgh Steelers and the other divisional teams don't. That means the Dolphins get to face seven of the top 11, including James Harrison (16 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (11.5).

The other top pass-rushers on the AFC East schedule are John Abraham (16.5), Julius Peppers (14.5), Mario Williams (12), Robert Mathis (11.5) and Dwight Freeney (11.5).


Nick, a Dolfan based in Montreal, wants to know which is least likely to occur: The New England Patriots miss the playoffs, or the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs.

I've gone on record with predictions -- as everything looks on paper in June; whatever that's worth -- that the Patriots will go to the playoffs and the Bills will finish last in the AFC East.

But I think there's a greater possibility the Dolphins edge past the Patriots again than the Bills rebound from a 0-6 divisional record to make the playoffs with five jumbled offensive line positions.

Can the Bills make the playoffs? Sure. I covered the 1-15 Dolphins. I've seen stranger things. But the last time I checked, Buffalo didn't hire Bill Parcells or make any corrections to their infrastructure. It's the same team plus Terrell Owens, a decent center, a backup running back and some rookies -- but minus a Pro Bowl left tackle.

That doesn't add up for me.


Jamal from Facebook is sick of all the Patriots haters -- obviously fixated on Spygate as the excuse for everything the club has accomplished -- who post in the comments section under the AFC East blog posts.

I wholeheartedly agree, Jamal. Some fans will latch onto anything that helps them justify why their favorite teams haven't had the same success. Officiating conspiracies are good for that, too.

I kept an open mind about the Spygate saga as it developed, but I've spoken to more than enough intelligent football people about it. I'm convinced the benefits of the verboten video were overblown.

ESPN analyst Herm Edwards is one of the discerning minds I've asked about it. Edwards, then the New York Jets' head coach, was so unimpressed he was captured waving to the Patriots' camera in one of the illegal tapes from 2004.

"If you're naïve to believe that helped him win a Super Bowl," Edwards said last week, "you're kidding yourself. I don't believe that."


Chris in New Bedford, Mass., is curious if the Wildcat trend could lead NFL coaches to consider the option.

That's an intriguing thought, Chris, but the enduring concern about the option is exposing your quarterback to bone-jarring contact. Imagine that wicked combination of power and speed you see from NFL linebackers and defensive ends being levied on quarterbacks scampering along the line of scrimmage and trying to turn the corner. Defenders would tee off.


Jesse from Facebook asks what kind of action Bills running back Dominic Rhodes will get once Marshawn Lynch returns from his suspension.

I'm eager to see how the Bills plan on using all three backs. Unless NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reduces the suspension on appeal, Lynch will miss the first three games of the season because of repeated bad behavior.

The Bills, however, said they intended to add a veteran back all along. So that suggests they have plans to use three somehow, whereas Xavier Omon's six carries were the only ones by a running back other than Lynch or Fred Jackson.

They brought in Fred Taylor, Kevin Jones and DeShaun Foster before signing Rhodes. The Bills clearly weren't looking for depth alone. Based on those names, they wanted production.

Lynch averaged 15.6 carries and 2.9 receptions a game last year. Jackson averaged 8.1 carries and 2.3 catches. If all of them are active on Sunday, then Rhodes might get only two or three attempts and a couple passes thrown his way.


Matt in Ramsey, N.J., and Mike in New York City wonder if it would be a good idea for the Jets to sign receiver Marvin Harrison. Mike thinks he can be a valuable veteran presence to help groom rookie quarterback Mark Sanche
z
for the NFL.

Harrison would be a bad idea. There's a reason he hasn't been able to find work yet. He'll turn 37 in August and is in decline. He caught 60 passes for 636 yards last year despite 15 games in a pass-happy offense. He's a shadow of the player we'll remember when he enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Eric from Indian Island, Maine, asks if I prefer the Jets' or the Patriots' offensive line.

As much as I respect the Patriots' offensive line from center to left tackle, I'll have to go with the Jets. They're more balanced throughout their five spots.

If asked to put a line together out of the two units, I would take Patriots left guard Logan Mankins over perennial Pro Bowler Alan Faneca based on age and Patriots left tackle Matt Light over D'Brickashaw Ferguson, but the Jets are better at the other three spots.


Shane in East Bay, Calif., contends the Bills have top-five running backs, top-five receiving corps and an improved offensive line. He can't understand why the so-called experts "are sleeping on the Bills' offense."

