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AFC East preview: Will Le’Veon Bell turn the Jets into a division title contender?

New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell warms up before a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 24.
New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell warms up before a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 24.
(Associated Press)

The New York Jets don’t know precisely what they have in All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell — no one does for sure — but coach Adam Gase is sure excited to see.

“I can’t wait to see what he does on a Sunday,” Gase said, according to the New York Daily News. “Watching him in practice, that’s fun enough. You can tell the guy’s a special, special player. To see him on Sunday, that’s going to be fun.”

Because Bell didn’t play in the preseason, he will have been on ice for 603 days by the time he gets his hands on a football in that Sept. 8 opener against Buffalo.

For his part, Bell didn’t mind exercising some patience this summer after sitting out last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a contract dispute.

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“I’m completely fine with it,” Bell said of not playing in the exhibition season. “I don’t think getting four plays in the preseason is going to help me for Week 1. It’s going to be me just getting prepared and practicing. When the regular-season game comes, I’ll be ready.”

Previewing the 2019 NFL season as the league celebrates its 100th year and the Rams and Chargers look to contend for the Super Bowl LIV title.

Bell, a two-time All-Pro, is among the NFL’s most dangerous players as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. He has run for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns, and has 312 catches for 2,660 yards and seven touchdowns.

His average of 128.9 yards from scrimmage is the league’s best since the 1970 merger. He signed a four-year, $52.5-million deal with $35 million guaranteed.

Of course, everyone in the NFL is chasing the New England Patriots, who are coming off their sixth Super Bowl victory and have won 10 consecutive AFC East crowns.

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The rich get richer.

The Patriots picked up defensive lineman Michael Bennett and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who fit right into their trend of squeezing extra years out of players who were stars elsewhere.

New England Patriots wide receiver Demaryius Thomas plays against the New York Giants on Aug. 29.
New England Patriots wide receiver Demaryius Thomas plays against the New York Giants on Aug. 29.
(Getty Images)

They also signed linebacker Jamie Collins and tight end Ben Watson, both of whom previously played for New England.

The Patriots used their top pick on Arizona State receiver N’Keal Harry and are giving him time to learn their system.

“Like any rookie, I think there’s a lot to learn, there’s a lot of things happening,” quarterback Tom Brady said of Harry. “Like all of us, we’re just working every day to try to get better. And he’s going to, I’m going to, Jules (Julian Edelman) is going to — he’s got a lot of good people in his room, lot of veterans that he can depend on.

“We still have a long way to go, and he’s going to learn every day, so the more we do the better.”

This division is Brady and three quarterbacks selected among the top 10 in the 2018 draft — the Jets’ Sam Darnold, Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Miami’s Josh Rosen.

Allen showed promise last season, going 2-3 as a starter before missing four games with a sprained throwing arm. The Bills were 3-3 down the stretch with Allen as the starter.

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Most everything Buffalo did in the offseason was aimed at making life better for Allen, getting him a new center in Mitch Morse, new receivers in Cole Beasley and John Brown, and a seasoned running back in Frank Gore.

As for the Dolphins, they acquired Rosen in a trade with Arizona and brought in journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has won a lot of games in his career, which is entering a 15th season.

The Dolphins parted ways with a lot of big-name players — Ryan Tannehill, Cameron Wake, William Hayes, Robert Quinn, Danny Amendola and Gore among them — and have gotten younger.

That doesn’t necessarily mean better, though. At 500 to 1, they’re the league’s longest shot to win the Super Bowl.

Buffalo Bills

THREE PLAYERS WHO MUST COME THROUGH

QB Josh Allen: The Bills have built their offense around Allen, revamping their line and adding talent such as Frank Gore, John Brown and Cole Beasley. No excuses this year.

C Mitch Morse: Buffalo made Morse the highest-paid center in NFL history, then watched him suffer his fourth concussion in 44 months. This one happened on the first day of contact drills and put Morse on the shelf. His understudies have been bad. Uh oh.

CB Tre’Davious White: For the Bills to have an effective secondary, White needs to have a big year. He’s on the cusp of being elite but doesn’t have overwhelming talent around him. The other cornerback spot is unsettled.

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THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH

WR Cole Beasley: This franchise hasn’t had a true slot receiver for years. One of the biggest questions surrounding Allen when he came out of Wyoming was his short-range accuracy. This longtime Cowboys receiver should help.

RB Devin Singletary: The 5-foot-7, 203-pound Singletary is small, but he’s shifty and instinctive. Everyone is talking about LeSean McCoy and Gore, but don’t overlook this guy.

LB Tremaine Edmunds: Although he’s in his second season, Edmunds is only 21. The Bills are really high on him and his skills as a middle linebacker. He’ll be making the defensive calls, so he’s a special young talent.

