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Washington Post survey: Patriots have NFL's easiest schedule

Washington Post survey: Patriots have NFL's easiest schedule

A rematch of the AFC Championship Game, another trip to Pittsburgh against the perennial AFC-contending Steelers, matchups against other playoff teams such as the Vikings and Chiefs... 

That's part of the easiest schedule in the NFL, according to a Washington Post survey, and it belongs to the New England Patriots.

The Post's Neil Greenberg, whose formula had the Pats with the easiest schedule a year ago, too, writes that he uses "a blend of Super Bowl LIII future odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook coupled with the over/under win totals set by online sportsbook 5Dimes" to make his determination.

That method has New England opponents expected to win an average of 7.5 games, with two - the Steelers and Packers - estimated to win 10 or more.

As usual, it's the AFC East that brings the Pats' strength of schedule down. The Bills, Dolphins and Jets aren't expected to win more than seven games, according to the Post survey, and none of them have even a one percent chance to win the Super Bowl.

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Patriots signing WR Jordan Matthews

Patriots signing WR Jordan Matthews

The New England Patriots are signing former Buffalo Bills reciever Jordan Matthews, as first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter and confirmed by NBC Sports Boston. They're doing so just days after trading receiver Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams.

While the transactions take place days apart, the receivers couldn't be more different. Cooks served as a deep threat in New England's offense by lining up outside the numbers and stretching the top of the defense. Matthews, on the other hand, acts as more of a replacement for slot reciever Danny Amendola, who departed for the Miami Dolphins during the early stages of free agency. Matthews amassed 2,389 yards from the slot in his first three NFL seasons from 2014 to 2016, the most by any receiver during that span, according to Pro Football Focus.

But Mathews had an underwhelming season for the Buffalo Bills after joining the team in a trade by the Philadelphia Eagles. He finished 2017 with 25 receptions for 282 yards and one touchdown. That was a significant decline in productivity from his previous three seasons when he had no fewer than 65 catches and 800 yards. He had career highs in catches (85), yards (997) and touchdowns (8) in 2015.

The Bills offense hasn't been particularly friendly to many Bills recievers with Tyrod Taylor averaging just 2,952 passing yards per season over the last three years. To make things worse, Matthews suffered a string of injuries during the season, including a fractured sternum during preseason and a fractured thumb in Week 4. His season ended early so he could get surgery on his knee and ankle.

"I think the worst and most frustrating thing about the whole situation was, when I got to Buffalo, I was still dealing with the things that I had to get surgery on," Matthews said on Sirius XM NFL Radio, per the Buffalo News. "But I had two really bad diagnoses on the knee and the ankle, so going into the trade, I thought they were both things that were going to heal on their own. But once I got around Buffalo's doctors, they got me in touch with the right people and then I got really good feedback."

With that in mind, the Patriots may think they're getting a version of Matthews, which resembles his first three seasons -- and not his most recent one.

He joins a receiver group which no longer includes Brandin Cooks, whom the Patriots traded to the Rams on Tuesday. The Patriots have receivers Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater, Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister.

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AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal. 

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