Coach: Gregg Williams begins his second season as the coach after enduring a tough rookie campaign. Jerry Gray begins his second season as defensive coordinator. He spent four seasons as an assistant with the Tennessee Titans, while Williams was the defensive coordinator. Kevin Gilbride was named offensive coordinator last February. He was the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He spent the 2001 season as an NFL analyst.
2001 season: Finished last in the AFC East with a 3-13 record.
Major losses: S Keion Carpenter, LB Sam Cowart, LB Jay Foreman, CB Ken Irvin, QB Rob Johnson.
Quarterback: Drew Bledsoe was acquired last April for a first-round pick in 2003. He replaces the ineffective and oft-injured Rob Johnson. Bledsoe still has a cannon for an arm, but lacks mobility and has been inconsistent. Alex Van Pelt is Bledsoe's backup. Van Pelt became the starter after Rob Johnson broke his collarbone and did a decent job, throwing for 2,056 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year.
Running backs: As a rookie, Travis Henry ran for 729 yards and four touchdowns until his season was cut short by a knee injury. Shawn Bryson took over and had two 100-yard games and finished with 341 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Larry Centers is the NFL's all-time leading pass-catcher among running backs. Last year, he caught 80 passes for 620 yards and two touchdowns. However, he isn't a traditional blocking fullback and is 34 years old.
Receivers: Eric Moulds is a premier playmaker. From 1998-2000, Moulds caught 226 passes for 3,688 yards and 21 touchdowns. He signed a new contract last year and was less productive, catching 67 passes for 904 yards. Peerless Price caught 55 passes for 895 yards and seven touchdowns. He has big-play speed and has improved each year. Rookie Josh Reed has great ability and will be used as a slot receiver. The Bills will have a good combination at tight end. Jay Riemersma is a good receiver, but needs to improve his blocking skills. Last year, he caught 53 passes for 590 yards and three touchdowns. Dave Moore joined the Bills after spending the last nine seasons with Tampa Bay. He caught 35 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns and is a good blocker.
Offensive line: The Bills made moves to protect Bledsoe, selecting massive Texas tackle Mike Williams with the fourth overall pick in the draft and signing Trey Teague as a free agent. Jonas Jennings is athletic, mobile and can play every position on the line. As a rookie he enjoyed a solid season, starting all 12 games in which he appeared - 10 at right tackle and two at left tackle. He will be used at center. Left guard Ruben Brown remains the model of consistency. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive season. Jerry Ostroski is a gritty player who can play center or guard.
Defensive line: Last year, the Bills lost Ted Washington and Marcellus Wiley. Defensive tackle Pat Williams is a big man in the middle with surprising quickness. Defensive tackle Leif Larsen is very strong, but still learning the position. Kendrick Office and Tyrone Robertson should see time at defensive end and defensive tackle. As a rookie, defensive end Aaron Schobel led the team with 6 1/2 sacks, but needs to improve against the run. Second-round pick Ryan Denney should see time at defensive end. He is 6-7, runs well and should cause problems for quarterbacks because of his height. The Bills signed end Chidi Ahanotu during training camp.
Linebackers: Ex-Ram London Fletcher is a playmaker with good speed. He gives the Bills an emotional leader at middle linebacker, replacing Sam Cowart. Keith Newman is good in pass coverage and can provide a pass rush. Eddie Robinson is the third linebacker. He has lost a little, but is still solid. Fourth linebacker Brandon Spoon will miss the season after having surgery to repair a torn right biceps tendon.
Secondary: Good tandem at cornerback with Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements. Winfield is small, but is tough, physical and a good cover man. As a rookie, Clements exceeded expectations. He had three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. He is physical, but still learning the position. The Bills are a little weak at safety. Keion Carpenter, the starter at free safety last year, signed with Atlanta. Billy Jenkins will probably start at strong safety, but rookie Coy Wire impressed in the preseason. Pierson Prioleau and Travares Tillman can play both positions.
