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Instant Debate

Through first wave of NFL free agency, are Patriots still favorites in AFC?

NFL free agency has been anything but boring in 2019. Perhaps the biggest highlight came late Tuesday evening, when the Cleveland Brownstraded for superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. It was one of many moves made by the Browns this offseason, as they have also added defensive linemen Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardsonand running back Kareem Hunt.

Other AFC teams have been equally active, specifically the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, while last year's playoff teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, have also filled holes in hopes of knocking off the conference kings, the New England Patriots. The Patriots, who lost notable starters Trey Flowers and Trent Brown in free agency, have represented the AFC in four of the last five Super Bowls (winning three).

When examining each AFC team through the first wave of free agency, one question surfaces ahead of the 2019 season: Are the Patriots STILL the favorites?

Last I checked, the Flying Elvii were reigning Super Bowl champions and had lost just one significant player in free agency (Trey Flowers); Trent Brown already has a replacement in Isaiah Wynn. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh shed two B's, K.C. jettisoned its top two pass rushers, Indy is sitting on a mountain of cap space and the AFC East is still enjoying its gap decade. Baltimore gives New England fits, but how will Lamar Jackson fare over a full season at QB? Cleveland is the taste of the month. The Chargers, well, they don't have fond memories of Foxborough. Until TB12 is deep-sixed by Father Time, the Pats should be faves to hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy, always and forever. If we're talking about the AFC East, then absolutely. But I'm not so sure the Patriots are the premier AFC team heading into 2019. The Kansas City Chiefs are the favorite in my book. They feature the reigning league MVP in Patrick Mahomes and the NFL's top-scoring offense, and I fully expect the team to bring in a quality running back and improve the defense -- in free agency or the draft. The Patriots will be the AFC favorites as long as they have Tom Brady. Period. He and Bill Belichick are unlike any pair the football world has ever seen. Belichick is a mastermind at building championship teams (even if his moves aren't splashy), and he seems to lose great players every season, especially in the offseasons following a Super Bowl win. From the Super Bowl LIII team, the Patriots lost Trey Flowers (signing with Detroit) and Trent Brown (signing with Oakland), yet Belichick always fills the voids. So until the NFL season has a different ending, the Pats continue to be the favorite. The simple answer is ... no. You can make a case for the Chiefs, Colts or Texans being among the top teams in the AFC next season. The Browns will understandably get a lot of attention as well, after their recent big moves. BUT part of what has made the Patriots' accomplishments so special is that they've found a way to consistently be greater than the sum of their parts. They might not be everyone's pick to get back to the Super Bowl, but no one will count them out, either. I'm excited about all of the moves the Cleveland Browns have made. How can you not be? I really want them to do well. But it's a lot like when the WWE would build up these villains to take on John Cena. I could convince my mind that Rusev or Bray Wyatt was going to go over at WrestleMania. But at the end of the day, Cena always wins. Similarly, the Patriots (who, like Cena, hail from the New England area) are going to end up winning the Super Bowl again. And until I see evidence to the contrary, they are still the team to beat. New England is still the favorite. The Patriots still have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Bill Belichick -- that trio counts for A LOT. Plus, the Chiefs, who were one possession away from beating the Patriots in the postseason, have lost their two best players on defense in Dee Ford ( traded to 49ers) and Justin Houston ( released).

That said, the Patriots will still dominate the AFC East in 2019, get a home playoff game and have a good chance to earn a first-round bye. All of this puts them in a good position to get back to the AFC Championship Game, which would extend the streak to nine consecutive appearances.

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