Tom Brady suspension fallout: The end of the Patriots' AFC East reign?

On Wednesday, Tom Brady's appeal of his re-instated four-game suspensionwas denied by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Consequently, Patriots' backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will start the first four games on New England's schedule:

Two of those teams were division winners in 2015 -- and the other two are division opponents for the Pats. Bill Belichick's team has completely owned the AFC East, having taken home seven straight division titles (and 12 of the last 13). But does Brady's four-game absence open the door for another AFC East team to claim the division crown in 2016?

There's a chance, but ultimately, I don't think the first quarter of the season is going to determine what happens in the AFC East. The Patriots have two division games, and even if they win only one of those games, they will be in good shape. However, with New England hosting the Dolphins in Week 2, Brady will still have to play in Miami -- where he's lost three straight.

That said, I think the Patriots have a good team again this season, especially with the offseason additions on the O-line and the trade for TE Martellus Bennett. Having learned behind Brady for the past two years, Jimmy Garoppolo will be comfortable in the system; he has the ability to do what Brock Osweiler did for the Broncos last season.

The other teams have an opportunity to overtake New England, but they better jump on it early if they want to be the top team in the AFC East. The New York Jets have a great shot at winning the division. After all, the last time these two teams faced off -- in Week 16 of last season, with Tom Brady in the game -- Gang Green prevailed. I don't think Jimmy Garoppolo is a good enough quarterback to understand the blitzes that opponents undoubtedly will throw at him as an untested NFL starter.

If the Jets jump out early again this season (they started out 4-1 last year), I think they can make a run. Had the Jets made the postseason in 2015, I think they would have been a team nobody wanted to play in a "lose and go home" game. There's no way the door is open for another team to knock the Patriots off in the AFC East. Jimmy Garoppolo can carry the weight until Tom Brady returns in Week 5. No team in the division is good enough to create enough separation from the Patriots that can't be overcome. Brady will be back and lead that team to its eighth straight AFC East title. The Patriots will be behind the eight ball when Tom Brady gets back in Week 5. Three of their first four opponents are AFC teams and two are division foes. If Brady does indeed miss all four games, New England could lose three of them. It's going to hurt the Pats tremendously, and I believe the Jets have a talented enough team to claim the AFC East title. They were second in the division in 2015 and this will be their year, especially if Brady has to sit at the beginning of the season. Tom Brady is still in line to play 12 games. And even if the Patriots lose three of their first four, given their annual dominance, we have to expect they will rally and still win the division. The Pats have owned the AFC East for the last seven seasons. I don't see any of the other three teams pushing them off the throne. The reality is ... The only way any other team in the AFC East is going to win that division is if Tom Brady doesn't play. Now that's the case for the first four games. It definitely opens the door a little bit, but the other teams have things to figure out, as well. The Jets still need a quarterback, the Dolphins have a new head coach, and the Bills remain inconsistent. The other three teams have a chance, but this division will be decided in December -- not in the first quarter of the season.

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