Special Teams: Former Jaguar Mike Hollis is the new kicker. The normally accurate Hollis struggled last year, converting 18 of 28 field goals. Punter Brian Moorman averaged 40.8 yards with a net of 33.8 and placed 16 punts inside the 20-yard line. Ex-Seahawk Charlie Rogers should help the return game. He is quick and capable of breaking a big return.
Prediction: Even though the Bills are tied with the San Diego Chargers for the toughest strength of schedule, the Bills should be better than last year's 3-13 record.
Coach: Dave Wannstedt has led the Dolphins to a 22-10 record in his two seasons at the helm, including a division title in 2000, but is 1-2 in the playoffs. Norv Turner was named assistant head coach and offensive coordinator in February 2002 after spending 2001 as the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Jim Bates enters his third season as the defensive coordinator. Last year, the Dolphins led the NFL in pass defense and were opportunistic, setting club records with five interception returns for touchdowns and six total returns for scores.
2001 season: Finished second in the AFC East with an 11-5 record. Lost to Baltimore in the wild card round.
Major adds: DT Larry Chester, P Mark Royals, OT Leon Searcy, RB Ricky Williams.
Major losses: DE Lorenzo Bromell, CB Terry Cousin, DL Daryl Gardener, WR O.J. McDuffie, DE Kenny Mixon, RB Lamar Smith, S Brian Walker.
Quarterback: Jay Fiedler is a better than average starting quarterback. He is tough and mobile enough to scramble and make plays. Last year, he threw for 3,290 yards with 20 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He also ran for 321 yards and four scores. Fiedler needs to improve his consistency and limit the number of costly interceptions. Backup Ray Lucas has a strong arm, but is still learning the position. In order to take advantage of his speed and running ability, Lucas is used in short yardage and goal-line situations. Traded an undisclosed draft pick for Washington's Sage Rosenfels.
Running backs: Looking for a bona fide game-breaking back, the Dolphins acquired Ricky Williams from New Orleans for draft picks. Last year, he finished fourth in the NFC in rushing yards with 1,245 and scored six touchdowns. Williams has become a more versatile back, catching 60 passes for 511 yards and one score. Williams is prone to fumbling and needs to be more durable. Travis Minor is a pass-catching option on third down. Rob Konrad is the fullback.
Receivers: Chris Chambers had a very good rookie season and was Miami's top deep threat. He caught 48 passes, had seven touchdowns and averaged 18.4 yards per reception. Oronde Gadsden is a very good possession receiver who uses his size well. Jed Weaver was used primarily as a pass-catching tight end. Alonzo Mayes is physical, but has underachieved. Rookie tight end Randy McMichael has speed and is a better receiver than blocker.
Offensive line: Left guard Mark Dixon is the team's best lineman. Tim Ruddy, who the Dolphins were looking to replace in the offseason, is an average center. Seth McKinney, a third round pick, could push Ruddy for the starting job. Left tackles Brent Smith and Marcus Spriggs were hurt last year and Smith went down with an injury in the preseason, leaving the job to Spriggs. Todd Perry is a capable right guard, but could be replaced by Leon Searcy. Right tackle Todd Wade is a good run blocker, who needs to improve his pass protection.
Defensive line: Right end Jason Taylor led the team with 8 1/2 sacks. He is tall, very athletic and can play the run. Miami lost Daryl Gardener, Lorenzo Bromell and Kenny Mixon. Defensive tackle Tim Bowens is the team's best run stopper. Defensive tackle Larry Chester will use his size to clog up the middle. David Bowens, who broke his hand during training camp, underwent surgery and is expected to miss about three weeks. He should see time as a pass rusher. Ex-Raven Rob Burnett was signed and should be a valuable backup. The line must keep blockers off middle linebacker Zach Thomas.
Linebackers: Middle linebacker Zach Thomas is the heart of the defense. He has great instincts and reacts quickly, but because of his size, he needs his defensive line to protect him from blockers. Also excels in pass coverage. Last year, outside linebacker Morlon Greenwood started 12 games as a rookie. He is athletic and fast. Derrick Rodgers is coming off a late season-ending shoulder injury.
