It was business as usual in the AFC East last season, as New England won its seventh straight division title on its way to playing in a fifth straight conference championship game. Should we expect anything different this year? Perhaps since it’s a given that Tom Brady will miss the first four games of the season and the Patriots also traded away their best pass rusher in the offseason (Chandler Jones).
However, for that to happen, Buffalo, Miami or New York will have to step up and wrest the throne away from New England because Brady will be back in Week 5, and Bill Belichick and host of other Patriots who have gotten used to being on top of the AFC East are still around.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2016 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.
“At this point last year, the QB question centered around EJ Manuel. Now the focus is on Tyrod Taylor, who emerged as a potential answer in 14 starts by hitting over 60 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He took care of the ball and also ran the ball well. They will take a wait-and-see approach, but with another year of production at those numbers, he will be in line for a huge contract."
"Rex Ryan was brought in to give the Bills a dose of confidence and get them to the playoffs; instead the defense took a huge step backwards and they invested heavily on that side of the football with their first three draft picks [DE Shaq Lawson, ILB Reggie Ragland and DT Adolphus Washington]."
"It’s not make-or-break yet for Rex, but he needs to deliver something more than 8-8."
"It will be interesting to see what kind of season LeSean McCoy can put together after he missed four games and only rushed for 895 yards."
"Left tackle Cordy Glenn inked a new contract after getting himself in shape and playing top-shelf football in 2015, and left guard Richie Incognito proved to be a productive signing after his issues in Miami. They are really solid on the left side of the line."
"The Bills found a real keeper at cornerback in Ronald Darby, but their lack of pressure and discipline are two areas that must be improved for them to have any chance of
“It didn’t take Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum long to part ways with former head coach Joe Philbin and GM Dennis Hickey. Adam Gase, the former Broncos’ and Bears’ OC, was brought in to maximize the potential of QB Ryan Tannehill."
"After a draft-day stunner, which got them Laremy Tunsil at No. 13 after the release of a gasmask/bong video on social media, there are no more excuses for Ryan Tannehill. The line should be improved across the board, which will help the running game, and they do have a capable trio of wide receivers in DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills."
"In free agency, they took defensive end Mario Williams, who should fit better in a 4-3 front, but his track record has been one of inconsistency throughout his career."
"Defensive line coach Jim Washburn came out of retirement to serve as Ndamukong Suh’s personal mentor, and that could go a long way in getting him back to his dominant ways."
"End Cameron Wake is 34 years old and coming off an Achilles injury, so generating edge pressure might be an issue."
"Under new DC Vance Joseph, the corners are expected to play more press-and-run, so second-round choice Xavien Howard will be expected to start as a rookie."
"Gase has a great reputation as a play-caller, but with a mixture of personalities and a hodge-podge of talent, he will be Coach of the Year if he can pull this outfit together and win more than eight games.”
“The reality of the Tom Brady suspension is expected to come to fruition for the first four games of 2016, so Jimmy Garappolo will audition not only for the Patriots, but the rest of the league during that month. He has quick feet and a short, ear-level release, so the same offense will be in play. And his running ability might be an added feature."
"The offensive line was exposed with injuries and poor play during the playoffs. Bill Belichick brought back Dante Scarnecchia to get this finesse-oriented unit back up to speed, but they simply might not be good enough."
"Gronk is an amazing, mismatch talent that will be paired off with Martellus Bennett, who was traded for in March."
"Julian Edelman missed seven games with a fractured foot, and it affected Brady in a major way — he hit below 57 percent in three of those contests."
"Chandler Jones was traded, and Jarod Mayo retired, so the front seven is going through some changes."
"Rob Ninkovich has found a home in New England, and he is a really good football player."
"Jabaal Sheard showed up as a signed free agent from Cleveland and posted 8.0 sacks."
"Belichick and Brady get all of the attention, but Stephen Gostkowski has been just as consistent over the years."
"You break this team down individually and they don’t seem all that special, yet all they do is win the division every year [13 of the past 15 seasons], and that won’t change in 2016, either.”
“From the moment Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his third and final game-ending interception during the fourth quarter against Buffalo to squander the Jets’ playoff hopes, everything that went right during a 10-6 campaign seems to have turned in the wrong direction."
"D’Brickashaw Ferguson unexpectedly retired, so they traded for Ryan Clady, who missed the Broncos’ run to the Super Bowl with an ACL."
"Chris Ivory left for Jacksonville in free agency, so they signed 30-year- old Matt Forté, who has had a really impressive career. But that was then, and this is now."
"Linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin opened eyes as a rookie with four sacks."
"First-round pick Darron Lee brings big speed to the table as an inside linebacker, while veteran David Harris has put together four straight seasons of 100-plus tackles."
"Another 10-6 record seems out of reach with their quarterback situation.”
(Editor’s note: The Jets and Fitzpatrick agreed to a one-year, $12 million fully guaranteed contract on July 27.)