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NFL Training Camp Preview: AFC East

On the day Carson Wentz injured his knee in Los Angeles last season, the last thing anyone in the NFL expected was that the Philadelphia Eagles would win the Super Bowl. But they did, didn’t they? The thing is, you can never tell during the season where or when the next surprise is coming from. That’s what keeps the fans coming, the machine rolling.

Soon, the 2018 season will kick off and there’s always hope that your team will be in the middle of it when it ends. Here is a look at the AFC East as NFL training camp gets set to begin next week:

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick has done for the hoodie what Tom Landry did for the fedora, made it fashion de rigor on the NFL sidelines. But more importantly, Belichick has established a tradition of winning in New England that no NFL coach has ever reached and perhaps ever will reach again.

AFC East preview

Patrick Smith / Getty

But in the wake of their Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, not all the news about the Patriots has been positive and that threatens to have an impact on this season.

The most distressing item is about receiver Julian Edelman, 32, a mainstream go-to guy for Tom Brady who missed last season with a torn right cruciate ligament. He will be suspended for the season’s first four games without pay for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Then there has been the suggestion that Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and others have grown tired of the Belichick point of view, a possible fissure in the rock-solid grip he’s always had the organization. Some say it stems from the unexplained benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl.

The Pats offense has lost receivers Brandin Cooks (Rams) and Danny Amedola (Dolphins), left tackle Nate Solder (Giants) and halfback Dion Lewis (Titans). But Chris Hogan is back to help compensate for the loss of Edelman, rookie back Sony Michel looks promising and offensive lineman Issiah Wynn was their first-round draft pick.

The defense will have to compensate for departure of coordinator Matt Patricia to coach the Lions. And their pass rush will have to improve, something the return of edge rusher Dont’a Hightower will assist.

Buffalo Bills

Last year’s highlight is nice enough to carry the Bills into the new season. They made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, ending the longest famine in professional sports in North America. And that’s a rather large piece of turf.

And to the mix, Buffalo drafted its quarterback of the future, Josh Allen, with the seventh pick in the first round. The franchise now hopes that the next time it makes the playoffs, its offense will be sturdy enough to avoid losses like it took from Jacksonville in the Wild Card round. In 2017, its passing attack was ranked 31st in the league.

AFC East preview

Tom Pennington / Getty

If Allen is not ready right away, the Bills now have veteran A.J. McCarron, once Andy Dalton’s caddy in Cincinnati, to step into the void. McCarron started only four games in his four seasons with the Bengals.

But whoever is under center hopes they will be spending a lot of time giving the ball to LeSean McCoy, the heart of the team’s offense. McCoy’s status for the upcoming season as training camp opens is now considerably uncertain as the investigation into the assault on his former girlfriend continues.

The offensive line has been rebuilt after Richie Incognito and Eric Wood retired and Cordy Glenn was sent to the Bengals. Glenn was out most of last season but was replaced by rookie Dion Dawkins. And free agent center Russell Bodine will step in, too.

Miami Dolphins

With quarterback Ryan Tannehill out for the entire season, and the overrated Jay Cutler in his stead, the Dolphins suffered through a miserable 6-10 year. That made it 17 straight years without a postseason win.

In case Tannehill struggles in his return (he is 37-40 as a starter), Miami replaced Matt Moore as the backup by acquiring Brock Osweiler, which, in some respects, sounds as ominous as the acquisition of Cutler seemed. And neither will have Jarvis Landry to throw to. He was dealt to Cleveland. So it’s up to Amendola and Albert Wilson, acquired from Kansas City, fill that gap.

Frank Gore is now in town to support Kenyan Drake at halfback. The offensive line has been rebuilt with guard Daniel Kilgore (San Francisco) and center Josh Sitton (Chicago).

The defense played eight rookies for most of the season, so that unit will be more experienced. Robert Quinn was acquired from the Rams and will play end instead of his former role as a linebacker. The biggest addition may be Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the No. 11 overall pick.

New York Jets

Not since the Jets lit neon by drafting Joe Namath in 1965 has the franchise believed it had a Broadway-ready quarterback until now. Introducing Sam Darnold.

The third-overall pick from USC will have every opportunity to win the starting job because, let’s face it, what do the Jets really have to lose? They haven’t been the playoffs since 2010.

AFC East

Ronald Martinez / Getty

Just in case Darnold is not ready, the Jets have 2017 starter Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, acquired from Minnesota, to tread some water until he is.

Here’s a potential problem: The offensive line allowed 47 sacks last season. But center Wesley Johnson has been replaced by Spencer Long. And right guard Brian Winters is back after surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle.

The defense will certainly be helped by the signing of cornerback Trumaine Johnson (Los Angeles) who will fit in nicely with Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne. The defensive line has lost Sheldon Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson.