NEW YORK (AP) The AFC East got a lot more entertaining with one wacky, drama-filled offseason.
Rex Ryan brought his bluster to Buffalo. The New York Jets cleaned house, welcomed home one of the franchise’s best players and saw their quarterback socked in the jaw by a teammate. Miami paid big bucks to bolster an already dominant defensive line by bringing aboard Ndamukong Suh.
And then there’s the New England Patriots.
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The defending Super Bowl champions’ offseason was filled with talk of deflated footballs, lawsuits and Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in the ”Deflategate” scandal – and a judge later nullifying it.
With all of those distractions, could this be the year someone else sits atop the division at the end of the season? After all, the Patriots have won 12 of the past 14 division titles.
”At this time of year, there’s a lot of optimism around the NFL for a lot of different teams,” said Mike Tannenbaum, the former Jets GM who’s now the Dolphins’ executive vice president of football operations. ”But I can tell you with certainty the difference between our optimism and the other 31 (teams) is our optimism is earned.”
Ryan can appreciate that kind of confidence. After being fired by the Jets as coach after six years, he found a home in Western New York. He’s already a fan favorite, blowing into town with the types of bold declarations and promises that always made headlines in New York City.
”This ain’t the honeymoon period,” Ryan said. ”The honeymoon period’s coming, and I truly believe that. I truly believe there’s going to be such great days ahead of us that the true honeymoon period is getting ready to take place.”
The Bills have certainly improved, and so have the Dolphins and Jets. But the question remains whether any of them will be able to dethrone the Patriots.
Here are a few things to know about the AFC East:
BRADY’S BUNCH: After facing the possibility of going up against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Dallas with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback, the Patriots got good news a week before the regular-season opener.
Brady will be under center on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh after a judge erased his suspension – although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised to appeal. Goodell had upheld a four-game suspension of Brady after concluding he was part of a conspiracy by Patriots equipment employees to deflate balls to gain a competitive advantage. But Brady and the NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit in late July to overturn the suspension – and won.
So, Bill Belichick will head into the season with their on-field leader, who threw for 33 TDs and 4,109 yards while helping the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl title. That’s great news for wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who combined for 174 catches and 16 TDs last season.
DANGEROUS DOLPHINS: Suh was signed to a six-year, $114 million contract, and will team up with four-time Pro Bowl selection Cameron Wake on one of the league’s toughest and sack-happy defensive lines.
But the success of coach Joe Philbin’s team likely rests on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who received a $96 million contract extension that runs through 2020. Tannehill threw for a career-high 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, with a career-low 12 interceptions while possibly bringing stability to a position that has seen 17 quarterbacks since the days of Dan Marino ended in 1999.
JETS’ TURBULENCE: With new GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, New York made a splash in the offseason by signing cornerback Darrelle Revis, who played for the Jets from 2007-12, trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and drafting defensive lineman Leonard Williams in the first round.
The positive feelings were tempered by some negative news. Star defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, then was charged with resisting arrest 12 days later and could face further discipline from the league.
The biggest blow came to quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw, broken by a punch from linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali. Smith is likely out at least the first four games, so the job is now veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick’s to hold – or lose.
REX IN EFFECT: Ryan has re-energized a franchise that has the longest playoff drought at 15 years, and helped the Bills sell a franchise-record 60,000-plus season tickets.
The Bills’ biggest roster moves included acquiring running back LeSean McCoy in a trade with Philadelphia, adding controversial guard Richie Incognito, bringing in wide receiver Percy Harvin, and re-signing defensive end-linebacker Jerry Hughes.
But like during much of his time with the Jets, Ryan is still trying to figure out who his quarterback is. The dynamic but unproven Tyrod Taylor will be the starter in Week 1 after beating out the disappointing EJ Manuel and veteran Matt Cassel for the job.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: Patriots, Dolphins, Jets, Bills.
AP Sports Writers John Wawrow and Steven Wine contributed to this story.
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