The Patriots may have different chief rivals in 2016.
Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver in 2012, the Patriots’ primary competition shifted away from Indianapolis in favor of Broncos country. But in the span of just over 48 hours, the Broncos lost both of their quarterbacks from their Super Bowl winning season. Manning retired Monday. Brock Osweiler, who beat the Patriots during the regular season, reportedly signed with old friend Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans Wednesday. Denver also lost star linebacker Danny Trevathan to the Bears and defensive end Malik Jackson to the Jaguars.
So, even though the Patriots again stayed quiet in the early stages of NFL free agency, it appears that they are right now the best team in the AFC without having to do a thing.
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That said, their main competition in 2016 could actually come from … wait for it … within the AFC East. Yup. Get ready to read and hear about how the AFC East isn’t going to be a cakewalk anymore as the Jets and Dolphins made splashy moves on the day the new league year began.
Of course, it has became a yearly tradition for the Pats’ in-division rivals to get big-time publicity in the off-season. Remember how Rex Ryan was instantly going to get the Bills – with that all-time great defense – to the AFC Championship game?
All cynicism aside, the Jets and Dolphins did (on paper) get much better Wednesday.
The Jets landed, arguably, the biggest name on the free agent market by bringing in former Bears running back Matt Forte. While Chris Ivory performed quite well for the Jets last season, as he rushed for 1,070 yards, Forte will give the Jets’ offense a different look. The 30-year-old Forte is outstanding catching the ball out of the backfield (think Shane Vereen on steroids) as he had 102 catches in a single season just two years ago.
It should be noted that the Jets did get worse on the defensive side of the ball, however, as they lost defensive tackle Damon Harrison to the Giants.
As for the Dolphins, it appears that Miami boss Mike Tannenbaum wants to replicate the Broncos’ “get a great defense first, worry about the offense later” approach as he made some huge defensive acquisitions. The Dolphins landed cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Kiko Alonso and the No. 13 overall pick in the 2016 draft in exchange for the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft. They also signed defensive end Mario Williams to add to a line that already has Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh.