The Patriots Have Been Utterly Dominant in the AFC East. Will That Continue in 2019?

Since 2010, the Patriots have won the AFC East by an average of 3.8 games, never finishing less than two games ahead of the next-closest team

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images, File

Not since 2008 has an NFL season ended with a team other than the Patriots atop the AFC East standings.

And even then, they finished 11-5, only losing out on the title via tiebreakers to the Miami Dolphins with Matt Cassel under center.

Tom Brady didn't play much that year either, you may recall, his season coming to an end after a mere 11 pass attempts when Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard came crashing into his knee in the season opener.

The last time a Brady-quarterbacked team failed to win the AFC East was in 2002, when the Patriots finished 9-7 and lost out on a three-way tiebreaker with the Jets and Dolphins.

The division has become even less competitive in recent years. Since 2010, the Patriots have won the AFC East by an average of 3.8 games, never finishing less than two games ahead of the next-closest team. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins have one postseason appearance each as a wild-card entry in that timeframe.

Merchandisers don't even bother with AFC East Championship hats and T-shirts anymore, with the division usually wrapped up around Thanksgiving.

Why should 2019 be any different?

It won't be.

Besides the fact that the Patriots possess, once again, one of the deepest rosters in the league, their competitors have done little to close the gap. Look to the quarterbacks and coaches.

If there's one thing the Jets (4-12 in 2018), Bills (6-10) and Dolphins (7-9) do have going for them, it's that they all have quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 in 2018 on their rosters. But this is hardly the first time in the Brady-Belichick era that their AFC East foes have had first-round quarterbacks being billed as the future.

The Jets had Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez, the Bills tried J.P. Losman and E.J. Manuel, the Dolphins rode with Ryan Tannehill. Pennington is the only one who ever led their team to a division title — not only with the 2002 Jets, but later with the 2008 Dolphins, coincidentally.

Of the current group, Sam Darnold looks the most likely to become a legitimate NFL quarterback with the Jets. He finished tied for second in the league in interceptions last fall with 15, however, in only 13 starts.

The Jets are also breaking in a new head coach in Adam Gase, who was let go from the Dolphins. As such, Miami is also in the midst of a regime change, with former Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores assuming control on South Beach.

The Dolphins brought in Josh Rosen, who spent his forgettable rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals, to compete with Ryan Fitzpatrick — who seems determined to play for the entire NFL before his career is over — for the starting quarterback's job.

Who knows, maybe a change in scenery will invigorate Rosen. But he had the misfortune of landing on a team with even less talent, if that's possible, as Miami undergoes full-scale renovations.

As for the Bills, give third-year coach Sean McDermott credit: he led Buffalo to the postseason two years ago, its first appearance since 1999 — ending the longest active playoff drought in the process. The Bills still haven't scored a touchdown in the postseason since the '90s, however, and that streak likely won't be ending any time soon. Buffalo is all-in with big-armed Josh Allen, who finished dead last in the NFL in completion percentage in 2018 at 52.8.

The only other quarterbacks who finished below 60 percent? Darnold and Rosen.

The Jets were active in free agency, importing disgruntled Steelers tailback Le'Veon Bell and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosely. The Bills gave it a whirl to help Allen in the passing game, bringing in receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown. The Dolphins are reportedly kicking the tires on Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.

None of it will be enough to substantially close the gap with the Patriots, even if a worst-case scenario a la 2008 were to arise.

Inevitably, Brady and Belichick won't reign in the AFC East forever. Unless the other young quarterbacks in the division rise to the occasion though, the gap may still be so far apart that a Jarrett Stidham-Josh McDaniels tag team could step right into the power vacuum.

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