By every important measure, the Patriots will once again enter the upcoming season as the best team in the AFC East — and it’s not even particularly close. They’ve got the best coach and quarterback, they’ve been to three straight Super Bowls (winning two of them), and they’ve captured the division crown in each of the past 10 seasons. Meanwhile, the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins are all entering varying rebuilding stages. 

But, despite the clear gap between the Patriots and the rest of the field, new Jets coach Adam Gase isn’t talking about sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card team or making a modest improvement in 2019 to set themselves up for success in the years to come. According to new Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley, Gase is already talking about dethroning the Patriots

That’s why Gase took the Jets job, Mosley said.

“We’re going for that one team that’s been winning every year in that division,” Mosley said, per NJ.com. “(Gase) said that’s one of the main reasons he came here and we all believe that and the guys that are new additions to the team, we’re pretty much here for the same reason. We know there’s one team that’s been on top for a long time. We feel we have the (attitude) and the players and the game plan is to get that done.”

Gase, the former coach of the Dolphins, has been in the AFC East for a while now, so he’s well-versed in the Patriots’ dominance. With the Dolphins, Gase went 2-4 against the Patriots — the most-recent win required a final play now known as the Miami Miracle. As Gase’s Dolphins compiled a 23-25 record from 2016-18, the Patriots posted a 38-10 record. The Jets, Gase’s new team, went 14-34 in that span. Again, it seems incredibly unlikely the Jets will surpass the Patriots this season — barring an injury to Tom Brady, of course.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Jets’ long-term future. The AFC East team best equipped to eventually overtake the Patriots when Brady either retires or finally shows drastic signs of aging is likely New York. 

Unlike the Dolphins, they’ve already drafted their future franchise quarterback. Unlike Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Sam Darnold demonstrated signs of growth as a passer during his rookie season. Unlike the Bills and Dolphins, the Jets were able to go out and bolster the roster around their quarterback in important ways. Le’Veon Bell, arguably the best all-around running back in football, joined them. Mosley and receiver Jamison Crowder also signed on in free agency. Finally, it’s the Jets — not the Dolphins or Bills — who own the highest pick in this month’s draft at No. 3, ensuring they’ll either get an impact-now player at that spot or a haul of picks if someone wants to trade up to their spot.

It’ll likely all come down to Darnold’s development, which is where Gase comes into play. Gase was once known as a quarterback whisperer and an offensive guru after working with Peyton Manning in Denver and later shielding then-Bears quarterback Jay Cutler from some of his worst tendencies during Gase’s lone season as the Bears‘ offensive coordinator. But Gase’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit in recent years after he failed to both turn Ryan Tannehill into a great quarterback and the Dolphins’ offense into a juggernaut. In his three seasons down in Miami, the Dolphins ranked 17th, 28th, and 26th in points scored.

Darnold, meanwhile, struggled at times during his rookie season, but also flashed the kind of potential that turned him into the No. 3 pick a year ago. Throughout the month of December, Darnold completed 64 percent of his passes, averaged 7.5 yards per attempt, threw six touchdowns and one interception, and accumulated a 99.1 passer rating. 

If Darnold’s ascent under Gase continues, the Jets could be in the wild card conversation and should feel confident that they’re the team best positioned to eventually overtake the Patriots whenever the dynasty does end. But nobody should expect that to happen as early as this season. Even though Rob Gronkowski retired, Brady and Belichick are another year closer to retirement, and the Jets (and the Bills maybe too) are on the right path, the AFC East still belongs to the Patriots.

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