The Bills have impressive depth at the skill positions, but let's not get kooky. They added Rhodes to a backfield that ranked 14th in rushing last year, and they traded away their best run blocker: Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters.

I do agree the Owens signing gives them a dangerous receiving crew, but will Trent Edwards be able to distribute the ball? I think he can if his blockers withstand, but that O-line has more question marks than Matthew Lesko's suit, and Edwards has a poor track record when it comes to injuries.

So I don't think observers are sleeping on the Bills' offense. We're waiting to be shown something.


Brandon from San Diego would like me to list my "fantasy studs, duds and sleepers" from the AFC East.

Studs: Brady; Patriots receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker; Bills receivers Owens and Lee Evans; Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown; Jets running back Thomas Jones; Lynch (but you won't have him for three games).

Duds: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (no receivers); Patriots running back Fred Taylor (might not get enough carries to help you); Dolphins running back Ricky Williams (big name, pedestrian production); Dolphins quarterback Pat White (Wildcat hype will be dangerous at fantasy drafts this year).

Sleepers: Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn; Jets tight end Dustin Keller; Patriots running back Laurence Maroney; Jets rookie running back Shonn Greene (Jones will be 31 in August and could give way as the season wears on).


Adam in Endicott., N.Y., would like to know if the Dolphins will pursue disgruntled Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall, while Ian in New York City has a similar question from a Jets perspective.

I'm skeptical the Broncos will trade Marshall. When they decided to deal Jay Cutler, they had to consider Marshall's gifts would keep their passing game potent. To jettison Cutler and Marshall would be gutting the offense. Also, when the Broncos fielded offers for Cutler, they seemed adamant about trading him out of the conference. That could be the case for Marshall, too.

But those are my theories. AFC West blogger Bill Williamson wrote an educated analysis on why Marshall should stay in Denver. I'd read that before harboring any dreams of Marshall joining your team.


Eric from Facebook wants to know what would happen if Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington were to suffer an injury. Would Chad Henne enter the game, or would White?

That was one of my questions for Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano at rookie camp.
Although Henne is No. 2 and White No. 3 on the depth chart, the Dolphins will have to tag Henne the third quarterback on game days so White can play in the Wildcat.

In May, I wrote a more detailed blog about how the third quarterback rule works and what Sparano had to say about it, but to quickly recap: If Pennington were to get hurt before the fourth quarter of a game, the Dolphins either would have to insert Henne and lose White's services or make do with the rookie and keep Henne on the sideline.

The third quarterback designation is a game-by-game decision. If Pennington were to miss upcoming games, Henne would start them. White would be the No. 2, and the Dolphins could sign an emergency No. 3 until Pennington comes back.


Ryan in Howell, N.J., asks who I think has the AFC East's best secondary and how I would rate all of the starting cornerbacks.

The Jets made two critical pickups for their secondary that could galvanize it as one of the NFL's best. They acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard from the Philadelphia Eagles and signed Baltimore Ravens safety Jim Leonhard.

Sheppard cracked Philly's starting lineup for just three games last year, but Pro Bowl left cornerback Darrelle Revis is good enough the Jets can roll coverage to support Sheppard, a playmaker when he gets his hands on the ball.

Leonhard joins Kerry Rhodes for deep coverage. Rhodes is coming off a subpar campaign. He had one sack, two interceptions and zero forced fumbles. The hope is that new coach Rex Ryan will showcase Rhodes to look like the player he was in 2006 and 2007, when he amassed seven sacks, nine interceptions and five forced fumbles.

When it comes
to ranking the cornerbacks, I'll stick with the top two veterans for each club:

  1. Revis
  2. Will Allen
  3. Leigh Bodden
  4. Terrence McGee
  5. Sheppard
  6. Leodis McKelvin
  7. Shawn Springs
  8. Eric Green

James in Rochester, N.Y., inquires about Buffalo's possible interest in Michael Vick and asks if Tim Tebow will be considered more valuable to NFL teams because of the Wildcat.

A Bills source told me in May they were not remotely interested in Vick. The team's opinion might have changed since then, but I highly doubt it.

As for Tebow, the Wildcat phenomenon might be the best thing that ever happened to him. Football draftniks have wondered for a couple years if Tebow could play in the NFL, but quarterback versatility is prized appreciably more than it was when he won the Heisman Trophy. Many see his future at H-back, but he'll have a better shot at quarterback because of the Wildcat.