Secondary: The strength of the defense. A top cornerback tandem in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. Madison is one of the best in the game and Surtain has emerged as a top-flight corner. Free safety Brock Marion is a ball-hawking center fielder, who led the Dolphins with five interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Arturo Freeman filled in last year at both safety positions and might replace Brian Walker, who signed with Detroit. Second-year player Jamar Fletcher should see time as the nickel corner.
Special Teams: Despite losing special teams coach Mike Westhoff to the New York Jets, the Dolphins had a strong unit under Keith Armstrong. Olindo Mare converted 19 of 21 field goals last year. He has a strong leg and is a clutch kicker. Mark Royals takes over the punting duties from Matt Turk, who signed with the Jets. Jeff Ogden was fourth in the AFC, averaging 11.8 yards per punt return. Wide receiver Sam Simmons was drafted in the fifth round and could be used to return punts and kickoffs.
Prediction: Expectations are high after back-to-back 11-win seasons. If Turner can get the most out of Fiedler and Ricky Williams gives the Dolphins what he is capable of, expect them to be a major factor in the playoffs. If not, expect another early playoff exit.
New England Patriots
Coach: Defensive genius Bill Belichick begins his third season as coach. After finishing 5-11 in his first year, he led the Patriots to a division title and an improbable Super Bowl title. Finally getting the credit he deserves. Romeo Crennel begins his third season as defensive coordinator and was also named defensive line coach. His defense was an integral part of the Patriots success. Charlie Weis begins his third season as offensive coordinator and second as quarterbacks coach. He is well respected for creating well balanced and creative offenses.
2001 season: Won the AFC East with an 11-5 record. Beat Oakland in the divisonal playoffs and Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game. Defeated St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Major adds: TE Cam Cleeland, TE Christian Fauria, S Victor Green, WR Donald Hayes, CB Tom Knight, DE Rick Lyle, DT Steve Martin.
Major losses: QB Drew Bledsoe, LB Bryan Cox, WR Terry Glenn, NB Terrance Shaw.
Quarterback: Tom Brady took over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 3, inheriting a winless team and leading them to an 11-3 record and a Super Bowl title. Threw for just 145 yards in the Super Bowl, but earned MVP honors for engineering the winning scoring drive in the final minute. Completed nearly 64 percent of his attempts for 2,843 yards and 18 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Damon Huard is Brady's backup. Rohan Davey was drafted in the fourth round and has size, speed and a strong arm.
Running backs: Antowain Smith's career had slowed dramatically since he gained over 1,100 yards for Buffalo in 1998. A big and powerful back, Smith needed to be given the ball. The Patriots did that and he responded with a career-best 1,157 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns last year. Kevin Faulk has developed into a good third-down back. J.R. Redmond has the ability, but can't seem to stay healthy. The Patriots also signed free agent running back Jamal Anderson, who was waived by Atlanta. Marc Edwards is the starting fullback.
Receivers: The speedy and small Troy Brown did it all for the Patriots last year, catching 101 passes for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns. He also excelled on special teams, returning two punts for touchdowns and hurting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. Speedy David Patten caught 51 passes for 749 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a score and threw for one. Donald Hayes comes from the Carolina Panthers, where he caught 52 passes for 597 yards and two touchdowns. He provides size and above average speed. Drafted Deion Branch in the second round. He has good speed and could be used as a return man. Tight end will be an area of improvement. Added Christian Fauria and Cam Cleeland via free agency and drafted Daniel Graham in the first round. Fauria is a good pass-catching tight end and a good blocker. Cleeland has good pass-catching skills, but is injury prone. He is trying to come back from a torn Achilles for the second time. Graham is the future at tight end.
