Dec 14, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws the ball over Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Jason Trusnik (93)during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 41-13. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots have had a stranglehold on the AFC East for the past decade and a half. Since 2001, the Patriots have not finished first in the division just twice: in 2002 the Patriots finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs and in 2008 the Patriots finished 11-5 and missed the playoffs. Two caveats: in 2002 it was the first post-Super Bowl season and they still were in a three-way tie for first place losing on tiebreakers. Also, 2008 was the last year a team won 11 games and missed the playoffs as the Tom Brady-less Patriots lost the division crown to the Dolphins and wild card to the Ravens with identical records due to tiebreakers again.
New England has won ten or more games for an astonishing dozen straight seasons with six straight AFC East titles and 11 of the last 12. Each team in the AFC East has stood up in preseason and declared it their season to dethrone the Patriots recently. After defeating the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round following the 2010 season, the New York Jets and brash coach Rex Ryan declared the Patriots’ Reign over. The Jets imported veteran wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason while adding outside linebacker Aaron Maybin and drafting Muhammad Wilkerson. Instead, the Jets lost 38 games over the next four years and Ryan was fired.
In the 2012 it was the Buffalo Bills who coming off a 6-10 season and paid a record contract to Mario Williams to be their premier pass-rushing superstar and team with #3 overall pick from the year before Marcell Dareus to create a dynamic defense. In addition, they signed pass rush specialist Mark Anderson away from New England. Nose tackle Kyle Williams was returning from injury and first round draft pick cornerback Stephon Gilmore seemed to be the final piece in the puzzle. A healthy Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller on offense had the NFL Analysts declaring the Bills the favorite to knock-off New England in the AFC East. Instead the Bills repeated at 6-10 despite their spending.
In 2013 it was the Miami Dolphins coming off a third 7-9 season in the past four seasons (they were 6-10 the other year in 2011) when they decided to spend outrageous amounts of money to surround second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill with dynamic offensive talent. In came top free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tight end Dustin Keller was plucked from division rivals the New York Jets. Offensive linemen Lance Louis and Tyson Clabo were signed and guard Dallas Thomas was drafted to upgrade the weak offensive line after letting former #1 overall draft pick Jake Long walk away.
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