A Quick Look at the AFC EastSizing up the Patriots schedule

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A Quick Look at the AFC EastSizing up the Patriots schedule

Here are a few fun facts on the Patriots recent dominance in the AFC East:

Theyve won the division in nine of the last 11 seasons.

In the two seasons they didnt win, they finished with the same record as the champion but lost on a tie breaker.

Since 2001, the only team that comes close to matching the Pats nine division titles is the Colts. Theyve won seven, but will have to wait at least a few years to win another. (The Steelers and Eagles each won six.)

In those 11 seasons, the Pats have a division record of 53-15.

Over that time, there have been a few legitimate threats to the Pats crown, namely Bill Parcells Dolphins and the artist formerly known as Rex Ryans Jets, but in both cases, the Pats rode out the wave.

In the meantime, they reloaded. And now, they start another season as everyones odds on favorite to win the AFC East. (Right now in Vegas, youd have to bet 330 to make 100 on the Pats winning the division.)

So, whats up with the Jets, Bills and Dolphins?

Youve probably been following along, but just in case, heres a quick preview of what the rest of the AFC East has planned for this season.

Well start at the top and work our way down:

Buffalo Bills: Thats right. The days of jumping on the Bills bandwagon in Week 3 and abandoning ship by Week 6 are a thing of the past. This year, were revving things up in Week 1!

And will probably hit eject by Week 4. But for the first time in a long time, theres reason for pre-season optimism in Buffalo:

First of all, the pieces are still there on offense. At running back, Fred Jackson is healthy and CJ Spillers ready to breakout. At receiver, Stevie Johnson can still light you up, Donald Jones and David Nelson know how to get open, and third round pick TJ Graham is a former track star who can do things like this. On top of that, you can do a lot worse at tight end than Scott Chandler at tight end.

However, you cant do much worse than what Ryan Fitzpatrick did at the tail end of 2011. And his ability to turn things around will be the difference between this team making it back to the playoffs for the first time since the Music City Miracle or spending their 13th straight winter watching the playoffs from couch.

You remember the Fitzpatrick mess. Through seven games last season, hed thrown 14 touchdowns and only seven interceptions as the Bills raced out to 5-2 start. At that point, Buffalo rewarded their QB with a six-year59M extension (with a 10M signing bonus.)

In turn, Fitzpatrick unraveled, throwing only 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over Buffalos last nine games. By the end of the year, if you had your choice of Harvard alums, youd have rather had Natalie Portman quarterback your team than Fitzpatrick. Not coincidentally, the Bills lost eight of their last nine games and finished in last place for the fourth straight season.

But theres a big question that still hangs over Fitzpatricks horrendous stretch: Was he hurt?

His name didnt show up on the injury report during the season, but it was revealed over the winter that Fitzpatrick may have played the last few months with cracked ribs. The quarterback has refused to blame the ribs for his performance, but heres what Stevie Johnson told the Toronto Sun over the winter: "I know personally, in the huddle, the worst it got -- to my knowledge -- is he barely could say a full play under one breath," said Johnson. "It started right at the halfway mark (of the season). I mean, everybody in the league is injured or is hurt in some way. When it's your quarterback who's got to throw, and it's ribs -- I mean, it's tough. That's the last thing I heard was it was ribs, or what-not.

Seems pretty bad. But who knows how much it really affected Fitzpatricks play. On one hand, in 2009, we saw how much those cracked ribs messed with Tom Brady. But Brady was still respectable. Fitzpatrick fell off a cliff. Either way, the Legend of Fitzpatricks Ribs should be enough to provide him a clean slate in the eyes of Bills fans, and a fair chance to redeem himself this season.

Other than that . . . any news on the defensive side this offseason? Oh right. Mario Williams. The biggest free agent signing in franchise history.

We can talk all we want about the offensive side of the ball, but defense is where the Bill needed the most help last season. They ranked 30th in points allowed, and didnt discriminate in how they gave them up, ranking 29th in passing TDs allowed and 30th in rushing TDs. They also finished dead last in total sacks.

While Williams and former Patriot Mark Anderson should help in the sack column, the Bills drafted cornerback Stephen Gilmore with the 10th pick in last years draft. Hes 6-1, fast and physical and will start right away.

Add it all up, and its hard to imagine the Bills wont easily eclipse their 6-10 record from last season. Especially when, like the Pats and thanks to the NFC West, they have one of the easiest schedules in the league.

But then again, these are the Bills were talking about. Lets just wait and see.

Miami Dolphins: Speaking of which, wait and see is about all they can do down in Miami right now. Theyve handed the keys to a rookie quarterback, surrounded him with zero receiving talent and a feature back who isnt built to be a feature back.

But hey, at least their defense is . . . mediocre? They have a playmaker on the defensive line in Cameron Wake, who finished third in the league with 14.5 sacks two years ago but was held to only 8.5 last season. This spring, he signed a four-year50M extension with 20M guaranteed, so theres a lot to live up to. If hes not worth every penny, the Dolphins D wont have a shot at keeping their anemic offense in games.