Offensive line: As a rookie, Matt Light was able to fill a hole at left tackle. Greg Robinson-Randall continues to improve at right tackle and will battle Kenyatta Jones. Tackle Grant Williams was traded to St. Louis during training camp. Right guard Joe Andruzzi is a tough, physical player who gets the job done, despite his athletic limitations. Mike Compton started at guard, but moved to center when the team uses the shotgun. Center Damien Woody has the size and athleticism, but hasn't mastered the shotgun snap. Adrian Klemm could push Compton at guard.
Defensive line: Defensive tackle Richard Seymour had a good rookie season. Ends Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant combined for 13 sacks and were good against the run. Willie McGinest is
the team's best pass rusher and is very athletic, but is injury prone. Rookie Jarvis Green could see time as a pass-rushing end. Ex-Jet Steve Martin could start at tackle and former Jet Rick Lyle should also see time.
Linebackers: Tedy Bruschi took over at middle linebacker due to injuries to Ted Johnson and Bryan Cox. Bruschi will probably remain the starter and Johnson will also be used. Mike Vrabel is a steady and smart outside linebacker. Roman Phifer had a solid season last year.
Secondary: Left corner Ty Law went to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career in 2001. He had three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Right corner Otis Smith is 36 years old and prone to giving up the big play, but also makes big plays. Led the team with five interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Third corner Terrell Buckley signed with Tampa Bay and Terrance Shaw left for Oakland. Tom Knight should start at nickel back. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy is a big hitter, who is strong against the run. Tebucky Jones has improved at free safety, but his reaction time is a little slow. Former Jet Victor Green should also see time.
Special Teams: A key to the Patriots success last year. Adam Vinatieri converted 24 of 30 field goals. He has a strong leg and makes the clutch kick, as evidenced by his five game-winning kicks last year, which included Super Bowl XXXVI. Ken Walter replaced Lee Johnson as the team's punter. He had a 40.1-yard average, but placed 24 of 49 kicks inside the 20. The Patriots punt coverage was excellent, allowing only 124 yards last year. Troy Brown was a force returning punts. He led the AFC in return yards with 413 and returned two for touchdowns.
Prediction: Belichick got the most out of the talent last year. It will be tough to duplicate that success. Brady must continue to improve and Antowain Smith needs to have another big year. If not, the Patriots could miss the playoffs.
New York Jets
Coach: Herman Edwards begins his second season as coach after leading the Jets to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. He is well-liked and respected by his players. Ted Cottrell is the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. The defense struggled at times last year because the personnel did not fit the scheme. However, the Jets managed to lead the league in turnover margin with a plus-18. Paul Hackett begins his second season as offensive coordinator. At times last year the offense looked out-of-sync and very predictable. He must adjust the offense to Vinny Testaverde's strengths.
2001 season: Third in the AFC East with an 10-6 record. Lost to Oakland in the wild card round.
Major adds: CB Donnie Abraham, CB Aaron Beasley, LB Sam Cowart, DT Josh Evans, S Sam Garnes, DT Larry Webster, DE Steve White.
Major losses: CB Marcus Coleman, LB James Farrior, CB Aaron Glenn, S Victor Green, G Kerry Jenkins, OT Ryan Young.
Quarterback: At 38 years old, this might be Vinny Testaverde's last year as the starting quarterback. He is still a capable starter with a strong arm, however he isn't very mobile and is coming off of foot surgery. Last year, he struggled in Paul Hackett's conservative offense. Testaverde threw for 2,752 yards with only 15 touchdowns, but he cut his interceptions from 25 in 2000 to 14 in 2001. Chad Pennington is viewed as the quarterback of the future. He begins his third year, but hasn't seen much playing time. Pennington doesn't have as strong an arm as Testaverde, but he has a good work ethic and is smart.
Running backs: Curtis Martin is a franchise running back and future Hall of Famer. He was second in the NFL with 1,513 rushing yards in 2001. Martin had 10 touchdowns and also caught 53 passes for 320 yards. He has gained over 1,000 yards in each of his seven seasons and has rushed for over 9,000 in his career. LaMont Jordan has size, speed and power. He showed flashes in his rookie year, rushing for 292 yards on only 39 attempts. The Jets must find ways to get him the ball. Richie Anderson is the fullback. He is a pass-catching threat. Anderson caught 40 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns last year, but he isn't a traditional blocking fullback.
