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Patriots set to roll in incompetent AFC East

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  August 27, 2013 09:44 AM

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Has any NFL team ever started a campaign with six preseason games? Thatís pretty much what the Patriots have in front of them.

Oh, sure, itís easy to dismiss the Buffalo Bills' probable need to start undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel against New England in the season opener next Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y., but hey, you never know, right? Even Kurt Warner bagged groceries before becoming an NFL MVP quarterback. Maybe Tuel is the real deal.

Except that the Patriots worked him out prior to the draft and elected to stay with the likes of Ryan Mallett and bring in Tim Tebow.

Except that he was 4-22 as a starter at Washington State. Then again, as Yahoo's Eric Edholm points out, "such a record would put him among the winningest Bills quarterbacks in the past decade."

Except that heís been thrust into action in desperation thanks to injuries to E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb.

Ryan Fitzpatrick all of a sudden doesnít seem so bad.

But, hey. Who knows?

Meanwhile, itís drama and clown cars in the Meadowlands, where Rex Ryan seems to know his days with the Jets, whom the Patriots face in Week 2, are numbered, and appears hell-bent on going out Bobby Valentine style. Ryan may have to start his own rookie in Geno Smith when the season starts after Mark Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury in Saturday nightís preseason game against the Giants. Sanchez was playing in the fourth quarter, which is sort of the equivalent of Ryan stamping his resignation letter.

The Patriots, coming off an embarrassment in Detroit last Thursday, may possess their own set of worries (Nobody is concerned about the oft-injured Danny Amendola already missing game action? No?) and injuries (Rob Gronkowski could be back in Week 3, and likely out again Week 12 if the pattern holds), but the AFC East is such a barren wasteland of competency that New England could sleepwalk through the first half of the season and still find itself with a first-round playoff bye.

Whatís the worst that can happen? A 1-1 record against the intriguing, but unproven Miami Dolphins? Thatís 5-1 in the division, en route to a slam-dunk 10-6 mark.

Good lord, the AFC East sucks.

Can somebody, at some point, step up, or is that too much to ask? The prospects of the AFC East as the NFL season gets set to kick off is like going to Tahiti with Earl from accounting. You canít wait, but at some point youíre going to have to go to dinner with that bore.

The fact that Tuel is primed to become the first undrafted free agent to start a season opener in the modern era is telling about the luck of the Buffalo Bills, but the state of a division where thereís no way the Patriots arenít making the crown an annual pilgrimage unless Tom Brady goes down. Whereís Vinny Testaverde when the Bills need him?

To be fair, Tuel looked fairly decent in a preseason showdown against the Colts (19-23, two touchdowns) during a 44-20 blowout this month. Of course, it was the second half. In Game One. Of the preseason. Even Tebow did something in that scenario.

Against the Patriots next weekend? Please.

Despite personnel questions, the road to the postseason is paved with gold, which is why the Patriots will likely retain Tim Tebow when roster cuts are made. Josh McDaniels has all the time in the world to screw around with him. Thatís what happens when half the schedule his team is set to face is filled with no-brainer yawners.

Nobody has any clue about how good the Patriots can be this season, but itís clear that it doesnít even matter. Thereís a lot of work to be done in figuring out what kind of playoff team New England can be, but as far as getting there, their competition continues to make the path easier. Frankly, itís becoming boring.

Then again. Jeff Tuel. Who knows?

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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