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CBS's Jason La Canfora Lists Why Patriots Will Still Be Atop the AFC in 2016

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora wrote a great article titled, "Hate Tom Brady and the Pats all you want, but they're not going anywhere," and it should be assigned reading for every single team in the AFC this offseason. Patriots fans should tape it to their computer monitor anytime someone wonders if Bill Belichick has lost his step, or a pundit poses that "the gap has closed" or some nonsense like that.

The gap hasn't closed. It's expanded, even while the Patriots sit out this upcoming Super Bowl. Why? Let's run through the conference rivals.

Jets? Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't under contract and the rest of the roster is either a free agent, or deep into their 30s. Dolphins? New head coach and a lot of question marks. Bills? They have free agency issues of their own.

The Broncos don't know who will be their quarterback next season and they have a host of key free agents this offseason. The Bengals have the longest playoff winless streak in the league (yes, Bill Belichick won a playoff game as head coach of the Browns more recently than the Bengals have won) and free agent signings up the wazzoo. The Ravens have their three best players rehabbing from season ending injuries, and Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. probably won't be the same again. The AFC South is still atrocious.

Maybe the Steelers can contend, if Ben Roethlisberger and company can stay healthy, and perhaps the Chiefs are in position to make some noise in the AFC West. But you take Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a playoff game over Alex Smith and Andy Reid every single day of the week.

The Patriots don't have any key free agents. They can create massive amounts of cap space just by not picking up linebacker Jerod Mayo's option, along with a few haircuts for Danny Amendola, Marcus Cannon, Scott Chandler, and Brandon LaFell. The team is one of the youngest in the league, and the quarterback is one of the best.

New England is going to make some noise in free agency and in 2016. It's going to be a fun ride.