As I'm sure you are aware, the New England Patriots blew through the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record in 2007. They had clinched the AFC East before they played their 11th game and didn't face much competition from the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
In fact, the Patriots outscored the other three AFC East teams by a combined score of 229-76 in the six games against the divisional opponents. The Patriots scored 56 points against Buffalo in Week 11, 49 points against Miami in Week 7 and 38 points twice against division rivals (vs. New York Jets in Week 1 and vs. Buffalo in Week 3).
After putting together one of the finest performances in the history of the NFL, the Patriots will be the overwhelming favorite to win the division again in 2008. Buffalo, Miami and New York are all primed to make the proper moves to compete next season, but it's not going to be easy considering the Patriots won four more games in 2007 (16) than the other three combined (12).
The AFC East boasts two of the young running backs with the most potential in the NFL. Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown and Bills running back Marshawn Lynch will provide plenty of offense for fantasy owners in 2008. I wouldn't sleep on Patriots running back Laurence Maroney either -- more on him later in this entry.
Which player from Buffalo, New York and Miami will post big numbers in 2008 to try to help their team knock off the Patriots? Which New England player will break from the shadow of quarterback Tom Brady and wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker to emerge as a solid fantasy option in 2008?
Roscoe Parrish, Buffalo Bills, WR – Why do I pick Parrish as the most likely candidate to have a breakthrough season in 2008 for Buffalo? Maybe it's the thought that the Bills will actually commit to someone to be their second wide receiver behind Lee Evans. Maybe it's the fact that he's coming into his fourth season in the NFL and set career highs in catches (35) and yards (352) in 2007 and could look to build upon those numbers next season. Maybe it's the fact that there isn't really another candidate in Buffalo who could emerge this season as a new fantasy superstar. Maybe it's a combination of all three. Yeah, that's likely the best explanation.
Ted Ginn Jr., Miami Dolphins, WR – Were you among the people who couldn't believe the Dolphins selected Ginn in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft instead of filling one of their other holes? Following a 1-15 season, it looks like you're in the majority. However, the Dolphins recently cut veteran receiver Marty Booker, which could mean that Ginn is headed for a more prominent role this season. There is still a long time between now and the season opener and the Dolphins could sign an impact receiver that would cut into Ginn's playing time between now and then. I think Ginn is going to be a game-changing receiver in the NFL one day. Keep an eye on the offseason moves by Miami to see if it could happen this year.
Laurence Maroney, New England Patriots, RB – With Brady at the helm, the Patriots are obviously a team that relies heavily on their passing game. If Maroney is able to prove that he can provide a successful counter option to their passing attack, then he could become a pretty valuable option in 2008. He ran for 835 yards and six touchdowns in 2007, so he's on the borderline for my criteria for unproven players. However, I decided to include him in these rankings because I think he'll boost those numbers and run for well over 1,000 yards and possibly double-digit touchdowns in 2008.
Leon Washington, New York Jets, RB – I drafted Washington in 2007 thinking that it would be the year that he emerged as a valuable third running back in a fantasy league. For some reason, Thomas Jones doesn't impress me much and I thought he might get injured, so I took a chance with Washington. I kept him on my bench for most of the season, but he did run for three touchdowns and scored three times as a returner. Washington will likely play behind Jones again this season, but it's worth watching him to see how he progresses in offseason workouts.