New England Patriots
New faces: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, WR Brandon LaFell, DL Dominique Easley.
Saying goodbye: CB Aqib Talib, RB LeGarrette Blount, S Steve Gregory, LB Brandon Spikes, G Logan Mankins.
Projected starting quarterback: Tom Brady.
Brady’s second-year stats: 14 starts, 264 of 413, 63.9 completion percentage, 2,843 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt, 18 TDs, 12 interceptions., 86.5 passer rating.
What they need to learn: Can Amherst native Rob Gronkowski stay healthy? When the tight end is on the field, he makes the entire offense look better.
Did you know? In nine of the past 11 seasons, the Patriots have won at least 11 games. In the other two, they won 10.
Highlighted game: Week 9 against Denver (4:25 p.m. Nov. 2). Home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs could very well be on the line.
Intriguing draft pick: QB Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 62nd overall). New England coach Bill Belichick said his team is “better off being early than late at that position” in making Garoppolo the highest-drafted quarterback in the coach’s 15 seasons with the Patriots. At some point, life after Brady must begin, and the Patriots took a big step toward being ready for that.
Breakout player candidate: LB Jamie Collins. The Patriots felt comfortable letting Spikes go to the Buffalo Bills in free agency because of Collins, who had six tackles, an interception and a sack in a playoff win against the Colts last season.
The Brady-Belichick era will win another Super Bowl if: The quarterback meets his usual standard of brilliance and the new cornerback duo of Revis and Browner covers up what looks to be some deficiencies in an aging front seven.
The era will inch nearer its end if: Brady’s dip in numbers (his 25 touchdowns were his fewest since 2006 and his 40 sacks were the most since 2001) was a sign of things to come and not a one-year blip on the radar.
New faces: LT Branden Albert, DT Earl Mitchell, S Louis Delmas, RB Knowshon Moreno, CB Cortland Finnegan.
Saying goodbye: DT Paul Soliai, OT Richie Incognito, CB Nolan Carroll, OL John Jerry, S Chris Clemons.
Projected starting quarterback: Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill’s second-year stats: 16 starts, 355 of 588, 60.4 completion percentage, 3,913 yards, 6.7 yards per attempt, 24 TDs, 17 interceptions, 81.7 passer rating.
What they need to learn: Can a rebuilt offensive line better protect Tannehill, who was sacked an NFL-leading 48 times last season? Miami will have five new starters at the beginning of the season, as the only holdover from last year, center Mike Pouncey, is currently injured.
Did you know? Last season’s eight victories were the most for the Dolphin since Stephen Ross took over as owner in 2009
Highlighted game: Week Four versus Oakland (1 p.m., at London’s Wembley Stadium). The Dolphins open the season with four straight games against AFC opponents, ending against the Raiders in London. Heading into their bye week, a record of at least 2-2 in the opening month will be a must if they are to challenge for a playoff spot.
Intriguing draft pick: WR Jarvis Landry (second round, 63rd overall). Landry scored 15 touchdowns over the past two years for LSU and figures to contribute right away in the slot and as a returner.
Breakout player candidate: TE Charles Clay. He impressed with 69 catches for 759 yards and six touchdowns last season and should continue to be a valuable safety valve for Tannehill.
They’ll make the postseason if: New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor can work some of the same magic with Tannehill that he did with Nick Foles in his last job as the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coach.
Coach Joe Philbin will be gone if: The defense can’t get any more than the two sacks it got from Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013; and the loss of nose tackle Paul Soliai is bigger than they think it will be.
New York Jets
New faces: WR Eric Decker, RB Chris Johnson, QB Michael Vick, RT Breno Giacomini, CB Dimitri Patterson (suspended indefinitely by team).
Saying goodbye: QB Mark Sanchez, CB Antonio Cromartie, WR Santonio Holmes, RT Austin Howard, S Ed Reed
Projected starting quarterback: Geno Smith.
Smith’s second-year stats: Entering second season.
What they need to learn: If Vick and Johnson came across the Fountain of Youth while traveling to New York this offseason.
Did you know? Leading receiver Jeremy Kerley had only 43 catches last season.
Highlighted game: Week Seven at New England (8:25 p.m. Oct. 16): A national television audience will get to see if the Jets can hang with their longtime divisional rivals.
Intriguing draft pick: S Calvin Pryor (first round, 18th overall): The thumper from Louisville seems like a perfect fit in Rex Ryan’s defense. On just his third play in the preseason, Pryor forced a fumble with a booming hit.
Breakout player candidate: DE Muhammad Wilkerson. Last year’s biggest Pro Bowl snub, Wilkerson had 10.5 sacks despite rushing almost exclusively from the interior. He teams with Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson to form one of NFL’s best defensive fronts.
They’ll fight for a wild card spot if: The signing of Johnson and addition of Decker from the Denver Broncos in free agency gives Smith the weapons he needs to take a significant step forward. Ryan will, as usual, have the defense ready.
They’ll start a significant rebuild if: Smith can’t drastically cut down on his number of turnovers (21 interceptions last season) and the front office decides it’s had enough of Ryan’s bombastic ways.
New faces: WR Mike Williams, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Corey Graham, LB Keith Rivers, LG Chris Williams.
Saying goodbye: S Jairus Byrd, WR Stevie Johnson, DL Alan Branch, LB Arthur Moats, DT Alex Carrington.
Projected starting quarterback: EJ Manuel.
Manuel’s second-season stats: Entering second season.
What they need to learn: Plain and simple, more about EJ. Only 10 starts in his rookie season didn’t provide the Bills with enough of a sample size to know if they have their quarterback of the future.
Did you know?: Jim Schwartz is the Bills’ fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons.
Highlighted game: Week 14 at Denver (4:05 p.m. Dec. 7): The Bills will face three Hall of Fame quarterbacks – the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Patriots’ Tom Brady – in the final four games.
Intriguing draft pick: RT Seantrel Henderson (seventh round, 237th overall): It is Henderson – and not second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio – penciled into the starting lineup for the season opener. Henderson’s slide in the draft was related to character questions stemming from multiple drug-related suspensions at Miami (Fla.). If he continues to keep clean, the Bills may have found themselves the steal of the draft.
Breakout player candidate: WR Sammy Watkins. Usually this category is reserved for a young veteran, but Watkins has handled himself like one during training camp. He appears to have all the tools to be the Bills’ next great receiver.
They’ll finally end the playoff drought if: Manuel is the real deal. There is no question the talent around him has been upgraded. Honorable mention here goes to the offensive line finding the right combination and coming together.
The search for a new GM and coach could be on if: The new owner decides to clean house. Given the team’s recent track record, who would blame him or her?