Brady and Patriots still a constant in AFC East
NEW YORK -- Tom Brady has seen plenty of other quarterbacks come and go in the AFC East.
While the faces across the sideline keep changing, Brady has been a constant since leading the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl title during the 2001 season. Now, at 37 years old, Brady is still everything the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills have been searching for.
Namely, a franchise quarterback.
"I’ve been lucky to do something I really love to do," Brady said. "I’d love to keep doing it, so that’s a great motivation for me to come out. Where else would I rather be? This is a lot better than any cubicle I could probably think of. It’s a pretty good office."
Since Brady took over as the Patriots’ starter, the Jets have had nine quarterbacks start. Meanwhile, the Bills have had 11 and the Dolphins a whopping 16.
Given the constant turnover everywhere else, it’s no coincidence the Patriots have won 11 of the last 13 division titles. The exceptions: 2002, when New York won it, and 2008, when Brady missed 15 games with a knee injury and Miami won.
All three of the Patriots’ rivals think they might be on to something as far as setting up their futures under center. Miami’s Ryan Tannehill enters his third season, while New York’s Geno Smith and Buffalo’s EJ Manuel are going into their second.
"I think that’s obviously your chief rival and your biggest enemy," the Jets’ Rex Ryan said of the Patriots. "You probably respect them more than anybody, but you also at the same time know you don’t like them.
"They’ve earned what we’re looking at, and that’s to win that division."
Here are a few things to know about the AFC East:
BRADY’S BUNCH: The Patriots’ offense should get a big boost with the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski. The health of one of Brady’s favorite targets will be a big story line after he had surgery on his right knee in January. He’s aiming to play in all 16 games this season after he missed the first six last year following back and forearm surgeries. He played the next seven, but hurt his knee and missed the rest of the season.
The Patriots should be improved on defense after signing free agents Darrelle Revis -- much to the chagrin of Jets fans -- and Brandon Browner, who’ll sit out the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Three key defensive players sidelined for most of last season also are back: linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
SOARING JETS?: Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are giving Smith every opportunity to establish himself as the team’s quarterback for now and beyond, even with Michael Vick on the roster.
The Jets haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons, so there’s pressure on Ryan to build on last year’s 8-8 finish. While Smith has shown flashes, the Jets won’t hesitate to pull him if he struggles and plug in Vick. Regardless of who’s under center, the offense should be improved with the additions of wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson.
The Jets’ front seven on defense should be among the league’s best, led by linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year. The biggest question will be the secondary, where second-year cornerback Dee Milliner and veteran Dimitri Patterson are expected to be starters but have been banged-up.
NEW-LOOK DOLPHINS: Miami is trying to put the bullying scandal that rocked the franchise and the rest of the league far behind.
Joe Philbin is back as coach, but GM Jeff Ireland was fired and replaced by Dennis Hickey. One of the Dolphins’ top concerns was to keep Tannehill more upright -- and give him the opportunity to get the ball to Mike Wallace more often -- after Miami allowed an NFL-high 58 sacks. Left tackle Brandon Albert was signed to improve protection. RB Knowshon Moreno, if healthy, should also help new coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense.
Free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan, paired with holdover Brent Grimes, should bolster a secondary that was middle of the pack last season.
BUMBLING BILLS: Buffalo hasn’t won the division since 1995, and the Bills’ 14-season playoff drought is the NFL’s longest active streak.
That’s a trend second-year coach Doug Marrone is eager to end, especially during a season in which there’s uncertainty with team ownership after the death of owner Ralph Wilson. The Bills brought in several new pieces -- Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown -- to help Manuel try to prove himself. His development last season was slowed by three separate knee injuries that limited him to 10 games.
The defense, under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, is a strength, despite linebacker Kiko Alonso being out for the season with a torn knee ligament, and losing safety Jairus Byrd to free agency.
Predicted order of finish: Patriots; Jets; Dolphins; Bills.
AP Sports Writers Howard Ulman and John Wawrow contributed to this story.
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