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AFC East: It's a little closer at the top

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  • AFC East: It's a little closer at the top

    AFC East: It's a little closer at the top

    In 2004, the New England Patriots made it look easy, finishing 14-2 to win the AFC East by a comfortable four games over the New York Jets. Bill Belichick's team -- and we do mean team -- dominated the division, losing only once in six games. And that was a fluky, late-season upset in Miami.

    Many believe this was the toughest division in the NFL, and it's hard to argue that point. Consider: The AFC East was the only division with three winning teams -- the Patriots, Jets (10-6) and Bills (9-7).

    The Bills were one of the NFL's hottest teams in the second half of the season, almost sneaking into the playoffs. If it weren't for a Drew Bledsoe meltdown in the season finale, the Bills might have been in the postseason.

    The Dolphins lost Ricky Williams in the preseason (or was it the other way around?) and never recovered, suffering a nightmarish 4-12 record.

    In the end, the storyline was oh-so familiar:

    New England Patriots were Super Bowl champions.

    Movers and Shakers:
    It sounds like a broken record: The Patriots are vulnerable. They lost too much. The other teams gained. This is the year the landscape changes.

    We'll see.

    If the Patriots do slip, if they come back to the pack because of coaching and player losses, the team that can overtake them is the Jets.

    No team made more marquee acquisitions than the Jets, who picked up two Pro Bowl talents (CB Ty Law and WR Laveranues Coles), and hired well-respected coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to infuse life into an underachieving offense.

    The Bills, a team on the rise in 2004, stood pat, but they will have a different look and personality at quarterback. Old and immobile Bledsoe is out, and young and cocky J.P. Losman is in, leading Buffalo into a new era. Expect some growing pains.

    The Miami Dolphins, trying to regroup after last season's debacle, ripped apart everything. They have a new coach in Nick Saban (Belichick lite), quite possibly a new quarterback in Gus Frerotte, a new defensive scheme, and a new attitude.

    It won't be enough to challenge for the title, not this year, but the Dolphins won't go meekly.

    Rarely does a team go meekly in the formidable AFC East.
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