The Patriots would likely be considered the favorites in the AFC East no matter what their schedule looked like. So it seems almost unfair to the East's other teams—particularly the Bills, who had the NFL's most difficult schedule last year (judged by final records) and its second-hardest this year—that New England's slate is the division's most inviting. It's not just the lowest strength of schedule (.504 opponents' winning percentage); it's that the schedule is shaped nicely too. Bill Belichick can get his new players up to speed in the first four (at Miami, home against San Diego, at Buffalo and Oakland) before a hard eight-game stretch that might produce New England's only losses (at Pittsburgh, at the Jets or at Philadelphia). Finishing away against Washington and Denver, then home versus Miami and Buffalo, could allow Belichick to rest key players for the postseason. The Jets' schedule isn't nearly so friendly—they have the Chiefs, Eagles and Giants among their last four games—and Miami's is worse, with an out-of-division travel itinerary that sends them to San Diego, the Giants, Kansas City and Dallas.
Eight great matchups involving AFC East teams
WEEK 1 at Sunday, Sept. 11
A tasty prime-time opener, as Jets coach Rex hosts brother Rob, the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator.
WEEK 4 at Sunday, Oct. 2
Shapes up as a defensive battle in the mold of Ryan's first game against his former team, a 10--9 Ravens win last year.
WEEK 7 at Sunday, Oct. 23
Brandon Marshall's first meeting with his old club, and a chance for QB Chad Henne to outduel Kyle Orton, whom the Dolphins wanted.
WEEK 10 at Sunday, Nov. 13
Their last two meetings were the Pats' 45--3 thrashing of the Jets in December and New York's 28--21 shocker in the playoffs.
WEEK 12 at Thursday, Nov. 24
The Dolphins are 3--1 on Turkey Day in Big D, the most memorable win coming thanks to Leon Lett's blunder in the snow in 1993.
WEEK 12 at Sunday, Nov. 27
What may be the hottest interconference game of the year—Brady versus Vick—comes exactly 10 weeks before the Super Bowl.
WEEK 13 at Sunday, Dec. 4
Pure drama: They've met in each of the last eight regular seasons, and only two of those games have been decided by more than four points.
WEEK 14 at Sunday, Dec. 11
Shawne Merriman's return to his old stomping grounds in San Diego should be lively, especially if the Bills are still in contention.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (BRADY)
TOM BRADY, Patriots
RICHARD C. LEWIS/ICON SMI (WAKE)
CAMERON WAKE, Dolphins