Way before I ever even dreamed about becoming a sports columnist, I was running around the streets of Philadelphia as a youngster in the early 1970s proclaiming the fact that the Miami Dolphins, and more specifically, Bob Griese, was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I have been a diehard Miami fan ever since, although they have rarely given me reason to celebrate – even though they employed a player, (Dan Marino) that I think was the best ever at his position and a head coach who was also one of the greatest of all-time.
At any rate, I am once again feeling pretty good about my ‘Fins and the direction they are headed in going into year-two under head coach Nick Saban.
However, I don’t necessarily believe that the Dolphins are going to cakewalk through the AFC East this season – especially since there is a team named the New England Patriots that still resides in the division.
Now, the Jets and Bills are another story, but here’s my take on the AFC East for the upcoming 2006 season.
The Dolphins won their final six games last season to finish 9-7 and put, not only the Patriots, but the entire AFC, on notice, that they are for real.
Saban, who has been described as one of the best coaches on the entire planet by many, came into Miami with a clear, concise plan to improve the Dolphins and he has implemented his plan to near perfection.
If new starting quarterback, Daunte Culpepper, comes anywhere close to producing the career numbers he put up in Minnesota, then Miami could be looking at making a deep playoff run this season at the very least.
Saban’s presence of mind to hire Dom Capers and Mike Mularkey as his new defensive and offensive coordinators respectively was a coup that could also vault the Dolphins to the top of this division.
I fully expect Miami to win at least three division games and more likely, four on their way to their first postseason under Saban.
New England Patriots
I am amazed at how many people think the Patriots are suddenly going to fall apart. Well, it’s not going to happen.
Have the Pats come back to the pack a little?
Are they suddenly yesterday’s news?
No way – at least, not until Tom Brady’s arm falls off and Bill Belichick suddenly forgets how to coach.
Having said that, the Patriots are certainly not the team that hoisted three Vince Lombardi trophies in four seasons.
The Pats undoubtedly have plenty of questions that need to be answered – and more competition – from the Dolphins, than they have faced in quite some time.
Is starting safety, Rodney Harrison, the defensive leader on this team, ready to return? Can anyone replace Adam Vinateri or Willie McGinest? Can Dean Pees make the transition from linebacker coach to defensive coordinator?
2006 will bring answers to all of these questions and many more – and although I don’t believe for one minute that the Patriots are a fallen dynasty, they do have more questions to answer this season than at any time during the Belichick era.
I expect the Patriots to go at least 3-3 in the division in 2006 and with the Jets and Bills in this division, probably, 4-2.
New York Jets
Everything I’m hearing out of New York is that 35-year-old rookie head coach; Eric Mangini has the stuff it takes to succeed as a head coach in the NFL. Having said that, I don’t care if the man is the reincarnation of Vince Lombardi, the Jets are a team that should struggle to stay around .500 this season.
With a tough early-season schedule (games against New England, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Miami in the first six weeks), the Jets could be buried before the midway point of the season.
Any team that is hoping that former Washington Redskin, Patrick Ramsey, can take over as their starting quarterback is simply out of their mind.
I think it is entirely possible that the Jets could win only one or two division games this season in what should be a trying inaugural season for Mangini.
I always liked Marv Levy when he was coaching the Bills through their four Super Bowl losses, but I have to say that maybe it I time for the man to walk away from the game and enjoy retirement like most people his age.
Levy hired ex-Bears head coach Dick Jauron after Mike Mularkey’s surprise resignation, which was a step backwards in itself. But for the Bills to select a safety (Donte Whitner) that no one else had rated that high and then spend money on the underachieving Peerless Price was absolute nonsense.
Simply put, the Bills should be in a footrace for the bottom spot in the AFC East. I’m thinking one or two division wins sounds about right for the Bills too.