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2017 AFC East Outlook: New England Patriots

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The rich got richer during the 2017 NFL offseason.

The New England Patriots have won the AFC East division for eight consecutive seasons. The Patriots have won the division 14 times in the 16 seasons since Tom Brady became their full-time starting quarterback. Each season, the entire division looks up at what has become one of the greatest sports dynasties in all of organized sports.

I wish that I could say this year will be different. However, by the looks of it, the Patriots are primed to make yet another run at a Super Bowl title in 2017.

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Additions

Mike Gillislee RB (FA, Buffalo)

Rex Burkhead RB (FA, Cincinnati)

Brandin Cooks WR (Trade, New Orleans)

Andrew Hawkins WR (FA, Cleveland)

Devin Street WR (Waivers, Indianapolis)

Dwayne Allen TE (Trade, Indianapolis)

James O’Shaughnessy TE (Trade, Kansas City)

Antonio Garcia OT (Draft, Rd. 3, Troy)

Conor McDermott OT (Draft, Rd. 6, UCLA)

Kony Ealy DE (Trade, Carolina)

Lawrence Guy DE (FA, Baltimore)

Deatrich Wise DE (Draft, Rd. 4, Arkansas)

David Harris LB (FA, New York Jets)

Derek Rivers OLB (Draft, Rd. 4, Youngstown State)

Stephon Gilmore CB (FA, Buffalo)

The big names of note here are Gillislee and Gilmore, at least to Bills fans everywhere, but the sheer number of solid veteran additions is staggering. Your receiving corps lacks a deep threat? Let’s go pick up a legitimate wideout entering his prime in Brandin Cooks! Need an extra pass rusher? Kony Ealy is available! Superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed a ton of time due to injury...who can we grab as insurance? How about Dwayne Allen!

And then, as if to add insult to injury, the Patriots go out and have a great draft while only using four picks! Rivers is a versatile edge player who should serve as a situational chess piece early on, and Deatrich Wise is another strong rotational piece. Garcia and McDermott were ranked 6th and 13th, respectively, by NFL Draft Scout at their position.

Subtractions

Logan Ryan CB (Tennessee)

Jabaal Sheard DE (Indianapolis)

Martellus Bennett TE (Green Bay)

Chris Long DE (Philadelphia)

Barkevious Mingo LB (Indianapolis)

Michael Floyd WR (Minnesota)

LeGarrette Blount RB (Philadelphia)

Devin Street WR (New York Jets)

Sebastian Vollmer OT (unsigned)

Greg Scruggs DE (unsigned)

Michael Williams TE (unsigned)

DeAndre White WR (unsigned)

Robert Housler TE (unsigned)

Griff Whalen WR (unsigned)

Tyler Gaffney RB (unsigned)

True, the Patriots lost some big names here, but how often does this happen? They have never had trouble replacing players, and the argument can be made that no single team improved more in the offseason than New England did. That’s a scary proposition when they were already coming off of a Super Bowl victory, and they already have the best quarterback of all time leading the way.

Schedule/SoS

12th (135-121; .527)

Link to 2017 Schedule

The best team in the division has the easiest schedule in the division based on 2016 records, but that’s a bit misleading—playing the Bills and the New York Jets twice drags down their opponents’ 2016 won-loss record. Football Outsiders thinks that their schedule will be the weakest in the NFL, ranking it 32nd based on DVOA. They also have the Patriots winning 13 games, a figure which I think may be a game or two low.

2016 Record

14-2, won Super Bowl

2017 Projection/Outlook

The most likely scenario is that the Patriots will win their ninth consecutive AFC East title. When I say “most likely,” I mean it’s all but certain. There really are only two scenarios that could occur (okay, maybe three) that would open the door for another team:

  • Brady is injured, a la 2008, and it becomes the Jimmy Garoppolo show. (Fun fact—since Brady’s first year as a starter in 2001, only two men have quarterbacked teams to AFC East titles. One is obviously Brady. The other? Chad Pennington, both in 2002 with the Jets and in 2008 with the Miami Dolphins)
  • Age finally catches up to Brady, and he plays poorly (or at least like a 40-year old man)
  • Whatever dark, evil entity Bill Belichick dealt with 17 years ago finally returns from the bowels of hell to claim what is rightfully his

It’s easy to blindly hate the Patriots (I know I certainly do), but it’s impossible not to be awed by what they’ve done. It’s easy to blame the ineptitude of the other AFC East franchises for spotting New England 5-6 wins per year, but the Patriots still had to do the job each year. They still had to win all those games with a tremendous target on their back. They still had to stay hungry after all that winning.

The Patriots will probably be one of the last teams standing this season. Chances are, they will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Brady-Belichick era. They will probably win their sixth title in that time frame.

(I hope that I’ve “whammied” them by putting all of that in writing, but I’m not hopeful).

It’s maddening to consider, and worse still that their reign has coincided with such a pronounced era of ineptitude for the Bills, but the Patriots have done what most people have said was impossible since the advent of the salary cap system as we know it in 1993. They have built a juggernaut that looks like it will only stop when its quarterback decides to ride off into the sunset.

For fans of 31 NFL teams, that day can’t come soon enough.