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AFC is talking playoffs

The dominant theme of the Bills’ draft – aside from Florida State becoming a de facto minor-league affiliate – was Buffalo’s attempt to keep pace with developments inside the AFC East.

General manager Doug Whaley mentioned the division after both his picks on Friday night, at one point making a reference to the “arms race” of accumulated talent among the Bills’ three chief rivals.

A team is always trying to upgrade at positions of need, of course. But those needs become even more pronounced when your divisional rivals are making major upgrades in their own weapons systems.

The Dolphins, already under going a major overhaul in its receiving corps, added a dynamic wide receiver, DeVante Parker, with the 14th overall pick. So there was even more of a reason for the Bills to grab cornerback Ronald Darby with pick No. 50.

The Bills had an obvious need at guard. Then Leonard Williams, a defensive tackle regarded by many experts as the single best talent in the draft, fell to the Jets with the sixth overall pick.

The Patriots got a perceived steal when another defensive tackle, Malcom Brown, was available with the 32nd and last pick of the first round. Whaley was sure to mention those interior line moves when he took guard John Miller with the 81st overall pick.

Four months from the start of the new season, the AFC East is shaping up as the most improved division, and maybe the best, in the NFL. When you consider all the star power that’s come into the division recently, it is certainly the most interesting.

Rex Ryan alone makes the AFC East a compelling story line, and a potential soap opera. The Bills have two games against Ryan’s old team, the Jets, and two against the team he burns to beat, the Patriots. That’s four intense rivalry weeks right there.

But the Dolphins should be much improved. Remember, they beat the Bills soundly last year in a key Thursday night game. They slipped to 8-8, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 4,045 yards and 27 TDs. In the last nine weeks, he completed 70 percent of his passes.

So the old Miami-Buffalo rivalry could be reignited. The addition of Ndamukong Suh, perhaps the best defensive tackle in the NFL, can’t hurt. Suh will do wonders for Miami’s shabby run defense. He was the main reason Detroit led the NFL in fewest yards per rush a year ago.

Given two chances, you have to assume Suh will find a way to become the most hated Dolphin here since Bryan Cox. He actually showed up to Dolphins’ voluntary camp, but he’s still a ticking time bomb.

The Dolphins rebuilt their receiving corps, adding Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron and Greg Jennings. They have a reliable second-year guy in Jarvis Landry, and now Parker comes along as yet another weapon for Tannehill as he approaches his prime.

The Jets were awful in Ryan’s final year as head coach last season. Their secondary was a shambles. But they brought back Darrelle Revis, the game’s top cornerback, for five years and $70 million.

Mike Maccagnan, the new general manager, also re-signed cornerback Antonio Cromartie for four years, $32 million. So the Jets have as dominant a cornerback tandem as there is in the NFL.

The defensive line might be the best in the sport after defensive tackle Leonard Williams, regarded by many as the top talent in the entire draft, fell to them with the sixth overall pick Thursday.

D line was already the strength of the team ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and nose tackle Damon Harrison. The Jets play a 3-4, so something has to give. But new coach Todd Bowles is a creative defensive mind and will find ways to maximize his talent.

So it should be tougher to throw on the Jets, and no picnic running on them, either. The two Bills-Jets games should be fun, hostile, physical, and low-scoring. And the second comes in the season finale on Jan. 3, where the Bills might have something on the line.

Sure, the Jets have quarterback issues, same as the Bills. Geno Smith is still the nominal No. 1, with our old pal Ryan Fitzpatrick in the wings. If you ask me, Fitz is better than any quarterback on the Bills right now.

The Jets also traded for veteran wideout Brandon Marshall, who shares the NFL record with five years of 100 or more catches. Marshall had only 61 catches last year with the Bears. But in the seven years before that, he averaged 99 catches and 1,249 yards.

Marshall has only one guaranteed year on his contract, so he’ll be motivated to prove he has a lot left at 31. I’m guessing that Chan Gailey, the Jets’ new offensive coordinator, will find a way to get Marshall the football in his spread attack.

The Jets added a speed receiver, Devin Smith, in the second round. They drafted quarterback Bryce Petty in the fourth round. Petty is a project, but the Bills had interest in him, and it will not look good if he develops into a franchise QB down the road.

The Patriots are the team to beat – both in the division and the NFL. They’ve won at least 12 games and finished in the top four in the league in offense five years running.

Tom Brady believes he can play into his 40s, and who is going to doubt him after his stunning performance in the playoffs last season? Rob Gronkowski will be healthy from the start of the season. They’re a little thin on the O line, but we’ve heard that before.

Brown, who was seen as a top 15 pick by some experts, will replace Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle. They signed a top free agent in defensive end Jabal Sheard. Jamie Collins is one of the best young linebackers in the game, and they also get Jerod Mayo back.

As usual, it’s all about chasing the Pats. But the arms race is heating up. This could be the first time in five years that the AFC East sends two teams to the playoffs. Hey, maybe three.


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