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AFC East offseason update: Patriots should overcome drama, Edelman suspension

This is the first of a three-part series reviewing what the rest of the AFC East did during the offseason.

The New England Patriots lost a Super Bowl, but they haven't lost their way when it comes to being a perennial championship contender.

Nick Foles might have been the triumphant quarterback and MVP, but he and the Philadelphia Eagles are still more of a story of overachievement than dominance.

Despite plenty of noise about internal strife and the suspension of his most reliable target, Tom Brady and the Patriots remain the dominant ones.

Here's the rundown:

Key additions: OT Trent Brown (T, San Francisco), DE Adrian Clayborn (FA, Atlanta), CB Duke Dawson (2nd-round, Florida), CB Jason McCourty (T, Cleveland), RB Stony Michel (1st-round, Georgia), DT Danny Shelton (T, Cleveland), RB Jeremy Hill (FA, Cincinnati), OL Isaiah Wynn (1rst-round pick, Georgia).

Key subtractions: WR Danny Amendola, TE Martellus Bennett, CB Malcolm Butler, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Dion Lewis, OT Nate Solder.

Key coaching change: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left to become coach of the Detroit Lions. His opening technically remains vacant, although linebackers coach Brian Flores is running defensive meetings and will be the de facto DC during the season.

Games against the Bills: Oct. 29, New Era Field; Dec. 23, Gillette Stadium.

Schedule overview: The toughest stretch looks to be the first three games of the season. Given the Patriots' tendency to start slow, they would figure to have a tough time with their Sept. 9 home opener against the Houston Texans, their Week 2 game at Jacksonville against the team that nearly beat them in the AFC Championship Game, and their Week 3 contest at Detroit against Patricia's Lions.

What to expect on offense: Although No. 1 wide receiver Julian Edelman is back from a knee injury that sidelined him last season, he'll have to miss the first four games because of a suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy. However, neither that nor the loss of Lewis should be enough to derail an offense that still has two of the game's all-time greats in Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Former Bill Chris Hogan can pick up the slack at receiver, while Hill and Michel should be able to do the same at running back. Brown and Wynn are part of three-way battle with LaAdrian Waddle to fill Solder's spot.

What to expect on defense: The scheme won't change, because it is Bill Belichick's. Flores should be able to keep it on track, although it needs to be better. This unit performed poorly at the start of last season – largely because of communication problems in a revamped secondary – before getting its act together. But then it fell apart again in the Super Bowl. Part of the collapse against the Eagles was because of Belichick's mysterious decision to bench Butler. Now, the Pats will try to get through an entire season without him. With linebacker Dont'a Hightower healthy, the defensive front can better do its part to help with coverage by generating more pressure, something that was sorely lacking against the Eagles.

Power Rankings: NFL offseason

What it all means: Never mind all of the supposed acrimony between the fun-crushing Belichick and his most vital pieces, Brady (rumored to be retiring) and Gronkowski (rumored to be on the trading block). It made for lively offseason filler for the media, but carries little in the way of substance. The Patriots are still the Patriots. They're still worthy of being favored to not only win the division, but play in back-to-back Super Bowls ... and win.

Next: Miami Dolphins.

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