With almost two weeks of free agency in the books it's time to look at the competition in the AFC East and determine which team improved enough to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East.
The Patriots have been among the most active teams in the league during free agency. The team has signed 11 new players and re-upped with a handful of their own as well. But they are not the only team that has improved during the opening couple of weeks of the new league year.
Buffalo made the biggest splash by adding Defensive Player of the Year candidate Mario Williams. He figures to improve a sagging Bills defense, but will it be enough to make Buffalo a contender?
The Jets made waves with the controversial addition of Tim Tebow while the Dolphins added a new coach and quarterback to the mix. How all this plays out with regard to New England's supremacy at the top of the division remains a mystery in March but it's not too early to take a stab at it.
So, this week's Samsonite Make You Case asks a straightforward question: Which team poses the greatest threat to unseat the Patriots in the AFC East?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
From where I sit, it looks like the Bills and Jets are going in different directions. Buffalo has been building a strong offensive core for the last few years and now added the best defensive free agent to the mix by investing big money in Mario Williams. Clearly everything in Buffalo, as with most teams, will depend on quarterback play but if Ryan Fitzpatrick can get the job done things could be looking up in Western New York.
Buffalo was 5-2 to open last season, including a victory over the Patriots before the bottom fell out after Fitzpatrick signed an extension and came back to earth. But with a returning Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson under contract the Bills have the makings of a potent offense that could challenge many defenses, including New England's much-maligned group. Adding Williams and former Patriot Mark Anderson to the pass rush should be a big boost to a Buffalo defense that could use more playmaking.
Chan Gailey has brought some fight and respectability to Buffalo. The team also now has the core star players on both sides of the ball to make plays and win games. Assuming that Fitzpatrick is a legit starting quarterback - a question that also faces the Jets and Dolphins at this point - Buffalo has what it takes to be the closest challenger to the Patriots in the AFC East. Can they pass New England in division? Doubtful, but they have the tools to battle for second place and a wild card.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Things certainly unraveled badly for Rex Ryan's Jets in 2011. By season's end the coach claimed to be unaware of serious rifts among his offensive players and in the weeks that followed it seemed a new story quoting a different Jets player was detailing the horrific state of affairs inside the team's locker room.
Ryan acknowledged the problems during his meeting with the media at the Combine and claims he recognizes the errors of his boastful ways, although it's hard to picture the big guy keeping his trap shut for long once the season approaches.
Now the team has seemingly made life more difficult on quarterback Mark Sanchez by bringing in cultural phenomenon Tim Tebow to the mix. The Jets claim he'll be a backup and possibly a change-of-pace option, but it's not hard to see the possibility for trouble down the road.
Still, despite all these problems, the Jets have the most talent of the three contenders and for that reason I feel they pose the biggest threat. Admittedly this is more of an indictment of Miami and Buffalo rather than an endorsement of New York. Many feel the Jets are headed for a last-place finish, and if the locker room remains a caustic place that could indeed be the case. But I feel the team bottomed out in that regard and can't help be better in terms of leadership.
Sure, questionable individuals like Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie remain, but I still respect Ryan's ability to put together winning game plans and get his team motivated. As long as Sanchez doesn't turn into a puddle with the presence of Tebow, the Jets will rebound and improve.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.