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Why New England Patriots Are Still the Class of the AFC East

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on against the Baltimore Ravens during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

While some teams in the AFC East such as the Buffalo Bills have vastly upgraded their roster this offseason, the New England Patriots are still the best team in the division by a mile.

The Patriots narrowly lost the Super Bowl last year to quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Since then, the Patriots have done nothing but improve, and it is clear they are likely headed to a second consecutive appearance in the big game.

While the Patriots have improved, two of the teams in the AFC East haven't done of merit to improve or potentially have regressed. Those two teams would be the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

The Jets have managed to add to the media-circus that is their locker room by acquiring quarterback Tim Tebow. Now there is going to be an unnecessary quarterback controversy throughout the course of the season.

The biggest defensive addition to an elite unit from a year ago is first-round selection Quinton Coples. However, he won’t have much of an impact considering Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady carved up the elite unit in two games last year to the tune of 651 yards and four touchdowns. One addition to the defensive line won’t likely shut down Brady.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, have created a quarterback controversy by having selected Ryan Tannehill in the draft. Potentially throwing a rookie into the fire against Tom Brady is simply asking for trouble.

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Miami was outstanding at stopping the run and limiting points scored defensively last season. With that being said, the Dolphins dropped both games against New England while allowing Brady to throw for 821 yards and five touchdowns combined. It’s hard to imagine Brady will have trouble torching that defense again twice this upcoming season.

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill
Dolphins QB Ryan TannehillJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

The one team in the division that did improve outside of New England is the Buffalo Bills.

The team made the biggest splash in free agency this year by signing defensive lineman Mario Williams. They also signed former Patriot defensive lineman Mark Anderson.

These acquisitions give the Bills one of the top defensive lines in the league as the two free agents join Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Buffalo immediately upgraded the secondary via the draft by selecting one of the top corners available in Stephon Gilmore.

A year ago, the Bills were one of the better teams in the league to start the season and even notched a divisional win over the Patriots in Week 3. However, the Bills lost eight of their last 10 games to finish with a mediocre 6-10 record.

The Bills are going to have to show some more consistency before they are considered a legitimate threat to New England in the division. The Patriots’ additions on the offensive side of the ball alone this offseason could allow Brady to spread out the Bills defense and take advantage of mismatches.

The Patriots already had an effective offense last season, scoring the third most points in the league at 32 points per game and racking up the second most yardage per game with a 428 average.

Wes Welker returns next season after last year catching 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. Don’t forget tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who last year combined for 169 receptions for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Wes Welker
Wes WelkerWinslow Townson/Getty Images

But that wasn’t enough.

The Patriots added wide receiver Brandon Lloyd in free agency. This is huge because Lloyd is, yet again, paired with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Lloyd’s best two years have come under McDaniels.

In 2010, with the Denver Broncos, Lloyd racked up 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 11 games, with the St. Louis Rams last year, he accumulated 683 yards and five touchdowns.

Lloyd didn’t exactly have a Tom Brady throwing him passes in either situation. He also didn’t have two freakishly athletic tight ends and an elite wide receiver drawing attention away from him. It’s plausible that Lloyd could have his best career as a pro in New England next season.

The Patriots didn’t only focus on upgrading the offense.

A year ago the Pats had one of the worst defenses in the league. It was a bend-but-don’t-break type defense, with the unit giving up 411 yards per game but only 21 points per game.

The first six picks in the draft addressed the problem area, with the two most notable additions being defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round. Add in free-agent additions like defensive linemen Trevor Scott and Jonathan Fanene, and it appears the unit as a whole could take a major step forward in 2012.

All of these additions could see the Patriots field an even better team than from the year before. The new offensive weapons will mean even more options for Brady, and the defensive additions could do nothing but improve the lackluster unit from last season.

All things considered, there isn’t a team that is going to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East, and there may not be a team in the entire AFC that can either.

 

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