Revamped Rivals Have Patriots Gearing Up for Treacherous Run Through AFC East Gauntlet


Revamped Rivals Have Patriots Gearing Up for Treacherous Run Through AFC East Gauntlet FOXBORO, Mass. — If headlines were as meaningful as box scores, the New York Jets would already be swimming in a sea of Super Bowl rings, parading down Park Ave. and rubbing elbows with Barack Obama.

The Jets have been busy this offseason, making a bevy of big-name roster transactions in an attempt to beef up the group that advanced to last season's AFC Championship Game. Additions such as cornerback Antonio Cromartie, linebacker Jason Taylor, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and wide receiver Santonio Holmes have turned the Jets into AFC East favorites by some pundits.

The Dolphins have also been busy, adding middle linebacker Karlos Dansby and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bills hired a new head coach in Chan Gailey, and they added dynamic running back C.J. Spiller in the draft.

The moves in the AFC East have caught the Patriots' attention, and they know 2010 could be as difficult of a division race as ever.

"It’s going to be fun," Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather said. "Anytime you’re in the AFC East, you look forward to those games against the Jets, and the Dolphins and Buffalo, with a new coaching staff."

"That’s why I’m here running, lifting, getting ready," Pats safety Patrick Chung said when he was asked about competing with the Jets and Dolphins. "I mean, I hear about the stuff. You can’t really get all into it. I have to stay focused to get ready for those guys."

There is obviously a natural rivalry between the four AFC East teams, but it's been heightened due to the flurry of activity this offseason. Meriweather said he's already heard the trash talk from former college teammate and current Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish. And defensive lineman Damione Lewis, who signed with the Patriots this offseason, has cut off communication with former Panthers teammate and current Jets defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

"Kris told me, 'Well, you signed with a mortal enemy, so I'll talk to you in the offseason,'" Lewis said. "They’re trying to get ready. New England has set a standard in this league for a long time. With that comes responsibility and holding it up. You have everybody kicking at your heels, trying to pull you down, and trying to get up to your level."

That’s been the theme of the offseason in the AFC East. The Jets and Dolphins have made some huge splashes because they obviously believe they're in a position to meet or surpass the Patriots. Due to Miami's 2008 AFC East crown and New York's 2009 playoff run, it would be tough to blame them for having that mentality.

But have they gotten too desperate in the process? It will be months until we know if the Jets and Dolphins overlooked chemistry in order to build video-game teams, since Cromartie, Tomlinson, Holmes and Marshall all have varying degrees of character flaws.

Combine those acquisitions with other questionable roster decisions — the Jets releasing left guard Alan Faneca and trading running back Leon Washington, and the Dolphins cutting ties with Taylor in a public-relations nightmare that belonged on daytime television — and it's unclear whether good or evil will win out in those locker rooms.

At the very least, in the spring anyway, these moves have sparked the rivalries within the AFC East.

"The game is played between those lines out there," Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. "On paper, they’re making moves and making great moves. But you know what, at the end of the day, it’s played between the lines. It doesn’t mean anything to us one way or the other. We see each other twice a year, sometimes three times. It doesn’t bother us whatsoever. We need to keep our focus on what we need to do to be a better football team. We can only control what the Patriots can control. We can’t control what any other team is doing.

"Hey, more power to them."

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