New York Jets: The more I read about the Jets, the more Im reminded of the Red Sox. Owners who care more about perception and headlines then what really right for the team. A coach who doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut and can't get out of his own way. A roster that's packed with talent but has the chemistry of a blind date between an Occupy Wall Street alum and a Tea Bagger. It will make it impossible for these guys to gel out on the field. And even if they got the rest of that stuff cleared up (which they won't) there's still a long way to go before reclaiming the spot among the AFC's best.

On one hand, the defense, which ranked 20th in points allowed last year, should be better. They picked up LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell to play safety, and if they both stay healthy, they could be a dangerous duo. Speaking of which, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie have seen better days but can still play with anyone. David Harris is solid in the middle at linebacker and in Ryan, they still have one of the best defensive minds in the game.

But in the end, the Jets offense on top of the day-to-day soap opera will keep this team down. Especially when the offense essentially is the day-to-day soap opera. Honestly, I think the only chance these guys have to really succeed is if one of their two quarterbacks get hurt. I know that's a crazy thing to say, but otherwise, the SanchezTebow controversy will linger and overshadow everything else they're trying to do.

These are uneasy times in Jet Land. Jobs and careers and insane levels of pride are on the line. And without any real plan of how to handle in place, the whole thing seems destined for a repeat disaster.

Take it from a Red Sox fan.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Kraft OK with the idea of a Raiders move to Las Vegas

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Kraft OK with the idea of a Raiders move to Las Vegas

Robert Kraft doesn't seem all that concerned about the potential pitfalls of having an NFL franchise in Las Vegas.

The temptations found in that city, he says, can now be found around any dark corner of the Internet. That's part of the reason why he would be supportive of the Raiders if owner Mark Davis chose to move the team to Vegas from Oakland. 

He explained his reasoning to NFL Media's Judy Battista at the league's annual spring meetings on Tuesday. 

"I think we can put the discipline and controls in [for] whatever anyone might be worried about," Kraft said. "With the Internet and the age of the Internet and what's going on in today's world, it's so much different than when I came in 20 odd years ago. If you'd like to move there and they're supportive and Oakland doesn't do what they should do, I'm behind them."

The comments echoed what Kraft told USA Today earlier this week.

"I came into the league in ’94," Kraft said. "Back then, any exploration of that market was dismissed out of hand. I’m looking where we are today and thinking of the last 10 to 15 years, and the emergence of new media, with Google and Facebook and the like. We’re just living in a different world, technology-wise. The [sports gambling] risks in Vegas are no longer exclusive to Vegas. Whatever the risks, they are no greater [in Las Vegas] than playing a game in New Jersey."

Davis' hope to move the Raiders stems from an inability to get a deal done for a new stadium in Oakland.

"I have given my commitment to Las Vegas," Davis said this week, "and if they can get done what they're talking about doing, then we will go to Las Vegas."

Curran: Roger The Dodger continues his evasive maneuvers

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Curran: Roger The Dodger continues his evasive maneuvers

Roger Goodell is doing that damn thing again down in North Carolina this afternoon.

The NFL commissioner -- who once could carry off a press conference with a breezy, in-command air -- came off like a carrot-topped armadillo talking to reporters at the end of the May owner’s meetings in Charlotte.

Defensive, clipped and disingenuous, a monotone-speaking Goodell was asked about Deflategate and Monday’s Congressional report that alleged the NFL had lobbyists trying to pressure concussion researchers into using NFL-approved doctors.

Asked about the appeal for a rehearing of Tom Brady’s case on Monday, Goodell said, “I respect the NFLPA’s ability to appeal if they choose to do that . . . I’m not really focused on that at all.”

Goodell did not answer the second part of the question, whether or not he’d keep Tom Brady off the field if the court case was unresolved.

The answer, one can only presume would be, “Abso-friggin-lutely.”

As for the Congressional report, Goodell had the gall to answer that he “didn’t see the report.”

He then went on to disagree with what was in the report -- meaning his initial response was less than candid.

A few more minutes of short answers and the show was over with nobody much the wiser than when he began. 

Kraft on Deflategate: 'The whole thing has been mishandled'

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Kraft on Deflategate: 'The whole thing has been mishandled'

At the NFL's brief annual spring meeting, which typically lasts about 24 hours, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft provided some equally brief remarks about his quarterback. 

Asked for some comment on Tom Brady's legal situation, Kraft told NFL Media's Judy Battista a version of what he has been saying for the last few months as it relates to Deflategate.

"We've been behind him," Kraft said, "and the whole thing has been mishandled, in my opinion. It's unfortunate, and we hope he prevails."

The NFLPA and Brady's legal team filed a petition to the Second Circuit on Monday requesting that he be granted a rehearing. The Second Circuit reinstated Brady's four-game suspension upon appeal earlier this offseason.