Winners of 11 of the last 12 division titles, the AFC East has been dominated by New England ever since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady joined forces in 2001. However, with Brady's four-game suspension, along with the departure of several key defensive players, this prolific run could be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have new coaching staffs and has added some key pieces, while the Miami Dolphins reeled in the biggest fish on the free agent market this offseason. This division seems more up in the air than in the past several seasons. Can a new team claim supremacy, or will the Patriots find a way to hold on to their crown for a seventh straight season?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“In one of the strangest coaching developments in recent memory, Doug Marrone opted out of his contract three days after a 9-7 season and landed in Jacksonville as an assistant. The Bills went with an opposite personality and hired Rex Ryan who had been released by the Jets and he will bring his open-book, player-friendly approach to western New York."
"Since trading their 2015 No. 1 pick last year for WR Sammy Watkins, GM Doug Whaley and the organization have continued with their aggressive tactics to try and add more talent to this roster. They traded for RB LeSean McCoy and QB Matt Cassel, signed TE Charles Clay to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, inked OG Richie Incognito and also brought WR Percy Harvin into the fold."
"And yet, the question still remains, is EJ Manuel the long-term answer at QB? If he’s not, Cassel will serve as a stop-gap insurance policy, since Kyle Orton decided to retire... The OL is really ordinary to below average without a single big-time starter, although offseason reports indicate that LT Cordy Glenn is in the best shape of his career."
"Their defense is outstanding with quality players across the front, including DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, plus edge rushers Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes... Buffalo gave up LB Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade, but he missed the entire 2014 season with an ACL and the D still finished fourth overall and first in third downs (33.2 percent)."
"The corners, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin should give Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman the freedom to use their pressure packages, while they added Florida State CB Ronald Darby in the second round as a potential nickel... With Rex’s energy and ability to motivate, don’t be surprised to see the Bills pull the new pieces together and break their 15-year playoff drought.”
“Cut it any way you like, but owner Stephen Ross brought in former NY Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum to evaluate and determine the fates of head coach Joe Philbin and GM Dennis Hickey following the 2015 season."
"It’s a one-year trial for them and a huge season for QB Ryan Tannehill."
"The Dolphins wanted to make a splash and they did so in free agency by signing DT Ndamukong Suh to the richest defensive player deal in league history. He is a major league talent and the expectation is that he will help control the run game and pressure the interior of the pocket, especially against New England."
"While the front is solid, DEs Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are maybe the most underrated pair of pass rushers in the league, the linebackers are second-rate and someone has to step up at corner opposite of Brent Grimes."
"Offensively, Miami has rebuilt the offensive line in two short years, but lost TE Charles Clay as an unrestricted free agent to Buffalo. He is a significant loss for Tannehill because the Dolphins also shipped WR Mike Wallace to Minnesota and traded for the Saints’ Kenny Stills."
"WR Jarvis Landry was a nice second-round find last year out of LSU and caught 84 passes as a rookie, but the hope is that first-round pick DeVante Parker can become the complete receiver Tannehill has lacked in his early career."
"TE Jordan Cameron was added from the Browns, but he’s had documented concussion issues despite being a quality receiving target... None of their RBs scare anybody, so Boise State product Jay Ajayi could get on the field right away despite a knee issue that deflated his draft stock.”
“After ten years of tantalizing frustration, the Patriots finally pushed through for their fourth Belichick-Brady Super Bowl title and you get the sense that they are enjoying this one unlike any before. With those two at the helm, everyone else seems to respond and play above themselves."
"Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell complement each other well and became reliable targets in conjunction with TE Rob Gronkowski. It remains to be seen if Aaron Dobson can become a player, but with their offensive line in need of interior help, they added Florida State OG Tre' Jackson and Georgia Tech OG Shaq Mason in the fourth round of the draft."
"The Pats face three formidable fronts within the division as all of their opponents want to attack the base of the pocket and make Tom Brady move off his spot."
"LeGarrette Blount will miss the opener with a personal conduct policy suspension and they let Shane Vereen depart in free agency, but Travaris Cadet was signed from the Saints and there is great hope for James White to become a factor in 2015."
"NE has gotten amazing mileage out of their linebacker corps in the absence of Jerod Mayo over the past two years."
"Jamie Collins is the most versatile piece of their defensive strategy and has become a top player at his position."
"Dont'a Hightower is finally playing to his potential and reminds you of a 1980s New York Giants’ linebacker."
"Rob Ninkovich has thrived in New England because of his motor, technique and scheme fit."
"They did not exercise the Darrelle Revis option and Brandon Browner signed with the Saints, but they didn’t address the position during the offseason, so Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain are the current top four cornerbacks."
"Devin McCourty was retained as was Patrick Chung, so they are set at safety."
"One of their iconic figures in DT Vince Wilfork was allowed to walk (he went to Houston), but rarely have older players found the same kind of success elsewhere and the Pats are well-equipped to handle his loss with Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga providing some girth up front along with their past two first-round choices, Florida DT Dominique Easley and Texas DT Malcom Brown."
“After sweeping out GM John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan, the Jets embarked on a cumbersome search for new leadership. Longtime NFL executive Charley Casserly was instrumental in the selection of his former understudy Mike Maccagnan as GM and Todd Bowles as the new coach."
"In an odd twist, both should send thank you notes to Idzik for leaving plenty of cap space, because the Jets have been as active as any team in this offseason."
"Defensively, they brought back the cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, plus signed Buster Skrine from Cleveland and safety Marcus Gilchrist from San Diego. Those moves speak volumes about their faith in former first-round pick Dee Milliner as he now sits as the fourth cornerback and appears to be on the outside of their secondary plans."
"The front seven should be very good again with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and emerging LB Demario Davis as the primary playmakers up front." Editor's note: Sheldon Richardson will miss the first four games due to a suspension.
"And despite the defensive line being the strongest unit on their team, give Maccagnan credit for taking the ‘best available’ player in USC DE Leonard Williams who fell in their laps at pick No. 6."
"The fact remains that Geno Smith is the biggest unknown on this football team, and the new regime drafted an excellent developmental candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty... They traded for WR Brandon Marshall who will play for his fourth team in ten years. In spite of his career production, it’s hard to predict how this chapter will play out."
"The OL should be steady with James Carpenter being brought in from Seattle, but D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold have played their best football in the past."
"The Jets need Jace Amaro to step up as a second-year pro, because Jeff Cumberland is really just average."
"Stevan Ridley arrives from New England with a surgically repaired knee, but if healthy, he should bolster their backfield-by-committee, which also included a draft-weekend trade for the Rams’ Zac Stacy."
"Everything truly hinges on the QB play and what new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey can create with a bottom half of the league group of skill players.”