Highlights from AFC East special

ESPN's "SportsCenter Special" on the AFC East aired on Tuesday night, with host Sara Walsh joined by analysts Antonio Pierce and Hugh Douglas.

Some highlights from the show:

Big question for the Patriots -- "How much has defense improved?"

Pierce: "I think it's improved greatly. You talk about the pickups in the draft with [Dont'a] Hightower, [Chandler] Jones, you picked up some guys that can really help you out -- get after the passer and be very physical. But it's that secondary that's going to have to step up. They created a lot of turnovers, but they put themselves in positions where they played shootout games. They're going to have to keep the score down. Tom Brady and those guys, they can score points. But if that defense can really step up, if these young guys can learn the system and fit into that scheme -- you see it year in and year out, somebody comes along with Belichick and has a breakout year. Last year it was Andre Carter. Hopefully one of these rookies can step up."

Wes Welker's market

ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton noted the market for slot receivers such as Wes Welker, and he pointed out that Anquan Boldin was the league's highest paid player at that position, at an average of $8.3 million per year. Now Welker, with a one-year $9.5 million deal, blows that out of the water.

Super Bowl losers

A graphic showed that seven Super Bowl losers returned to the championship game the following season -- Bills (1991, 1992, 1993), Broncos (1987), Vikings (1974), Dolphins (1972) and Cowboys (1971). The '71 Cowboys and '72 Dolphins were the only teams to win in their return to the Super Bowl.

Biggest concern heading into training camp

Pierce: How will the defense be fixed to help support Tom Brady and the explosive offense?

Douglas: Defense. With all the young players, the team would be fortunate to have two of them emerge.

Top plays

In ranking the top 10 AFC East plays from last season, Wes Welker's 99-yard touchdown reception against the Dolphins was seventh, Rob Gronkowski's 37-yard reception against the Redskins was fourth, and his juggling, diving touchdown catch against the Broncos in the playoffs was second.


The ESPN.com/SportsNation poll had the Patriots at 79.4 percent to win the division. Pierce picked the Patriots first. Douglas picked the Patriots second (behind the Jets). Another ESPN.com/SportsNation poll had 62.4 percent saying the Patriots have another Super Bowl title in them under Bill Belichick/Tom Brady. Walsh, Pierce and Douglas picked Tom Brady as the AFC East projected most valuable player.