Same old, same old in the AFC East -- it's the Pats

Rick Gosselin

Welcome to Groundhog Day. Or Groundhog Year, anyway, in the AFC East.

In last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll, we asked our listeners and readers who would win the AFC East in 2017. The New England Patriots won by a very lopsided margin, which should come as no surprise.

The Patriots have owned the division ever since Tom Brady took over at quarterback in 2001. New England has won the East in 14 of the 16 seasons Brady has been the starter, including the last eight years in a row. The Bills, Dolphins and Jets have given no indication that’s going to change any time soon.

The Patriots received 77 percent of the vote with the Dolphins next at 16 percent. The Bills received six percent of the support and the Jets a meager one percent. The three Talk of Fame Network hosts – Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge – agreed with the vote. All casts their ballots for the Patriots.

“Is there a point to this poll?” said Borges, who covers the Patriots for the Boston Herald. “Pats by Thanksgiving.”

Maybe sooner.

The Patriots were four games better than anyone in the AFC East last season. The last time the Patriots failed to win the division was 2008 when Brady suffered a knee injury in the season opener that sidelined him for the season. New England still finished 11-5 to tie Miami for the division title, but the Dolphins advanced to the playoffs on the tie-breaker.

The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champion, and if Brady stays healthy, even at 40 years of age, who’s going to challenge them? With Brady at the helm, the Patriots have gone to the last 10 AFC title games, won seven AFC titles and five Lombardi Trophies.

This offseason the Patriots have added an elite cornerback in free agency, signing Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore away from the Bills, but lost two key offensive elements in free agency – tight end Martellus Bennett and 1,100-yard rusher LaGarrette Blount. James White, who rushed for two touchdowns and also caught 100 yards in passes in the Super Bowl, figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Blount’s departure. The Patriots also used a pair of third-round draft picks to select a pass rusher (Derek Rivers) and a blocker (Antonio Garcia).

"Until or unless Tom Brady retires, everyone else plays for second," Judge said.

The Dolphins are best situated to chase the Patriots this season. Miami went to the playoffs as a wild-card a year ago with a 10-6 record, and running back Jay Ajayi took positive steps in the direction of stardom with a 1,200-yard rushing season.

The Dolphins acquired tight end Julius Thomas in trade and signed linebacker Lawrence Timmons in free agency away from the Steelers. Miami also spent a first-round draft pick on pass rusher Charles Harris and a second-round pick on Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

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