LAST YEAR: Despite injuries to key players, mediocre receiving corps and weak run defense, Patriots reached third straight AFC championship game. Lost to Broncos 26-16, allowing 507 yards, most in Bill Belichick’s 14 seasons as coach. Injuries sidelining TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Jerod Mayo and DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were costly. WR Danny Amendola was disappointment in his first year with team. But WR Julian Edelman, with 69 catches in previous four seasons, had 105.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner; DL Dominique Easley; WR Brandon LaFell; DE Will Smith; LB James Anderson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Aqib Talib; RB LeGarrette Blount; LBs Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher; S Steve Gregory.
CAMP NEEDS: Better pass rush, influx of youth on aging offensive line, productive backup for Gronkowski, whose readiness for is uncertain after knee injury. Also must improve young receiving group. WRs Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce should benefit from last season’s rookie experience. Patriots also must decide if second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo is good enough for them to keep two quarterbacks and release or trade Ryan Mallett.
EXPECTATIONS: Sixth straight AFC East title is likely. As long as Belichick and Tom Brady are running show, expectations are high in weak division. Defense improved with additions of Revis and Browner, which offset loss of Talib to Denver. Departure of Spikes, who clashed with Belichick, could hurt. But Anderson, solid locker room presence who led Bears in tackles last season, provides pass coverage ability Spikes lacked. Patriots still have RBs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
NEW YORK JETS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 23, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, New York.
LAST YEAR: Rookie QB Geno Smith was forced into starting job when Mark Sanchez was lost for season and had roller-coaster year that ended on upswing, Jets winning three of last four to finish .500 and save coach Rex Ryan’s job. Still, Jets missed playoffs for third straight year, longest postseason drought since Woody Johnson bought team in 2000.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Eric Decker; RB Chris Johnson; QB Michael Vick, RT Breno Giacomini; CBs Dimitri Patterson and Dexter McDougle; S Calvin Pryor; TE Jace Amaro; special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Sanchez; CB Antonio Cromartie; WRs Santonio Holmes and Josh Cribbs; RT Austin Howard; TE Kellen Winslow Jr.; S Ed Reed; ST coordinator Ben Kotwica.
CAMP NEEDS: For Smith to show marked improvement and establish himself as QB of present, and possibly future. If he struggles, Vick will be expected to step in. Jets also will have to sort through mix of veterans and youngsters at WR and in secondary.
EXPECTATIONS: Ryan encouraged by upgrades on offense with Decker, Johnson and Amaro, who should help move ball more consistently, whether it’s Smith or Vick under center. Defense should be solid, as usual, as long as Pryor, McDougle and second-year CB Dee Milliner play well.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Davie, Florida.
LAST YEAR: Dolphins were wildly inconsistent, their season rocked by bullying scandal that raised questions about locker room leadership. To make postseason for first time in five years, they needed to win one of final two games against Bills or the Jets, both out of playoff chase. Instead, Miami lost by combined 39-7. General manager Jeff Ireland left after six years. Coach Joe Philbin returns for third season, might need to make playoffs to keep job.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM Dennis Hickey; offensive coordinator Bill Lazor; OL coach John Benton; LT Branden Albert and RT Ja’Wuan James; DT Earl Mitchell; RB Knowshon Moreno; S Louis Delmas; WR Jarvis Landry; CB Cortland Finnegan; OLs Shelley Smith, Jason Fox, Daryn Colledge and Billy Turner.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Ireland; offensive coordinator Mike Sherman; OL coach Jim Turner; OTs Jonathan Martin, Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie; G Richie Incognito; DT Paul Soliai; S Chris Clemons; CBs Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson; TE Dustin Keller.
CAMP NEEDS: Offense must adjust to Lazor’s system while finding firepower after Dolphins scored once in final 24 possessions last year. Sort out O-line with five new starters after departures of Martin and Incognito, both involved in bullying scandal. Secondary will have two new starters. Should they keep Koa Misi at MLB after moving him there during offseason drills.
EXPECTATIONS: Dolphins were outgained by 743 yards last year, suggesting they overachieved to go 8-8. Neither offense nor defense appears to be first-place caliber, and unless QB Ryan Tannehill makes dramatic improvement in third NFL season, another Miami coaching search is more likely in January than a playoff game.
BUFFALO BILLS (6-10)
OPEN CAMP: July 20, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, New York.
LAST YEAR: Top to bottom offseason overhaul, addition of rookie quarterback (EJ Manuel) and series of injuries, Manuel, included, contributed to ninth straight losing record. Team extended NFL’s longest active playoff drought to 14 seasons. Manuel’s development was hampered by three separate knee injuries, missed six regular-season games. Buffalo finished 19th in yards gained and 29th in yards passing. Defense improved under coordinator Mike Pettine’s attacking philosophy, but struggled against run.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WRs Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins; LBs Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers; DB Corey Graham; RB Bryce Brown; RT Cyrus Kouandjio; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Owner Ralph Wilson; S Jairus Byrd; WR Stevie Johnson; defensive coordinator Pettine; LB Kiko Alonso.
CAMP NEEDS: Manuel to stay healthy and show signs of taking command of offense. Find capable replacement for OLB with Alonso expected to miss season (torn ACL). Watkins, Williams and second-year WRs Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin to establish chemistry with Manuel. Da’Norris Searcy or Duke Williams to secure safety spot left open following Byrd’s departure. DT Marcell Dareus to stay out of trouble after facing drug possession and reckless endangerment driving charges.
EXPECTATIONS: Bills are up for sale following Wilson’s death. Could this be year they finally are playoff contenders? GM Doug Whaley emphasized win-now approach at draft by giving up 2015 first-round pick to move and select Watkins at No. 4. Much of defense returns intact, as does Bills’ strength on offense – its running game.
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