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Wednesday, January 6, 2010
AFC East Team Wrap-ups

By Tim Graham

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

New England Patriots

Final Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: Tully Banta-Cain largely was considered an afterthought to the Patriots' defense when the season began. Players such as Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather were the projected stars. But Banta-Cain, back after two years with the 49ers, led the Patriots with 9.5 sacks, four more than his previous career-high. He also had a pair of forced fumbles.

Biggest disappointment: Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas probably won't be back next year. Thomas has two years remaining on a free-agent contract that pays him an average of $7 million, but that didn't stop Bill Belichick from benching him twice. Thomas notched 11 sacks for the Ravens the year before the Patriots signed him. He finished with three this year, tying his worst output since he became a starter in 2001.

Biggest need: Despite unexpected seasons from Banta-Cain and defensive tackle Mike Wright, the Patriots must improve their pass rush. Wright had five sacks. So did Derrick Burgess, acquired with high expectations in a trade with the Raiders in training camp. The Patriots notched a mere 31 sacks, tying them for 23rd in the league. They ranked 12th in pass defense.

Team MVP: Wes Welker won't be around for the playoffs, but he certainly helped the Patriots get there. He led the NFL with a franchise-record 123 receptions for 1,348 yards.

Turning point: On opening night, Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled with about minute left in the game to set up Tom Brady's second touchdown pass in the final 2:06 of a stunning victory. Had the Patriots lost that game, the whole trajectory of their season might've changed.


New York Jets

Final Power Ranking: 12

Biggest surprise: When star nose tackle Kris Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, everyone figured the Jets' 3-4 defense was doomed. But rookie coach Rex Ryan continued to mold his defense into the NFL's best unit. The Jets ranked No. 1 in total defense and passing defense, and gave up the fewest first downs. The Cowboys had to close the season with back-to-back shutouts to nip the Jets by one-tenth of a point for the best scoring defense.

Biggest disappointment: Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's lack of progression from the start of the season has been frustrating. He began his career remarkably well, playing beyond his years in helping the Jets open 3-0. But his penchant for giveaways and a failure to grasp team concepts forced the Jets to curb their offense rather than open it up as the season wore on. The best solution has been to marginalize Sanchez. In his past five victories, his attempts were in the teens, and his yardage never surpassed 154.

Biggest need: Aside from accelerated experience at quarterback? Despite the trade for downfield threat Braylon Edwards, the Jets really could use help at receiver. Sanchez would benefit from a reliable slot receiver. The Jets' fourth-leading target was running back Leon Washington, who didn't play the final nine games. You'd have to look even lower on the stat sheet to find their third receiver. David Clowney finished with 14 catches for 191 yards.

Team MVP: Lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis was the best player on the NFL's best defense. His six interceptions tied him for fifth in the league, and his 37 passes defensed were best by a comfortable margin.

Turning point: The Jets had a miraculous Week 16. All of the teams they needed to lose fell flat, and the undefeated Colts pulled their starters with almost six minutes left in the third quarter to usher the Jets onto the postseason threshold.


Miami Dolphins

Final Power Ranking: 21

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins couldn't have appear more condemned than when they started 0-3 and lost quarterback Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury. In came sophomore Chad Henne, who had been lackluster in the preseason. The Dolphins preferred to let Henne marinate for another season, but he won seven of his first 10 starts and showed enough to give Dolfans reason to believe they've found a franchise quarterback.

Biggest disappointment: The best compliment head coach Tony Sparano could pay outside linebacker Joey Porter recently was that he had gotten better at stopping the run as the season progressed. Porter led the AFC in sacks last season with 17. He recorded only nine this season, with half coming in two games. A hamstring problem bothered him, and Sparano benched him one game for disciplinary reasons.

Biggest need: The Dolphins need receiving help more than ever. Pennington thrived with their collection of possession receivers because he's a precision passer. But Henne has downfield capabilities that require a reliable deep threat. Ted Ginn certainly has the speed but little else to qualify him as a No. 1 wideout.

Team MVP: Ricky Williams is 32 years old, but he turned back the calendar with his best campaign since 2003, the longest spread between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. He became the workhorse, rushing for at least 102 yards in four out of the five games after Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending broken foot in Week 10.

Turning point: The Dolphins were in control when they were 7-6. Then they lost their last three games to finish out of the playoffs.


Buffalo Bills

Final Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: When it came to this year's draft class, all of the attention was focused on defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th overall) and offensive linemen Eric Wood (28th) and Andy Levitre (51st). But safety Jairus Byrd (42nd) stole the show for much of the season and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Byrd started only 11 games, but his nine interceptions tied for the NFL lead.

Biggest disappointment: Marshawn Lynch appeared ready to break out as an elite running back. He was entering his third season and was a Pro Bowler with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. But he opened the season with a three-game suspension for repeated bad behavior. He lost his job as the featured back by Week 11 and finished with 450 yards. He completed four games with 6 or fewer yards.

Biggest need: The Bills are practically naked at both offensive tackle spots. They traded Pro Bowler Jason Peters before the draft and chose not to replace him -- even though they had a crack at young star Michael Oher. The Bills went through a series of unimpressive names, including Demetrius Bell, Brad Butler, Jamon Meredith, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers.

Team MVP: Fred Jackson took over as lead back by thoroughly outperforming Lynch. Jackson rushed for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 46 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also was Buffalo's top kick returner with 1,014 yards.

Turning point: Had McKelvin not coughed up the ball on that fateful kickoff return on opening night, the Bills would have ended a wicked losing skid against the Patriots and probably would have changed the course of their season.