Receivers: The speedy Laveranues Coles is an emerging playmaker. He caught 59 passes for 868 yards and seven touchdowns in 2001. Santana Moss' rookie season was a bust due to injuries. He played in five games and caught only two passes for 40 yards. The Jets need him to remain healthy. Moss is a dynamic player with speed and quickness and has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. Wayne Chrebet is a very good possession receiver, who will occassionally go deep. He had an off year last year, catching 56 passes for 750 yards and one touchdown. Tight end Anthony Becht is a big target and is improving. He has cut down on the number of dropped passes and has become a good blocker. In his second season, he caught 36 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns. Drafted tight end Chris Baker in the third round. He has good hands, but needs to imrove his blocking.
Offensive line: In Kevin Mawae, the Jets have the best center in the league. He has the necessary combination of speed, athleticism and power. Randy Thomas has emerged as a top-flight guard. He has good power and athletic ability. Jason Fabini is solid at tackle. The Jets are high on second-year pro Kareem McKenzie, who will start at the other tackle position. J.P Machado will battle rookie Jonathan Goodwin at left guard. Dave Szott was signed to play left guard, but tore his ACL in training camp. Jumbo Elliott will provide depth and experience on the line. Lost two starters - tackle Ryan Young to the expansion draft and guard Kerry Jenkins to free agency.
Defensive line: John Abraham was second in the AFC in sacks with 13. He has explosive speed and quickness and is still learning the position. He was the team's only consistent pass rushing threat last year. Once Abraham left the playoff game against Oakland, the Jets pass rush was non-existent. Abraham sprained his left knee in early August and might not be ready for the opener. Steve White will start in his place and will provide depth when Abraham returns. First-round pick Bryan Thomas will give the Jets another speed-rushing end. Without injured defensive tackle Jason Ferguson last year, the Jets struggled to stop the run. Ferguson is healthy and with the additions of tackles Larry Webster and Josh Evans the Jets should be better against the run. Shaun Ellis struggled last year and needs to rebound.
Linebackers: The Jets let James Farrior go and signed Sam Cowart to replace him. Cowart is reunited with Cottrell, who coached him in Buffalo. Cowart is a playmaker, but he is recovering from a torn Achilles, which caused him to miss almost all of last season. Middle linebacker Marvin Jones is very solid and an explosive hitter, but has been injury prone. Mo Lewis is very solid and excellent in covering the tight end. James Darling is a good fourth linebacker.
Secondary: Will feature a new look. Free safety Damien Robinson is the only returning starter. He struggled last year, but is a favorite of Edwards. Rookie Jon McGraw is big, fast, smart and athletic and should see some playing time. If Robinson struggles, he could get a shot to start. Ex-Buccaneer Donnie Abraham and former Jaguar Aaron Beasley will replace cornerbacks Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman, who went to Houston via the expansion draft. The coaches feel Abraham and Basley fit their scheme better. Ray Mickens will see time as the nickel back. Jamie Henderson, a fourth-round pick last year, has size, speed and is a big hitter who needs to become a better pass defender. Henderson will be used in the goal-line defense to take advantage of his solid tackling. Former Giant Sam Garnes will be the strong safety.
Special Teams: Kicker John Hall has a strong leg and is coming off a very good year. He converted 24 of 31 field goals and was three of six on field goals of 50 yards or more. He kicked the game-winning field goal against Oakland, which clinched a playoff berth for the Jets. Hall's biggest problem has been his lack of consistency. Punter Tom Tupa struggled last year, so the Jets signed Miami's Matt Turk. If Santana Moss can stay healty, he should be an explosive return man.
Prediction: The Jets need Vinny Testaverde and the offense to gel under Paul Hackett. The new-look defense will have to come together quickly. If this happens, a division title and an extended playoff run is possible. If not, the Jets will struggle to make the playoffs.
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