By Steve Silverman
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Unlike the other 31 teams in the NFL, the Patriots are not chasing anyone. New England will undoubtedly be the favorite to rule the AFC East yet again this season, no matter what happens in the upcoming draft.
The combination of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady is still in place, and that’s enough for most observers. However, that’s not the whole story, and as smart as Belichick is, he is quite dependent on defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and his stellar player rotations and remarkable schemes.
The Patriots have been fortunate to play in a division in which the competition simply does not measure up. The Buffalo Bills have lacked leadership and cohesiveness, the Dolphins have not had consistency on either side of the ball, and the Jets, well, they have been a constant mess.
The Patriots have issues as well, and in this piece, I’ll look at the Jets’ competition in the AFC East and those teams’ biggest needs, as well as some of the key moves they have made in the offseason.
The Bills may not have had the leadership from coach Rex Ryan in the past two years that they thought they were going to get, but that was not their only issue.
The lack of talent and chemistry was apparent, because the inconsistency they showed from week to week kept them from becoming a playoff team.
The Bills have been very active in the offseason, signing guard Vlad Ducasse from the Ravens, safety Micah Hyde from the Packers, safety Jordan Poyer from the Browns and placekicker Steven Hauschka from the Seahawks.
That’s a considerable haul, and the addition of fullback Patrick DiMarco from the Falcons should help LeSean McCoy and the running game and give quarterback Tyrod Taylor additional protection.
The Bills lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots and underrated wideout Robert Woods to the Rams, but they have gained more than they lost in the offseason.
As the Bills head into the draft, they need help at wide receiver and cornerback. In addition to losing Woods, tiny but elusive Marquise Goodwin signed with the 49ers. Sammy Watkins is a star at the position, but he can’t do it by himself.
Gilmore has the look of a productive player, and the Patriots believe he is a coming star. As a result of that loss, Buffalo must address the cornerback position. Look for the Bills to go after a wide receiver with their first pick, and it could be Clemson’s Mike Williams.
The Dolphins are making a lot of offseason noise, and much of that is the palaver coming out of the mouth of wideout Jarvis Landry, who has already said the Dolphins will beat the Patriots twice this season.
Can you hear Belichick cackling?
The Dolphins have made some major moves on defense during the offseason, and their best move may have been signing linebacker Kiko Alonso to a four-year contract extension.
In addition to that move, the Dolphins knew they had to improve their defense and they have brought in a pair of key free agents in linebacker Lawrence Timmons from the Steelers and safety Nate Allen from the Raiders.
Both players should be starters, and the aggressive Timmons will help Alonso set a tone for a defense that was especially soft at the start of the season. The Dolphins also made an underrated move in trading for defensive end William Hayes (43 tackles and five sacks in 2016) from the Rams.
Miami still needs more help on defense, and finding a pass-rushing defensive end and another linebacker to go along with Alonso and Timmons could go a long way to help head coach Adam Gase come somewhat closer to New England.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls, and the assumption is that they will remain at or near the top again this year.
But they did not make life easier for Patricia, as defensive ends Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard have departed for the Eagles and Colts, respectively.
The Pats don’t have superstars on their defensive line, and they depend on a healthy and fresh rotation to get the job done. They won’t fall apart, but their depth has taken a major hit.
The losses of tight end Martellus Bennett and cornerback Logan Ryan will also hurt.
The addition of Gilmore is a nice one and defensive end Lawrence Guy (previously with the Ravens) should also help. But New England still needs to address defensive end and offensive tackle in the draft.
Belichick does not have to follow any prescribed notion in the draft, but if he looks in his defensive coordinator’s direction, he will know that he has to add a talented pass rusher. The Pats don’t have a first-round pick, but they could make a move to get back into the top 32 on Draft Day.
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The death of Steelers owner Dan Rooney is brutal news to those who love football and the NFL.
Rooney started off as a ball boy for the Steelers as a youngster, and he became a trusted adviser to his father, Art Rooney, at an early age. One of his first moves was playing a key role in the hiring of coach Chuck Noll, and that was basically the start of the Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s.
But as vital as Rooney was to the Steelers’ excellence over the years, he was even more valuable to the sport itself. He spoke for the good of the game, and he had an intelligent and thoughtful outlook. He provided counsel to commissioners Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell, and countless owners and executives around the league.
The league appears to be dominated by selfish owners now who are interested in feathering their own nests, and men like Rooney and past leaders such as Rozelle are few and far between.
Rooney was a kind and humble man who would answer questions thoughtfully.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him several times over the years, and like the late Giants general manager George Young, he showed his humanity while answering football-related questions.
Rooney will be missed by many, and he was one of the NFL’s greatest leaders.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy