Divisional breakdown: AFC East

Divisional breakdown: AFC East
July 5, 2013, 9:00 am
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Ray Rice is ready to go


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Divisional Breakdown: AFC East

How they’ll finish: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets

Biggest intrigue: Patriots

What a strange offseason they’ve had. Whether it’s Aaron Hernandez being released following murder charges, Rob Gronkowski having more surgery, Tim Tebow arriving, or Wes Welker leaving, the Patriots have been unable to fly under the radar. Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have led this franchise to nine division titles over the last 10 years. They are still the team to beat in the AFC East. But since losing to the Ravens in the AFC championship game, things have gotten worse for the Patriots, not better.

When the Ravens play the Patriots: December 22 in Baltimore.

Best newcomer to division: Mike Wallace, Dolphins wide receiver

Wallace landed a huge contract during free agency (five years, $60 million), and the Dolphins expect him to be a complete receiver, more than just a deep threat. They also expect him to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill develop more quickly. The Ravens know Wallace well from his Steelers days. He’ll give the Dolphins a speed dimension opponents will have to respect.

When the Ravens play the Dolphins: Oct. 6 in Miami

Biggest disappointment: Mark Sanchez, Jets quarterback

Not a new storyline. But this is the year Sanchez finally loses his starting job for good. At some point expect Geno Smith to become the starter, and Sanchez to become yesterday’s news in New York. If not for Sanchez’s huge guaranteed contract number, the Jets would have parted with him already. But here are two other big questions for the Jets. Can Smith be a successful franchise quarterback? And will Rex Ryan survive after this season?

When the Ravens play the Jets: Nov. 24 in Baltimore

Best rookie storyline: E. J. Manuel, Bills quarterback

The Bills shocked many by making Manuel the first quarterback drafted, and the 16th pick overall. They saw an upside in Manuel that they did not see in Smith, Matt Barkley, or any other available quarterback prospect. If the Bills are right, it’s a great move. If not, their losing could continue for years. Here’s one way Manuel can make the Bills feel better during training camp. Beat out Kevin Kolb for the starting job.

When the Ravens play the Bills: Sept. 29 at Buffalo