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NFL preview 2017: AFC East outlook

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady celebrates a

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady celebrates a touchdown during the second half of Super Bowl LI on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston. Photo Credit: AP / Darron Cummings

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

COACH: Bill Belichick, 18th season (201-71, . 739)

LAST SEASON: 14-2-0, 1st place

PLAYOFFS: beat Houston, 27-14, in division playoff; beat Pittsburgh, 36-17, in AFC Championship; beat Atlanta, 34-28, in Super Bowl.

OUTLOOK: As if winning a fifth Super Bowl title wasn’t enough, the Patriots loaded up even more in the offseason by acquiring Saints WR Brandin Cooks in a trade, signing free agent RB Rex Burkhead as a free agent and even grabbing veteran LB David Harris after the Jets released him. Yes, the loss of WR Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury was a big blow. But the Patriots have won without key players before; last year, in fact, they won the Super Bowl without All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski. With Tom Brady playing as well as ever at age 40, they begin as the clear – and justifiable – favorites to win it all again.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

COACH: Adam Gase, 2nd season (10-6, .625)

LAST SEASON: 10-6, 2nd

PLAYOFFS: lost to Pittsburgh, 30-12, in wild card.

OUTLOOK: Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending knee injury in the preseason seemed to doom the Dolphins’ chances, but Gase, who had worked with QB Jay Cutler in Chicago, convinced Cutler to put off his plans to become a FOX broadcaster and play in 2017. Cutler was at his best when Gase was the Bears’ offensive coordinator. This is a team with talent at the skill positions – particularly WRs Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills, and RB Jay Ajayi. The defense is solid, with ageless Cameron Wake the team’s best pass rusher. There’s no reason Miami can’t contend for a wild card spot.

BUFFALO BILLS

COACH: Sean McDermott, 1st season

LAST SEASON: 7-9, 3rd place

OUTLOOK: Rex Ryan’s two-year run ended with a whimper, and the Bills cleaned house further by firing GM Doug Whaley. In come McDermott and GM Brandon Beane, and the roster transformation has been significant. The Bills traded WR Sammy Watkins and CB Ronald Darby, and there will be more moves as Buffalo looks to rebuild for the future. QB Tyrod Taylor remains – for now – but is dealing with a concussion issue. High-priced DT Marcell Dareus has already run afoul of the new coaching staff, having been sent home before a preseason game against the Ravens. This rebuild is going to take some time.

NEW YORK JETS

COACH: Todd Bowles, 3rd season (15-17, .469)

LAST SEASON: 5-11-0, 4th place

OUTLOOK: Woody Johnson will be spending the next few years as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, but before he left, the Jets’ owner ordered a house-cleaning the likes of which we haven’t seen. Ever. The Jets dumped nearly every high-priced, underperforming veteran — Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Breno Giacomini, and David Harris, among others — and traded Sheldon Richardson to Seattle, leaving a bunch of unproven younger players in their places. With one notable exception: 38-year-old QB Josh McCown is under center to start the season, as neither Christian Hackenberg nor Bryce Petty convinced Bowles that they were ready to be the opening-day starter. But it’s a virtual guarantee the two young QBs will get lots of playing time this season.

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