Heading into the 2016 campaign, Around The NFL is taking a closer look at each division over the course of this week. Which storylines -- and players -- will define the coming months within each of the league's eight sectors? Check out the AFC East entry below.
There are some people around football who believe the Miami Dolphins won the offseason coaching carousel with the acquisition of Nick Saban- and Peyton Manning-disciple Adam Gase, who already has added a professional sheen to the Dolphins -- and they desperately needed it. After spending lavishly in free agency over the past few seasons, the club fired its head coach a quarter of the way into the 2015 season -- a move that can sometimes set a franchise back more than one lost season. Gase doesn't seem overwhelmed by the project. During the preseason, he unveiled a simpler offense that should play to the strengths of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his best receivers. While Jarvis Landry may not be considered a true No. 1, he is talented enough to move the sticks on a consistent basis, and the "dink-and-dunk" system will ensure that he racks up plenty of catches. This won't be a group teams can look past anymore.
One player to watch from each team
Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor, quarterback. Whether his long-term contract is really a short-term deal cloaked in phony numbers and legalese doesn't matter -- the Bills are auditioning him to be the quarterback of the future. Last year was a rookie season of sorts and a fantastic one at that. Taylor threw for 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, and he is learning to be a more efficient mobile quarterback as well. This next-gen run offense didn't get the attention it deserved last season, but the brainchild of coaches Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn will turn some heads in 2016, as long as Taylor can continue to progress.
Miami Dolphins: Cam Wake, defensive end. Much will be made about whether Wake is a "starter" this season, as it looks like the team plans to use him as more of a situational pass rusher. But Wake still has it, and a smarter usage of the pass-rushing guru could be the key to unlocking the big personalities and talents in this defense. Like the Dolphins, the Giants have high expectations for a defensive line that cost them more than $100 million to put together, and like the Giants, optimizing that lineup may entail leaving some superstars on the bench for certain downs.
New England Patriots: Chris Hogan, wide receiver. We talk about being smart in free agency, and while some teams spent top dollar at the peak of a weak wide receiver market, the Patriots went up to Buffalo and plucked an underused receiver who always seemed to find himself open. His three-year, $12 million deal will be the bargain of the season if Hogan can make it through 16 healthy games, especially given the spotty health of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman of late. This offense is built to run on autopilot, but smart, timely receivers like Hogan make it something far better.
New York Jets: Matt Forte, running back. With Ryan Fitzpatrick inevitably coming back to earth against a much harder schedule (and better division) in 2016, it is going to be the complementary pieces in this offense who will need to make this team exceptional. The Jets were heavily invested in getting Forte some work before the regular season, handing the veteran 10 carries against the Giants in the third preseason contest Saturday. The team's new management has been exceptional at identifying cost-effective veterans with some juice left in the tank, but they cannot afford to miss on the man who will receive the bulk of their carries and possibly receptions, too.
What we'll be talking about at season's end
How amazing Bill Belichick is as a coach. The secondary storyline? Rex Ryan getting the Bills back into playoff contention. But 2016 will be the kind of retrospective season Belichick has every once and a while that makes us appreciate his coaching prowess. Most people fully expect the Patriots to at least go .500 with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and then kick into autopilot once a refreshed and rejuvenated Tom Brady returns in Week 5 against Cleveland.