Patriots

A Quick Look at the AFC EastSizing up the Patriots schedule

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A Quick Look at the AFC EastSizing up the Patriots schedule

Here are a few fun facts on the Patriots recent dominance in the AFC East:

Theyve won the division in nine of the last 11 seasons.

In the two seasons they didnt win, they finished with the same record as the champion but lost on a tie breaker.

Since 2001, the only team that comes close to matching the Pats nine division titles is the Colts. Theyve won seven, but will have to wait at least a few years to win another. (The Steelers and Eagles each won six.)

In those 11 seasons, the Pats have a division record of 53-15.

Over that time, there have been a few legitimate threats to the Pats crown, namely Bill Parcells Dolphins and the artist formerly known as Rex Ryans Jets, but in both cases, the Pats rode out the wave.

In the meantime, they reloaded. And now, they start another season as everyones odds on favorite to win the AFC East. (Right now in Vegas, youd have to bet 330 to make 100 on the Pats winning the division.)

So, whats up with the Jets, Bills and Dolphins?

Youve probably been following along, but just in case, heres a quick preview of what the rest of the AFC East has planned for this season.

Well start at the top and work our way down:

Buffalo Bills: Thats right. The days of jumping on the Bills bandwagon in Week 3 and abandoning ship by Week 6 are a thing of the past. This year, were revving things up in Week 1!

And will probably hit eject by Week 4. But for the first time in a long time, theres reason for pre-season optimism in Buffalo:

First of all, the pieces are still there on offense. At running back, Fred Jackson is healthy and CJ Spillers ready to breakout. At receiver, Stevie Johnson can still light you up, Donald Jones and David Nelson know how to get open, and third round pick TJ Graham is a former track star who can do things like this. On top of that, you can do a lot worse at tight end than Scott Chandler at tight end.

However, you cant do much worse than what Ryan Fitzpatrick did at the tail end of 2011. And his ability to turn things around will be the difference between this team making it back to the playoffs for the first time since the Music City Miracle or spending their 13th straight winter watching the playoffs from couch.

You remember the Fitzpatrick mess. Through seven games last season, hed thrown 14 touchdowns and only seven interceptions as the Bills raced out to 5-2 start. At that point, Buffalo rewarded their QB with a six-year59M extension (with a 10M signing bonus.)

In turn, Fitzpatrick unraveled, throwing only 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over Buffalos last nine games. By the end of the year, if you had your choice of Harvard alums, youd have rather had Natalie Portman quarterback your team than Fitzpatrick. Not coincidentally, the Bills lost eight of their last nine games and finished in last place for the fourth straight season.

But theres a big question that still hangs over Fitzpatricks horrendous stretch: Was he hurt?

His name didnt show up on the injury report during the season, but it was revealed over the winter that Fitzpatrick may have played the last few months with cracked ribs. The quarterback has refused to blame the ribs for his performance, but heres what Stevie Johnson told the Toronto Sun over the winter: "I know personally, in the huddle, the worst it got -- to my knowledge -- is he barely could say a full play under one breath," said Johnson. "It started right at the halfway mark (of the season). I mean, everybody in the league is injured or is hurt in some way. When it's your quarterback who's got to throw, and it's ribs -- I mean, it's tough. That's the last thing I heard was it was ribs, or what-not.

Seems pretty bad. But who knows how much it really affected Fitzpatricks play. On one hand, in 2009, we saw how much those cracked ribs messed with Tom Brady. But Brady was still respectable. Fitzpatrick fell off a cliff. Either way, the Legend of Fitzpatricks Ribs should be enough to provide him a clean slate in the eyes of Bills fans, and a fair chance to redeem himself this season.

Other than that . . . any news on the defensive side this offseason? Oh right. Mario Williams. The biggest free agent signing in franchise history.

We can talk all we want about the offensive side of the ball, but defense is where the Bill needed the most help last season. They ranked 30th in points allowed, and didnt discriminate in how they gave them up, ranking 29th in passing TDs allowed and 30th in rushing TDs. They also finished dead last in total sacks.

While Williams and former Patriot Mark Anderson should help in the sack column, the Bills drafted cornerback Stephen Gilmore with the 10th pick in last years draft. Hes 6-1, fast and physical and will start right away.

Add it all up, and its hard to imagine the Bills wont easily eclipse their 6-10 record from last season. Especially when, like the Pats and thanks to the NFC West, they have one of the easiest schedules in the league.

But then again, these are the Bills were talking about. Lets just wait and see.

Miami Dolphins: Speaking of which, wait and see is about all they can do down in Miami right now. Theyve handed the keys to a rookie quarterback, surrounded him with zero receiving talent and a feature back who isnt built to be a feature back.

But hey, at least their defense is . . . mediocre? They have a playmaker on the defensive line in Cameron Wake, who finished third in the league with 14.5 sacks two years ago but was held to only 8.5 last season. This spring, he signed a four-year50M extension with 20M guaranteed, so theres a lot to live up to. If hes not worth every penny, the Dolphins D wont have a shot at keeping their anemic offense in games.

New York Jets: The more I read about the Jets, the more Im reminded of the Red Sox. Owners who care more about perception and headlines then what really right for the team. A coach who doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut and can't get out of his own way. A roster that's packed with talent but has the chemistry of a blind date between an Occupy Wall Street alum and a Tea Bagger. It will make it impossible for these guys to gel out on the field. And even if they got the rest of that stuff cleared up (which they won't) there's still a long way to go before reclaiming the spot among the AFC's best.

