Afc East

September 02, 1994|By Team capsules and division predictions by Vito Stellino

Division prediction

The Bills, in their drive for five, should win this division easily unless Dan Marino makes a rapid recovery to lead a Dolphins challenge. The Patriots are still a year away, and the Jets and Colts will battle to stay out of the cellar. Assuming the Bills get the home-field advantage in January, it won't be easy to keep them out of the Super Bowl.

1. Buffalo Bills

1993 record: 12-4, first in division; beat Raiders in divisional playoff, beat Chiefs in AFC title game, lost to Cowboys in Super Bowl.

Coach: Marv Levy (110-81 career).

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OT Howard Ballard, CB Nate Odomes and CB Kirby Jackson.

Strengths: They still have the big five of QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, DE Bruce Smith and LB Cornelius Bennett. Rap them all you want for the Super Bowl losses, but the Bills have been there four years in a row and could do it one more time before age catches up with them.

Weaknesses: The salary cap is slowly sapping this team. It lost a starting tackle (Ballard) and cornerback (Odomes) after losing another starting tackle (Will Wolford) last year. The losses of those two tackles could be devastating.

Extra point: If Scott Norwood hadn't been wide right, would the Bills have kept going back as football's Captain Ahab in quest of the big one?

2. Miami Dolphins

1993 record: 9-7, second in division.

Coach: Don Shula (309-143-6 career).

Key additions: QB Bernie Kosar, CB Tyrone Braxton, S Gene Atkins, S Michael Stewart and P Jim Arnold.

Key losses: QB Scott Mitchell, LB John Offerdahl, S Louis Oliver and DE David Griggs.

Strengths: You usually start with QB Dan Marino, but now he's a big question mark as he tries to recover from his Achilles' tendon injury. Without Marino last year, they lost their last five games. Since they can't run (they were 25th last year), Marino is their offense.

Weaknesses: They've retooled their defense, which ranked 20th, with five new starters. But it allowed 281.6 yards a game passing in preseason and remains suspect.

Extra point: The Super Bowl will be in Miami this year. The Dolphins won't be the home team.

3. New England Patriots

1993 record: 5-11, fourth in division.

Coach: Bill Parcells (82-60-1 career).

Key additions: LB Willie McGinest, FB Marion Butts, CB Ricky Reynolds, G Bob Kratch and S Myron Guyton.

Key losses: RB Leonard Russell, DE Brent Williams and WR Greg McMurtry.

Strengths: When Parcells traded for Butts, he got the big running back he wants to pound the ball and complement the passing of QB Drew Bledsoe.

Weaknesses: Unless McGinest develops quickly, the Patriots lack the big guy up front who could be the cornerstone of the defense the way Lawrence Taylor was for Parcells in New York. The defense was 22nd against the rush last year and must improve.

Extra point: The Patriots raised expectations to a high level last year when they won their last four games. They still don't have the talent to match the expectations.

4. New York Jets

1993 record: 8-8, third in division.

Coach: Pete Carroll (first year as a head coach).

Key additions: QB Jack Trudeau, K Nick Lowery, WR Art Monk, S Pat Terrell and DE Donald Evans.

Key losses: G Dave Cadigan, DE Leonard Marshall and WR Terance Mathis.

Strengths: With new offensive coordinator Ray Sherman guiding offense that includes QB Boomer Esiason, RB Johnny Johnson and WR Johnny Mitchell, the Jets should move the ball if Esiason rebounds from his late-season slump and WR Rob Moore recovers quickly from a broken wrist.

Weaknesses: The big names -- Esiason (33), S Ronnie Lott (35), Monk (36) and Lowery (38) -- are past their prime, and the Jets don't have comparable young players, although LB Marvin Jones could develop into one.

Extra point: Dick Steinberg is in his fifth year as general manager and still hasn't turned this franchise around. He's fortunate that owner Leon Hess is noted for his patience.

5. Indianapolis Colts

1993 record: 4-12, fifth in division.

Coach: Ted Marchibroda (54-52 career).

Key additions: RB Marshall Faulk, LB Tony Bennett and QB Jim Harbaugh.

Key losses: QB Jeff George, CB Tony Stargell, WR Reggie

Langhorne, WR Clarence Verdin and LB Duane Bickett.

Strengths: The Colts want to get the ball in Faulk's hands 30 times a game as a runner and a receiver. He will give the Colts an offensive threat they haven't had since Eric Dickerson.

Weaknesses: Only director of football operations Bill Tobin seems to think Harbaugh can be a successful NFL quarterback. He drafted him at Chicago, brought him to Indianapolis and then bypassed Trent Dilfer in the draft to take LB Trev Alberts, who promptly got hurt. With Harbaugh at quarterback, Faulk will see a lot of eight-man fronts.

Extra point: Bob Irsay has owned the Colts for 22 years and they have yet to win a playoff game in that span. In the 14 years before he bought them, they won three championships.

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