OUTLOOK: DeflateGate isn’t over, but QB Tom Brady opens the season on the field thanks to last week’s ruling in federal court. The NFL is appealing but that process could drag on beyond this season, potentially keeping Brady in the lineup long enough for him and the Patriots to pursue a fifth Super Bowl title. The Patriots remain the favorite league-wide as long as Brady plays. The biggest concern could be the secondary after the departures of CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
IMPACT ADDITION: Rookie DT Malcolm Brown arrives after the Patriots declined to exercise an option in the contract of Vince Wilfork, the long-time anchor of their defensive line. Expecting Brown to do what Wilfork did for the defense, for anywhere near as long as Wilfork did it, would be misguided. But he should help.
FANCY STAT: 111.7
Expected points contributed by Brady above a replacement level QB, the third most in the NFL.
OUTLOOK: The push is being made for the Dolphins to take the next step and be a legitimate contender, perhaps even challenging the Patriots in the division. DT Ndamukong Suh was signed to a huge contract in free agency, and QB Ryan Tannehill was given a new deal. Tannehill has been productive but probably must be even more so if Miami is going to become a real threat. The Dolphins attempted to bolster his wide receiver corps by trading for Kenny Stills and using a first-round pick on DeVante Parker.
IMPACT ADDITION: Suh made everyone around him on defense better in Detroit, and the Lions ranked second in the league in total defense last season. He must have a similar effect on the Miami defense if the Dolphins are going to get where they want to go.
FANCY STAT: 210
Sacks, hits and hurries allowed by the offensive line, the most in the NFL.
OUTLOOK: Rex Ryan takes over as the head coach in Buffalo after he was fired following six seasons with the Jets. The surroundings are new but the circumstances are familiar. He Inherits a very good defense and should have a productive running game after trading for longtime Eagles RB LeSean McCoy. But will Ryan get adequate play at quarterback? He has chosen former Ravens reserve Tyrod Taylor as his starter over EJ Manuel.
IMPACT ADDITION: McCoy’s parting with the Eagles and their coach, Chip Kelly, has been less than amicable. He must be the centerpiece of the offense in Buffalo if this is going to work. The 2013 NFL rushing leader was limited during the preseason by a hamstring strain.
FANCY STAT: 65.5
Points per game the average rushing attack would be expected to score compared to the Bills’, assuming the same down, distance and yard line for each play.
OUTLOOK: Ryan Fitzpatrick starts at quarterback while Geno Smith finishes healing from the broken jaw inflicted by the locker room punch of then-teammate IK Enemkpali. Things are rarely calm and orderly with the Jets. But there certainly could be improvement. Fitzpatrick threw the ball efficiently last season in Houston and now has Brandon Marshall among his wide receivers. The defense can lean on CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to support a potentially fearsome defensive line.
IMPACT ADDITION: Revis makes a homecoming to his original NFL team after stints with the Buccaneers and Patriots. He won a Super Bowl during his one-year stay in New England but now returns to the other side of the Jets-Patriots rivalry, ensuring that it remains as intense as ever.
FANCY STAT: 36.2
Percentage of red zone plays ending with a touchdown, the lowest in the NFL.