- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BUFFALO BILLS

Last season: 7-9, third place.

Coach: Dick Jauron (43-59, 7-9 with Bills), second season.

Story line: Will the Bills make the playoffs in the 21st century?

Power game: Wideout Lee Evans and QB J.P. Losman blossomed in 2006. Defensive end Aaron Schobel has averaged 10 sacks the past six years, as many as NFL career leader Bruce Smith did in his last six years in Buffalo.

Achilles’ heel: The defense lost three of its best players linebackers London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes and corner Nate Clements and didn’t replace them. Evans is the lone proven weapon.

On the hot seat: Rookie running back Marshawn Lynch. He’s expected to make predecessor Willis McGahee a memory running behind a reworked line.

Bottom line: Buffalo is on the upswing but needs to fix the defense to become a true contender.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Last season: 6-10, fourth place.

Coach: Cam Cameron, first season.

Story line: How much does new QB Trent Green have left at 37?

Power game: Led by elite pass-rushing end Jason Taylor and tackling machine linebacker Zach Thomas, the defense just keeps rolling. Running back Ronnie Brown averaged 4.3 yards a carry in his two seasons.

Achilles’ heel: The Dolphins averaged just 16 points per game last season. Cameron will have to be creative to get much from this offense.

On the hot seat: Green. Is he the QB who averaged 4,215 yards from 2003 to ‘05 or is he just filling Dan Marino’s cleats until rookie John Beck is ready?

Bottom line: By the time the Dolphins return from their Oct. 28 game in London, Cameron will be wishing he still ran San Diego’s offense.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Last season: 10-6, first place.

Coach:Bill Belichick (124-84, 87-39 with Patriots), eighth season.

Story line: Will wideout Randy Moss behave in an attempt to win his first ring or will he become a destructive force in the locker room?

Power game: Brady and Belichick almost pulled off a fourth Super Bowl trip in six years with Curly, Moe and Larry at wideout. The Pats upgraded big-time with the once-sensational Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. The defense, particularly the line, continues to shine.

Achilles’ heel: Aging defense. The strong safety and all four linebackers are 30-plus.

On the hot seat: Moss. Neither Belichick nor the Pats’ veterans will stand for his “I play hard when I feel like it” garbage.

Bottom line: Brady and Belichick came close last year. Adding the wideouts and stud linebacker Adalius Thomas makes a February trip to Arizona likely.

NEW YORK JETS

Last season: 10-6, second place.

Coach: Eric Mangini (10-7), second season.

Story line: Was last year’s surprising playoff season a fluke?

Power game: Wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery combined for 173 catches, 2,059 yards and 12 TDs. Kick returner Justin Miller was the NFL’s best. Safety Kerry Rhodes looks like a star. Adding running back Thomas Jones was very smart.

Achilles’ heel: Even with Jones, the offense doesn’t have anyone who scares defenses. The reverse can also be said about the defense, which returns intact after ranking 20th overall and 24th against the run.

On the hot seat: Jones. He’s supposed to fix the woeful running game, but he was considered a bust until he got behind Chicago’s fine line.

Bottom line: If Jones and rookie corner Darrelle Revis are as good as expected, the Jets could fly again. Still, they won’t catch the Pats.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. New England

2. N.Y. Jets

3. Buffalo

4. Miami

MVP candidate: QB Tom Brady, Patriots

Best coach: Bill Belichick, Patriots

Top newcomer: Linebacker Adalius Thomas, Patriots

Most missed: Cornerback Nate Clements, Bills

Top rookie: Running back Marshawn Lynch, Bills

Best stadium: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.

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