Where Do the New England Patriots Stand in the AFC East Now?

James DiMaio@@JamesDiMaioCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 13:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots stands on the field with head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots prior to playing against the Houston Texans during the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoffs game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It's no secret. The Patriots have been the class of the AFC East for a very long time, including four straight division titles.

Over the last two seasons, the Patriots have finished the regular season as the AFC's No. 1 and No. 2 seed, respectively.

In the same time period, no other team in the division has managed to produce a single winning record—never mind a playoff berth.

With the mayhem that is free agency beginning to settle, has the power shifted at all in the AFC East this offseason?

First, we'll need to take a look at what the other teams in the division have been up to.



The New York Jets: Losing a Lot and Gaining a Little

The New York Jets have watched the free agency wave take more players out to sea than it has brought ashore.

The Jets lost both starting safeties, Yeremiah Bell and 2013 Pro Bowler Laron Landry, who have signed with Arizona and Indianapolis, respectively.

The cap-strapped Jets were also forced to cut ties with a slew of veterans as well, including Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Eric Smith (per Rich Cimini of ESPN).

As expected, the Jets have been bargain hunting, making a couple of low-level signings including tailback Mike Goodson and guard Willie Colon.

The Jets' closest thing to a "splash" was the signing of Antwan Barnes, who may be able to help bolster a lackluster pass rush, but beyond that, the Jets haven't done much.

The Jets always seem to cause the Pats at least a little bit of trouble, but Tom Brady and company have swept this club two seasons in a row and it doesn't look like things will change any time soon.



The Buffalo Bills: At the Bottom Looking Up

If the Jets have been quiet this offseason, consider the Bills to be on mute.

The Bills have only made one free-agent addition: Linebacker Manny Lawson.

Lawson isn't an impact player, but he has experience playing all over the field. He should be able to contribute.

But signing just one guy isn't going to cut it.

ESPN's AFC East Blogger, James Walker, points out that the Bills have a lot of work to do after losing key players.

They need to find a quarterback after cutting former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Buffalo also lost starting guard Andy Levitre, linebacker Nick Barnett, veteran safety George Wilson and receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson. The team has yet to fill those holes.


The Bills always play the Pats tough, but this 6-10 team from a season ago appears to have somehow gotten worse this offseason.



The Miami Dolphins: Closing the Gap?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Miami Dolphins have been huge players in free agency.

Miami's general manager Jeff Ireland made it clear at the combine that there was a big gap between the Patriots and the rest of the division (per Walker of ESPN).

"There is a gap, certainly they have won the division quite a bit, so we have to close that gap," Ireland said. "To say that, I think it's a five-game gap right now in wins and losses, so that's where the gap is. So we have to close that gap and we plan to do our best job, put our best foot forward getting that done this off-season."


Well, it appears Ireland was dead serious.

As Adam Schefter alluded to via Twitter, second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have no shortage of talented targets in 2013.

They also stole pass-catching tight end Dustin Keller from the Jets.

The Dolphins bolstered their defense as well by adding other highly sought-after players like linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.

The Fins did lose key starters like Sean Smith, Jake Long and Reggie Bush, but with a cargo ship of draft capital they'll likely be able to fill some holes via the draft.

It's yet to be seen if this collection of talent can come together (remember the Eagles' "Dream Team?") and make some ground on the Pats, but they are certainly the most likely of the three teams.



The New England Patriots: Where Do They Stand Now?

The Patriots entered the free-agency period with a number of free agents—Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer chief among them.

While Welker—the most productive receiver in franchise history—will be wearing a Broncos jersey in 2013, New England's retention of cornerback Talib and right tackle Vollmer deserve applause.

The return of Talib means the Patriots will have a true No. 1 corner in 2013 and that they'll also be able to leave Devin McCourty at free safety—where he is most effective.

Additionally, the Pats' defensive backfield got wiser, larger, and meaner with the addition of wood-laying veteran safety Adrian Wilson.

With Vollmer back in fold, the Patriots will have a complete return of their entire starting offensive line from 2012, which should help keep Brady on his feet while he scans the field for his new targets, including Danny Amendola.

Amendola is not Welker, but he is young, talented and seems to have a skill set that should fit into the offense nicely.

With the draft around the corner, the full picture for each team has yet to be painted, but as it stands right now the Patriots, with few holes on their roster, look well prepared to defend their AFC East title.

While the Dolphins have certainly made some moves that look great on the surface, it may take some time before it all comes together.

And I have a hunch that the Patriots aren't going to sit around and wait for them to catch up.


All free agent signings courtesy of NFL.com.

To stay up-to-date on all New England Patriots offseason activity, be sure to follow James on Twitter @JamesDiMaio.


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