Sure, this has been the case pretty much since Creed ruled the charts, but New England has gained serious in-house separation in recent years.
There will come a year where the Pats will be knocked off their division perch. We haven't seen anything happen in the last few months to tell us that's coming in 2014.
1. New England Patriots
»*Revis Island relocates:* Landing Revis was an organizational master stroke. Would you really be shocked if a healthy and insanely motivated Revis reclaimed his standing as football's top cornerback this season? He's a perfect fit in Belichick's defense and a substantial upgrade over the departed Aqib Talib.
Landing Revis was a brilliant maneuver in the AFC arms war.
»*Tight end help:* The Patriotsreportedly visited with Owen Daniels and remain in the market for a "move" tight end after Daniels signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Rob Gronkowski is coming back from a significant knee injury, and his ability to stay on the field can be fairly questioned. Depth is needed here.
»*Staying in-house:* The Patriots held on to the right guys, re-signing wide receiver Julian Edelman and working out a new deal with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Edelman gained Brady's trust and has expertly filled the void left by Wes Welker. Wilfork, coming off Achilles surgery, requested his release before the two sides worked out their differences.
2. New York Jets
»*Problem-solving on offense:* Not many teams had a weaker roll call of skill players than the Jets in 2013. General manager John Idzik went about changing that gross structural flaw in free agency. Enter Eric Decker, a huge upgrade at wide receiver over the diminished Santonio Holmes. The addition of Michael Vick was also vital, giving Rex Ryan a much-needed QB option beyond Geno Smith.
Ryan didn't get everything he wanted, of course. The organization passed on a Revis reunion, paving the way for the All-Pro's deal with the hated Patriots. Things got worse from there: The Jets were easily outbid by the Giants for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, then passed entirely on a reunion with Antonio Cromartie, who signed a team-friendly deal in Arizona.
»*Calling all corners:*Dee Milliner made strides late in his rookie season, but making him the No. 1 guy now is asking for trouble. Dimitri Patterson has some upside if he can stay on the field, but the Jets could be compelled to use a first-round pick on a cornerback for the third time in five years.
»*More playmakers:* If the Jets don't take another cornerback in the first round, expect them to go wide receiver. This is a loaded draft class, and Idzik would be wise to pair a legit playmaker alongside Decker, who's closer to a top-notch No. 2 than a true No. 1.
3. Miami Dolphins
Will that be enough to contend in the AFC? It's important to remember that, despite all the drama around them, Miami came within one game of a playoff berth last season. There's no reason to think they can't take the next step.
»*O-line overhaul:* It took a year, but the Dolphins located their replacement for Jake Long. Branden Albert instantly upgrades the protection on Ryan Tannehill's blindside. Jonathan Martin was shipped out of town and Richie Incognito is out of the picture (where he should stay). Right tackle remains a major hole that could be plugged with a high draft pick.
»*New face at RB:* Whatever faith the Dolphins had in Lamar Miller appears to be lost. Knowshon Moreno is a more well-rounded player who earned Peyton Manning's trust last season. Moreno's plus-blocking skills are key: Miami must better protect Tannehill after a season in which he was sacked 58 times.
»*It's all on Ryan:* The Dolphins scored seven points in their final two games last season. Tannehill deserves criticism for that, but it shouldn't be lost that the quarterback made positive strides in his second season. With a better supporting cast around him, Tannehill should continue to grow as a passer. He remains the most important player on the roster.
4. Buffalo Bills
»*Laying low:* The Bills had no intention of making a Mario Williams-like splash in 2014. They didn't overpay to keep Jairus Byrd and their signings were mostly modest: Corey Graham was added to the secondary and Aaron Williams was extended. The team seemingly overpaid to land guard Chris Williams, but he becomes an instant starter on the interior line.
»*In EJ we trust?:* General manager Doug Whaley raised eyebrows at the NFL Scouting Combine when he said the Bills were "all in" on the QB quad of EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis, Dennis Dixon and Jeff Tuel. Manuel is the key, of course -- a 2013 first-round draft pick who left more questions than answers in his rookie season.
»*RB uncertainty:* Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are entering the final years of their contracts. The Bills are believed to be in the mix for Chris Johnson, but they'd be better off locking up Spiller with an extension. Spiller was absolutely electric in 2012. Last season's bum ankle shouldn't cloud the picture.