BURNING QUESTION

The defense is pretty much settled, but is Allen the right quarterback to help the Bills take the next step and finally have an influence in the division and beyond?

2018: 6-10, third in division

Last year in playoffs: 2017

Miami Dolphins

THREE PLAYERS WHO MUST COME THROUGH

QB Josh Rosen: The former UCLA star never had a chance to get his footing in Arizona and moves to a franchise that has won one playoff game in the 2000s. He’s a pure passer, no question, but can he gain his teammates’ confidence and lift them?

DE Charles Harris: Harris has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2017. He had 19 tackles and one sack in 11 games last season. The door is open for him now that the four defensive ends ahead of him on last year’s roster are elsewhere.

WR DeVante Parker: The Dolphins’ 2015 first-round pick has been injury prone and ineffective but the team is convinced he’s on the verge of a breakout season. New offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea is hoping to tap into that potential.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

CB Xavien Howard: The Dolphins rewarded Howard with a huge contract, recognizing him as one of the best corners in football. He had four interceptions in a recent practice at training camp.

WR Preston Williams: A rookie from Colorado State, Williams went undrafted because of off-the-field concerns, but he’s a talented player who some teammates believe has potential to be a No. 1 receiver.

BURNING QUESTION

Are the Dolphins tanking? They’re set up to have 12 draft picks and about $100 million in salary-cap space next year.

2018: 7-9, second in division

Last year in playoffs: 2016

New England Patriots

THREE PLAYERS WHO MUST COME THROUGH

WR N’Keal Harry: Never before with the Patriots has Bill Belichick used a first-round pick on a receiver, so the expectations are high for the 6-foot-4 Harry. Having lost Rob Gronkowski, New England needs receiving threats. Harry is physically dominant but has been dropping some easy ones.

DE Michael Bennett: The Patriots let Trey Flowers walk and anticipate Bennett picking up the slack. There’s a risk involved in replacing someone who’s 25 (Flowers) with someone who’s 33, but the Patriots have a way of wringing an extra year or two out of players who were stars elsewhere.

OT Isaiah Wynn: With Trent Brown in Oakland, the Patriots needed to replace their left tackle and Wynn is that player. He’s coming off a torn Achilles tendon and joins a line with four returning starters.

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH

RB Damien Harris: Drafted in the third round out of Alabama, Harris is a complement to Sony Michel and perhaps a better inside runner. What do you do when you don’t have a clear alpha back? Running back by committee.

TE Matt LaCosse: Ben Watson is suspended for the first four weeks, and Gronkowski has retired, which means LaCosse, who had 24 catches for Denver last season, is the top player at the position. He has made some Gronk-like catches in camp.

CB J.C. Jackson: The undrafted corner in his second year could be the next Malcolm Butler. Jackson got his share of playing time last season, including five starts, picking off three passes and looking talented but raw.

BURNING QUESTION

It’s all about the offense. Can the Patriots replace Gronkowski, and do they have enough talent around Tom Brady? Regardless, they should still win the division and be in good position for the playoffs.

2018: 11-5, first in division

Last year in playoffs: 2018

New York Jets

THREE PLAYERS WHO MUST COME THROUGH

QB Sam Darnold: The former USC star has looked great in his second training camp and seems to be making a solid connection with new coach Adam Gase, a quarterback whisperer of sorts. Darnold showed excellent poise as a rookie and did a good job of improvising when plays broke down.

RB Le’Veon Bell: The big question on this All-Pro back: Will he be rusty after sitting out last season or reap the benefits of fresh legs? The Jets have an improved offensive line, one that will have to get used to Bell’s deliberate style.

DL Leonard Williams: Although he’s been solid, Williams has never played up to the hype surrounding him when he was picked sixth overall in 2015. He’s had a combined 17 sacks in four seasons. Having rookie Quinnen Williams on the line should help — fewer double teams.

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH

DT Quinnen Williams: The No. 3 overall pick is hardworking, highly talented and has an effervescent personality. He helps in a big way for a team that was once stacked along the defensive line but since has gotten thin at that position.

S Jamal Adams: The best player on the Jets defense, Adams is a budding superstar. He’s hard hitting, passionate and is the unquestioned quarterback on defense.

TE Chris Herndon: This group of wide receivers is decent, but the Jets need targets for Darnold. Herndon provides a reliable one. He’s got excellent hands and creates mismatches.

BURNING QUESTION

What will come of the potentially combustible relationship between Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams if things start to go sideways? The Jets have lots of dysfunction in their history.

2018: 4-12, fourth in division

Last year in playoffs: 2010


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