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

Brady says he hopes to play Thursday night vs. Giants

Brady says he hopes to play Thursday night vs. Giants

FOXBORO -- All last week, leading up to the preseason game between the Patriots and the Panthers, sports talk radio (and television) debate raged: Should Tom Brady play? 

On one side of the argument were those who believed Jimmy Garoppolo should receive every last game rep as he prepares to be the starter for the first four weeks of the regular season. On the other side were those who believed Brady needed work at some point between New England's AFC title game loss to the Broncos and this season's Week 5 matchup with the Browns. 

Now we know how Bill Belichick and the Patriots felt: Brady played four series, completing three of his nine attempts, including one 33-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan.

But now, one week later, the debate may resurface. Brady has taken preseason game snaps. That can be checked off of the to-do list. Should he play again, though? If the goal is to keep him as sharp as possible for Cleveland, should he see time against the Giants?

He hopes to. 

"I mean, [it's] always up to coach Belichick," Brady said during a press conference on Tuesday. "I wish I'd play every game. I love playing. I love playing in practice. I love playing in preseason games, regular season games, postseason games. I love thinking about football. It's just the way it is. That part, I think, would be very challenging watching those games in September, but I'll find ways to preoccupy my mind."

Brady alluded to the fact that he had to make the most of every repetition he has with the team before his four-game ban kicks in. Whether those repetitions come in practice -- Tuesday's practice will be his last with the Patriots -- or on Thursday night, they all carry importance in his eyes.

"I've got a good day of practice [Tuesday]," Brady said. "I've tried to look at all these days of practice as ways to get better. I have access to the fields, and throwing to my receivers. [I] try to use those days the best that I can, just like I always would. I got another, hopefully, opportunity to play on Thursday night, be with the team Friday, and then try to do the best that I can over the next month."

If the team decides that it is within its best interest to play Brady against the Giants, the question would then become when? Because the fourth preseason game is typically a last chance for fringe players to make their cases for roster spots, if Brady were to play late in the game, he may be playing behind players who might not be on the team soon thereafter. If he starts, it takes away an opportunity for either Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett to make a start on the road and work against what will likely be more talented defensive players. 

It may be a difficult call, something that Belichick alluded to earlier this week. 

"I’m sure," Belichick said, "you could bring up a lot of ‘If we did this, if we did that,’ those would all be good, and they would be, and we do that in the staff meeting. ‘We’d like to do this, we’d like to do that,’ OK, but what’s most important? What is at the top of the list? Or, how can we maybe do two or three things if we do take a certain approach? So, that’s what we try to figure out, so we’ll see."

Brady on Garoppolo: ‘I love being with Jimmy’

Brady on Garoppolo: ‘I love being with Jimmy’

FOXBORO – Tom Brady offered strong support of Jimmy Garoppolo on Tuesday. In probably his last press conference until after his four-game Deflategate suspension, Brady was asked if his relationship with his backup is at all similar to Brady’s relationship to Drew Bledsoe back in 2000 and 2001, which Brady said was very much a mentoring atmosphere.

“I have no idea. We’re totally on different ends of the spectrum,” said Brady, referring to Garoppolo. “I love being with Jimmy. I’ve enjoyed every day that we’ve spent with him. I wish him the very best, obviously. For our team. For [him]. When you see people that it means a lot to, you always want them to succeed as well. It will be tough to watch but I will be excited to watch and excited to learn. And hopefully when I come back in October I’ll be a better player than I am today.”

The Brady-Garoppolo dynamic has deserved close observation in recent weeks because it gives fascinating insight into how the greatest quarterback of his generation deals with his own football mortality.

The four-game sabbatical is temporary. But Brady’s distress last week after missing the Bears game, saying he “only had so many games left” to play, his discomfort with not being able to physically lead the team that day and the unbridled practice intensity he’s shown (25-for-25 on a Friday in an intrasquad scrimmage), plus his apparent impatience to get into the damn game last week against Carolina all combined to show just how hard this is for Brady.

It’s not necessarily even about Garoppolo. It’s about someone other than Brady squatting in Brady’s huddle and leading his offense. So it was good that Brady articulated his support of Garoppolo both as a person and as a player.

Brady can be both beside himself about Garoppolo playing quarterback instead of him and still like the kid and hope for the best. Ignoring the former with “all is well” blinders on is missing out an opportunity to observe the mindset of one of the NFL’s all-time greatest players and what exactly made him great.

 

 

 

Brady mum on suspension plans: 'I don't want to give away all my secrets'

Brady mum on suspension plans: 'I don't want to give away all my secrets'

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's smile at the Gillette Stadium podium belied his reluctance to divulge any information about his plans for his four-week suspension. He was, in essence, the feline pleasantly digesting the canary that the NFL had shoved down his throat.

Brady won't be allowed at the Patriots facilities, and he won't be allowed to be in contact with teammates or coaches for football-related matters. On Tuesday, in what will likely be his final meeting with reporters until after his suspension, Brady was asked what he'll do during his time away in order to remain sharp. 

"We'll see," he said.

Would he plan on staying in the area?

"We'll see," he repeated.

OK, well, did he plan on telling members of the media exactly what he planned on doing?

"No," Brady said. "I don't. In case anyone else is in this situation in the future, I don't want to give away all my secrets."

Brady will gladly share his thoughts on his nutrition plan and deliver it to your doorstep for a couple hundred bucks, but workouts like the ones he performs on his own in the offseason -- or the ones he'll take on for most of September -- he generally keeps close to the vest. 

Brady's business partner and friend Alex Guerrero, who along with Brady runs the TB12 Performance Center at Patriot Place, will be able to work with Brady during his time off. Guerrero is often on the Patriots sidelines or in the Patriots locker room, but he is not a team employee, meaning time with him would not violate the terms of Brady's suspension, an NFL spokesperson told CSN's Mike Giardi.

"That's nice of them," Brady said sarcastically. 

"We've been working together for over 12 years now," Brady added. "He's one of my best friends. We'll do what we always do. Work. We'll use all these days in the best way that's possible to stay prepared and stay sharp. I have ideas that I need to do. Based on the practices that we've had and the limited playing time that I've had. My goal is to come back and be the best I can be. Just like every other year. Just like every offseason, I'm gonna do the best I can do over these next however many days, 30 days or so, to do the same thing. 

"I've got a good day of practice. I've tried to look at all these days of practice as ways to get better. I have access to the fields, and throwing to my receivers. Try to use those days the best that I can, just like I always would. I got another hopefully opportunity to play on Thursday night, be with the team Friday, and then try to do the best that I can over the next month."

His plans for the next month, however, will remain secret for now.