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AFC East Is Catching Up With The Patriots

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When you think about division dominance, the New England Patriots should instantly come to mind. The reigning Super Bowl champions have won the AFC East six consecutive seasons, which is the longest streak in the division’s history. New England is only one of four teams in NFL history to achieve such a feat.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft purchased the team back in 1994 and during that 21-year time frame, New England has earned 16 playoff berths to go along with four Super Bowl titles.

Despite New England’s dominance, all good things must come to an end eventually. Unfortunately for Pats fans, that time may be coming sooner rather than later.

It’s safe to say New England has took major hits in their secondary, with Brandon Browner marching to New Orleans and Revis Island heading back to New York. However, the loss of Browner isn’t as big as one may think, simply because without Revis, New England will have to play more zone. And it would’ve made no sense to pay Browner $5.5 million when you’re able to snatch up players like Bradley Fletcher ($2.5 million) and Robert McClain ($1.24 million).

Losing Revis is a different story. The shutdown corner is coming off his sixth Pro Bowl season, which helped propel New England’s secondary to heights it hasn’t seen since the Ty Law and Asante Samuel days.

Now, with New England’s top nemesis taking Revis back, it changes some of the dynamics within the division.

The soon to be 30-year-old didn’t come cheap. The two parties agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal, with $39 million being guaranteed. With a ring now under his belt, it’s hard to fault Revis for taking the money, but he still has high aspirations for the green and white on the gridiron.

“I told (Tannenbaum) I’d do everything in my power to try to bring a championship to this organization, and I still feel that way,” he said. “That’s something I want to be part of. The thing I want to bring to the organization is winning. That was one of the big reasons to come back home. I still have that mindset.”

In addition to Revis, the Jets also added Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Marshall. These high profile named players will bring excitement to New York, but how much substance will it bring?

It’s never a good sign when your quarterback position is full of unknowns. Will it be Ryan Fitzpatrick or Geno Smith?

In a perfect world, New York hopes Geno is able to separate himself, but new head coach Todd Bowles isn’t going to hand him anything.

“You can’t win games turning the ball over,” Bowles said. “I think any quarterback in the league going forward has got to be able to protect the football. You can’t win without protecting the football. Every quarterback has to know that, Geno included.”

However, it appears Geno will be given every opportunity to succeed.

“He’s obviously in our mix, and we’re kind of committed to trying to make him successful. He’s ours, the team has invested a second-round draft pick in him, so we’re trying to do everything to try to make him successful. His success will be determined going forward based on a lot of other things — his ability to kind of work within our system, his work ethic, his approach, his aptitude, really.”

With a revamped secondary and play maker at the receiver position, moving forward it’s evident the Jets will go as far as their quarterback takes them.

Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan is potentially building something special in Buffalo. Ryan has only been in town two months and his team has already made their presence felt.

Buffalo was able to steal LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia, by only surrendering second year linebacker Kiko Alonso.

McCoy rushed for 1, 319 yards on 312 carries in 2014, which was good enough for his third Pro Bowl selection. The 7-year veteran is excited for this new chapter of his career.

“It feels good to be here, it feels good to be appreciated,” McCoy said. “Since I heard about the trade, the Bills’ organization has been great, excellent, accepting me and my family with open arms, embracing us.”

The buck doesn’t stop there, as Buffalo added veteran quarterback Matt Cassel and wide receiver Percy Harvin. Similar to the Jets, the hope is that their young quarterback EJ Manuel takes control of the starting position.

“What we’re going to do is explore every opportunity out there,” Ryan said. “Will EJ Manuel be given the opportunity to win the job? Of course, he will. We’re going to do everything we can to get him to play at a high level.”

Being the defensive guru that Ryan is, it’s scary to think of him taking over a unit which ranked fourth in total defense last year, but that’s still not satisfactory in Ryan’s eyes.

“This team, we know how loaded we are with talent,” Ryan said. “There’s no question about it. You mentioned how well we played on defense last year. Fourth in the league is probably a little disappointing, to be honest with you, because that’s not where my expectations are. I know we’ll lead the league in defense. That’s just the way it goes.”

The defensive gauntlet in the AFC East doesn’t end in New York. As you may have heard by now, the Miami Dolphins made Ndamukong Suh the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. Suh agreed to a six-year, $114 million deal, with $60 million being guaranteed. When a contract of this magnitude is agreed upon, pressure is sure to ensue.

“I’m excited about the pressure. I don’t necessarily look at it as pressure. I’m looking at it as doing something I’m built for,” Suh said.

The pairing of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake will be something to behold for sure, but just like New York and Buffalo, the question remains at quarterback. The only difference here is that Miami has full confidence in Ryan Tannehll moving forward, but he still has to prove himself.

“We’re excited about what Ryan has brought to the table for us as an organization, not only on the field but off the field, and the way the handles his business,” general manager Hickey said.

For the moment, we still believe New England will win the east for the seventh straight year. In that same breath, the reign of dominance in Foxborough may be nearing an end for the first time in a long time.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.