No uncertainty has loomed larger over the AFC East this offseason than the status of the best player in the division.
On Tuesday, the NFL upheld Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his role in deflating footballs before the AFC Championship Game. The league cited the fact that Brady destroyed the cell phone he had used the previous four months.
"The commissioner found that Brady’s deliberate destruction of potentially relevant evidence went beyond a mere failure to cooperate in the investigation and supported a finding that he had sought to hide evidence of his own participation in the underlying scheme to alter the footballs," the league said in a statement.
Right now, Roger Goodell has Brady on the ropes but this fight could be far from over. NFL Network reported that Brady planned to sue and that his camp will seek an injunction on the suspension so he'll continue to play. If the four-time Super Bowl winner misses games — and right now, he would — the complexion of the AFC East completely changes. Even one or two games could be the difference between New England winning or losing the division.
On paper, each team in the AFC East took significant steps toward catching the Pats. And now, Jimmy Garoppolo may be asked to keep New England afloat.
Start in Buffalo where the Bills hoped they hired a Brady buster in Rex Ryan. The NFL’s fourth-ranked defense could be even better.
After years of lackluster coaching hires, the Bills are now run by someone who has spent hours (upon hours) studying how to beat Bill Belichick. Even when his Jets teams were awful, they made Belichick sweat. Last year’s 4-12 disaster lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs 27-25 and 17-16 on last-second field goal misses.
Running back LeSean McCoy gives the Bills offense an identity. And the front office took a flurry of risks — from the McCoy deal to Charles Clay's mega deal to signing troubled Percy Harvin to Richie Incognito's second chance — to win now.
If the Bills get mere competence at quarterback — a Niagara Falls-sized “if” — they’ll have a legitimate chance to win the division. There may not be a better pass rush in football.
The Miami Dolphins, like Buffalo, have been lost in the quarterback wilderness since the 1990’s. But unlike Buffalo, it appears they’ve found an answer. Ryan Tannehill has improved dramatically in each of his three seasons — his completion percentage jumping from 58.3 to 60.4 to 66.4. While he’s not one to air it 40, 50 yards downfield, he still threw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Accurate and decisive, Tannehill has a promising nucleus of receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron and veteran Greg Jennings.
Miami could realistically match New England drive for drive. And the signing of Ndamukong Suh, sandwiched between edge rushers Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, could make this 11th-ranked defense a Top 5 unit.
The Jets are in more of a rebuild and could be offensive offensively again with Geno Smith slated to start a third season. Still, their defensive line rivals Buffalo’s front and, now, Darrelle Revis is back.
Just how dominant has Brady been? He’s 63-17 against AFC East teams in his career — an average of 1.3 losses per year — and 23-3 against Buffalo. Against the Bills, he has completed 64% of his passes for 6,258 yards, 58 touchdowns and 19 interceptions for a 101.2 passer rating. He’ll turn 38 years old on Aug. 3 but Brady didn’t show any signs of slowing down last year.
Against arguably the best defense in this era, Brady was surgical. He shredded the Seattle Seahawks underneath for 328 yards on 37-of-50 passing with four touchdowns to win another Super Bowl. Anything he might be losing in his arm, he’s making up for his mind.
And, yes, a deflated football or two.
Seasons past, one or two Brady-less games wouldn’t make much of a difference in the AFC East.
This year, it could.
Previous posts, examining the Bills' 10 pressing questions entering training camp...