On one hand, the defense, which ranked 20th in points allowed last year, should be better. They picked up LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell to play safety, and if they both stay healthy, they could be a dangerous duo. Speaking of which, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie have seen better days but can still play with anyone. David Harris is solid in the middle at linebacker and in Ryan, they still have one of the best defensive minds in the game.

But in the end, the Jets offense on top of the day-to-day soap opera will keep this team down. Especially when the offense essentially is the day-to-day soap opera. Honestly, I think the only chance these guys have to really succeed is if one of their two quarterbacks get hurt. I know that's a crazy thing to say, but otherwise, the SanchezTebow controversy will linger and overshadow everything else they're trying to do.

These are uneasy times in Jet Land. Jobs and careers and insane levels of pride are on the line. And without any real plan of how to handle in place, the whole thing seems destined for a repeat disaster.

Take it from a Red Sox fan.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today. we're looking at a position where the Patriots have arguably the best player that’s ever manned it in his presumed prime. But tight end is suddenly a tenuous spot for New England.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


This became – contrary to the Patriots hopes – a one-man position. Rob Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. The rest of the tight ends – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Martellus Bennett – combined for 20 catches and six of those came from Bennett who played just two games before heading to injured reserve. Gronk was – and is – the best tight end in the game and one of its most dominating offensive weapons. After losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, the Patriots offense became tremendously Gronk-reliant. They got away with it. But they clearly wanted more from Dwayne Allen than what they got or they wouldn’t have gone after Bennett when he became available.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Will Tye, Jacob Hollister

WHO IS NOT?
All tight ends on the roster are under contract.

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Publicity grab or legitimate consideration? What exactly to make of Gronk’s reported dalliance with the WWE and his idle desire to be an action movie star (also reported)? Both have the earmarks of brand-building genius. It’s a page torn from the business plans of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard or Conor McGregor – ruminating on retirement and expressing interest in other public pursuits exponentially ratchets up public interest in both the main gig and the potential side gig. Gronk himself might not be that savvy and calculating to mildly hold the Patriots fortunes hostage but Gronk Inc. certainly is. Then again, maybe he legitimately is weighing it. The “will he or won’t he” conversation will sustain buzz and has to in some way impact the Patriots’ offseason plans. The presumption has to be that Gronk returns but this is anything but a layup. Which means the need is a Level-8

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There is a nice crop of tight ends hitting the market. Virtually all of them come with the same nagging health issues that Gronk has (had). Jimmy Graham is the biggest name in the group. His tepid blocking skills may make him unattractive to the Patriots, but never let it be said the Pats don’t like to take a flier on a once-electric player who’s on the backside. At 31, Graham’s coming off a 10-touchdown season, though his yards per catch went down to 9.1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see New England pursue. The Eagles' second tight end, Trey Burton, is 26 and stuck behind Zach Ertz. An undrafted rookie, the kid who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl is targeted sparingly in Philly but is a smooth player. He also plays special teams (boing!). Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally got his stuff together with the Jets in 2017 and he’s only 25. He’s no dummy, he’s only acted like one in the past and it seems like he’s got a handle on it now. He’d need face-to-face vetting but he’s got upside. Then there’s Tyler Eifert. Still just 27, Eifert’s played in 10 games the past two seasons and had season-ending back surgery in the fall (it was performed by the same doctor who treated Gronk). He’s played 39 games in five seasons. Terrific talent. Always broken.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


I like this Dallas Goedert kid from South Dakota State. Also, Dalton Schultz from Stanford gets checkmarks as a blocker and competent receiver. Neither of them are first-round prospects at this point. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are regarded as the top prospects. Hurst is a very good pass-catcher with a huge catch radius. He’s a 24-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates draftee. Andrews is smooth as a receiver but not seen as a potent blocker. Same with Mike Gesicki from Penn State who’s the best athlete along with Hurst but doesn’t impress with his blocking.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Assuming Gronk is returning, the Patriots can go at it a number of ways. There’s not a “can’t miss” prospect out there, so drafting Hurst or Gesicki in the first couple of rounds means they’ll have to live with the shortcomings or hope they can improve them. Given other needs, they may not want to spend on “maybes” near the top of the draft. Too many drafts have been like that, especially with second-rounders. It seems unlikely they’ll be really interested in counting on either Allen or Bennett to provide anything in 2018. If they take a run at the Eagles’ Burton and pay him a crapload, Gronk will lose his mind. Screw it. They should take Hurst. We will change our minds several times between now and April but that’s where we are now.

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

Julian Edelman is grinding.

The New England Patriots receiver, who is recovering from an ACL repair surgery that ended his 2017 season, shared a quick video from his workout on Tuesday. Edelman is shown running with a resistance band and a trainer in-tow.

Edelman has posted a few tidbits on social media to show encouraging signs during his recovery since he got surgery in October after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason game. He was spotted around the locker room a few times during the final weeks of the 2017 season.

"Rehab is a [expletive]. It sucks," Edelman said in November on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take podcast." "You go in and you’re feeling decent and then you warm up, you beat it up and then you get stiff again. I mean it’s just a process and you go in six days a week and you’re going into work it, work on everything — your flexion, your extension."