With uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season, it's hard to predict who will be playing where in 2011, or if and when the league will begin moving forward from its recent labor strife.
Nonetheless, it's always worth noting where certain teams stand within their own division, and how their competition could stack up in comparison.
On paper, the Patriots don't have a ton of holes to fill, nor do they have much room for improvement considering they finished 14-2 last season, but the sting of another first-round playoff loss has left unanswered questions as to whether or not the guard has changed in the AFC East.
The Jets are certainly part of the "in" crowd after beating New England in the playoffs and advancing to the AFC championship for the second year in a row, but what about Miami and Buffalo? Will the Patriots feel the heat from any other contenders next year?
The Dolphins finished 7-9 last year, but have the 15th overall selection in this year's NFL draft, which means there's a chance for an instant upgrade if they choose wisely. They have issues at quarterback and along their offensive line. Cam Newton's name has come up at the combine, but the Dolphins aren't sure whether he'll be available or if they're even interested in his services at quarterback. Either way, there's a strong possibility the Dolphins can snag an impact player at 15th overall to fill either need.
The Bills appear to face more of an uphill climb. They finished 4-12 last year, but have the third overall pick in the draft. Much like Miami, people around the organization are thinking quarterback, but the Bills have pass-rush needs, too, and could find a high-profile defensive end or linebacker to fit Chan Gailey's scheme in his second year as head coach.
The only question is whether the Bills plan to use a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Gailey is undecided, but it could depend on what kind of player they select in the draft. Grabbing Newton at third overall is another possibility, which then increases the likelihood of the Patriots having to prepare for another young quarterback in their division twice a year (similar to Mark Sanchez with the Jets).
For now, the Patriots are focusing on their needs, specifically on defense where they failed to make enough of an impact in terms of rushing the passer in 2010. This is a glaring need, but whether or not it can be filled in the draft remains to be seen. Coach Bill Belichick and his team will scout the players at this week's combine to see what's available, though it's worth noting the Patriots have had moderate success through the year drafting outside linebackers and have clearly been more successful spotting defensive ends and run-stoppers.
Even with all this uncertainty, teams aren't neglecting the important details at this year's combine. The Patriots know their competition could drastically improve on draft day, so they need to stay ahead of the curve to make sure they're not chasing a second team in 2011 -- if and when there's football.