NFL training camp 2019: AFC East preview

NFL schedule 2019: 5 potholes on the Patriots' road to repeat

Year after year, the AFC East is New England’s to lose, and 2019 will be no different.

But the competition is growing and beginning to even across the division, and the Patriots are more vulnerable than they’ve been in recent seasons, due in large part to the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Still, quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick are a lethal duo that should not be underestimated, especially when they can play the “people are doubting us” card.

Here’s the outlook for the AFC East heading into training camp:

Team on the rise

New York Jets

The Jets posted a division-worst 4-12 record in 2018 and missed the playoffs for an eighth straight season, so things can only get better this year, right?

The team has reason to be optimistic considering New York added talent on both sides of the ball by signing running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley. But second-year quarterback Sam Darnold also will have a lot to prove after an inconsistent rookie season in which he threw 15 interceptions compared to 17 touchdowns as he dealt with injuries. Can new coach Adam Gase help him get the job done?

Team on the decline

Miami Dolphins

Miami may have been the only team in the division to beat New England last season, but new head coach Brian Flores (ironically arriving from the Patriots) will have his work cut out for him as he looks to speed up the rebuild in South Florida.

The Dolphins fired coach Adam Gase and also lost Cameron Wake, Frank Gore and Danny Amendola. But the team did trade for quarterback Josh Rosen and sign cornerback Xavien Howard to a hefty contract extension, so there is hope for a decent season. On the other hand, a high draft pick in 2020 would greatly benefit Miami.

Rookies to watch

Quinnen Williams, DT, Jets: Despite having just one year as a starter at Alabama, Williams has the Jets’ hopes high, though he and the team will need to be cautious. A calf injury limited him earlier this offseason, but he managed to close out OTAs with some first-team reps. He finished last season in the top five in the SEC in both tackles for loss (second – 19.5) and sacks (fifth – 8.0).

Ed Oliver, DT, Bills: The University of Houston standout has big shoes to fill as he prepares to replace Kyle Williams, who retired in December after 13 seasons, but should still bolster a Bills defense that ranked second in average yards allowed per game (294.1) last season. He had 13.5 sacks and 53 tackles for losses in 32 games with the Cougars.

Player spotlight

Julian Edelman

The veteran receiver had a terrific season in 2018 despite coming off a torn ACL suffered the year before and then serving a four-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

He had 74 receptions for 850 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games during the regular season but saved the best for last as he had 26 catches for a career-best 388 yards en route to earning Super Bowl 53 MVP honors in New England’s win over the Rams. With Rob Gronkowski enjoying retired life, expect Edelman, 33, to have even more targets from Tom Brady as the team tries to secure its fourth championship in six years.

Key injuries

Albert Wilson, hip: The wide receiver signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Dolphins last offseason and his stint in Miami got off to a strong start before he suffered a season-ending hip injury in October. He was on a pace for a breakout year in 2018 and is primed to do it again this season now that he’s healthy, as he anticipates being a go for Week 1.