Today's question: The New England Patriots play five of their final six games against AFC East foes, so could that help the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets be in contention late in the year?
Mike Rodak, Buffalo Bills reporter: When the NFL released its schedule in April, I wrote that first-year Bills coach Sean McDermott is getting a break because he does not have to play the dominant Patriots early in the season. Even so, I don't see the Bills remaining contenders heading into their two December tilts with New England. Buffalo has the NFL's fifth-most-difficult schedule, one that includes a Week 4 trip to Mercedes Benz Stadium to play the Atlanta Falcons. Unless the Bills' offensive core of Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins can stay healthy and carry the team in 2017, I just don't see anything close to a finished product coming together for McDermott in his first season. ESPN's Football Power Index projects the Bills to finish with 6.8 wins, and my record prediction in April was 6-10, so those December games against the Patriots won't mean much for the playoffs.
James Walker, Miami Dolphins reporter: The Jets and Bills are in rebuild mode this year for various reasons. So you can count them out of contention in the AFC East. The Dolphins, based on last season and some new additions, have a small chance to challenge New England in the division. So playing the Patriots twice in a three-week stretch late in the season carries weight. Perhaps one of the strongest characteristics of the Patriots is they always seem to play their best football late in the year. This is a good chance for Miami to split with New England. I expect the weather to play a big factor both ways.
Rich Cimini, New York Jets reporter: Well, it won't help the Jets, that's for sure -- and I'm not even alluding to the fact that they have an "early" game against the Patriots in mid-October. This is a big-time rebuilding year for the Jets, and they could be out of the race by Halloween, perhaps sooner. But I could definitely see it helping the Bills and Dolphins, especially the Bills. They have a relatively young defense, one that could experience early growing pains. By the time they face the Patriots on Dec. 3, the Bills should have a better feel for themselves. Remember, the Bills have a new coach in Sean McDermott. Oftentimes, it takes a good part of the season before the team and the new coach get comfortable with each other and create an identity. Avoiding the Patriots until December will help that process. The Dolphins are established under coach Adam Gase, but they've dropped 11 of the past 14 to the Patriots. The longer they can put it off, the better.