The AFC East has become a broken record.
The New England Patriots have won 14 of the last 16 division titles, including the last eight in a row. The law of averages says at some point someone else is going have to prevail in the East. And that’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll — who will win the AFC East in 2017? Brady and the Patriots…once again? The Jay Ajayi-powered Mimi Dolphins? The Bills? Who? Here are your options:
Buffalo Bills. The Bills have not won a division title since 1995, haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999 and don’t appear to be making any headway in either direction. They finished 7-9 last season with the NFL’s 16th ranked offense and 19th ranked defense. Since then the Bills have lost their best cornerback (Stephon Gilmore) and two receivers (Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin) who caught a combined 80 passes a year ago. But LeSean McCoy is back. He rushed for 1,200 yards last season. And the Bills drafted wide receiver Zay Jones in the second round to help quarterback Tyrod Taylor overcome the loss of Woods and Goodwin. First-round draft pick Tre’Davious White of LSU is expected to replace Gilmore. But the special teams also must reload with the release of kicker Dan Carpenter and deep snapper Garrison Sanborn.
Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins returned to the playoffs as a wild-card last season with a 10-6 record despite being statistically challenged. They finished 24th in the NFL in offense and 29th in defense. Miami has since traded starting left tackle Branden Albert, cut defensive end Mario Williams and watched tight end Dion Sims leave in free agency. But running back Jay Ajayi took positive steps in the direction of stardom in 2016 with a 1,200-yard rushing season. The Dolphins acquired tight end Julius Thomas in trade and signed linebacker Lawrence Timmons in free agency away from the Steelers. Miami also spent a first-round draft pick on pass rusher Charles Harris and a second-round pick on Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan. But the key, once again, will be quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
New England Patriots. Since Tom Brady took over as quarterback of the Patriots in 2001, New England has won those 14 division titles, seven AFC championships and five Lombardi Trophies. He’s back in 2017 at the age of 40 and so are the franchise’s lofty expectations. The Patriots have added an elite cornerback in free agency, signing Gilmore away from Buffalo, but lost two key offensive elements in free agency – tight end Martellus Bennett and 1,100-yard rusher LaGarrette Blount. James White, who rushed for two touchdowns and also caught 100 yards in passes in the Super Bowl, figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Blount’s departure. The Patriots also a pair of three third-round draft picks to select a pass rusher (Derek Rivers) and a blocker (Antonio Garcia).
New York Jets. Ten starters are gone from the opening-day lineup of 2016 as the Jets shed both age and contracts this offseason from a team that finished 5-11. Included in the exodus were starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and marquee names Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, David Harris and Nick Mangold. The rebuilding process started by signing 37-year-old quarterback Josh McCown for the offense and spending the first two draft picks on defense, specifically, at safety, with Jamal Adams of LSU in the first round and Marcus Maye of Florida in the second. Todd Bowles has two years left on his contract as head coach of the Jets. He’ll need to rebuild in a hurry.