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Friday, September 5, 2008
Audibles: AFC East Week 1 preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

One month ago, nobody could have envisioned the Jets and Dolphins being the sexiest Week 1 game in the AFC East. They combined to win five games last year.

But the elements have changed, and fans haven't stopped drooling for weeks.

The Jets pulled off the biggest blockbuster trade in franchise history and obtained future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre. The Dolphins wound up with a fine hand-me-down, signing Chad Pennington and giving him an opportunity for immediate retribution.

Sunday's storylines also include Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells lifting the curtain on his latest project -- against one of his former teams, no less. Dolphins rookie head coach Tony Sparano will make his debut against Eric Mangini, who is from another branch on the Parcells coaching tree. Mangini for the first time will be squaring off to some degree with his former mentor. Dolphins RB Ricky Williams is making his eleventy-sixth comeback and the Jets' rebuilt offensive line will be on display.

So there's some stuff to watch -- if you're into that kind of thing.

Most intriguing about the latest installment of this illustrious AFL rivalry, however, are the QB subplots. Aside from special teams, either Favre or Pennington will be on the field throughout.

The Dolphins might hold a significant advantage with Pennington. He spent eight years with the Jets and was with them through voluntary workouts, minicamp and the first two weeks of training camp.

When he lines up behind C Samson Satele and surveys the defense, it should feel like taking a ride through the old neighborhood. Pennington is the most efficient passer in NFL history and is known as one of the most cerebral. It will be interesting to see how he integrates the familiarity.

Favre, meanwhile, is learning a system and teammates Pennington knows better than he does. Favre showed proficiency with Brian Schottenheimer's playbook in the preseason, but does he know enough of the calls to make them work in Week 1?

For this game anyway, the edge should be Pennington's.

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Jets 21

Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

If the Bills are realists, they know they're playing for a wild-card berth barring a New England Patriots collapse. The Bills need to win every game they're supposed to, and this is one of them. They are opening their season at home against a Seahawks squad thinned by injuries and suspensions.

The Bills, however, are suffering from an internal crisis. The Bills already were without Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters, whose contract dispute doesn't appear close to a conclusion, when they learned Thursday their top returning tackler from last year was done for the year.

LB Angelo Crowell stunned the Bills by electing to have knee surgery. The Bills, apparently upset that another player was thinking of himself first and the team second, responded by placing Crowell on injured reserve.

But Sunday will come down to how the players respond, not the front office. The Bills either can rally together or wallow in discontent. Backup QB J.P. Losman supposedly is done pouting about his role, but WR Lee Evans expected to have his new contract finalized by now.

The game likely will be decided by the Bills' front seven defenders, their six regulars and whomever replaces Crowell -- either Keith Ellison or John DiGiorgio. The Seahawks are smarting at receiver and will need to run the ball effectively to win. That means they'll need to neutralize DT Marcus Stroud and then deal with MLB Paul Posluszny and strong-side LB Kawika Mitchell.

On offense, all eyes will be on QB Trent Edwards. He was limited to only four series in two preseason games because of a deep thigh bruise. How quickly he can find his game rhythm will be crucial. Bulldozer RB Marshawn Lynch should help.

Prediction: Bills 21, Seahawks 17

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

Patriots coach Bill Belichick should rest QB Tom Brady and give the Chiefs a sporting chance -- kind of like taking the laser sight off the rifle before you shoot fish in a bucket. Or something like that.

The Patriots are among the best two or three teams in the NFL. The Chiefs smell worse than Manny Ramirez's batting helmet.

New England does have a weakness: its secondary. Problem is, Kansas City doesn't appear to have the tools to exploit that shortcoming or accomplish much else. Miami's starters totally manhandled Kansas City's starters in the third exhibition game, traditionally the preseason game that most resembles a regular-season contest.

In case you've forgotten, the Patriots feature WRs Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney, RBs Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan and the most formidable defensive front in the league. They have that Brady guy, too.

Prediction: Patriots 42, Chiefs 10