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(Jimmy Garoppolo photos courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Talk of Fame Network

The New England Patriots are the best team in the AFC East – with or without Tom Brady.

So say the voters of last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll. We asked our listeners and readers to identify the best team in the East, and the Patriots won going away, even though they will be without Brady for the first quarter of the season.

The NFL suspended Brady for the first four games of the season for his perceived role in Deflategate, which leaves Jimmy Garoppolo in charge of the New England offense in September against Arizona, Miami, Houston and Buffalo. Only the game against the Cardinals is on the road.

Not that it matters. The Patriots received 75 percent of the vote to easily outdistance Buffalo at 21.4 percent in the poll. The Jets were next at 3.6 percent, and the Dolphins were shut out.

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The Patriots won the East for the seventh consecutive season in 2015 but failed to defend their NFL championship a year ago, losing to the Broncos in Denver in the AFC title game. But that was with Brady taking the snaps and throwing the passes. Garoppolo, a second-round pick of the Pats in 2014 out of Eastern Illinois, has thrown just 31 NFL passes in his two-year career.

Brady took a beating in the AFC title game, getting sacked four times and absorbing countless hits even when he did get the pass off. The Patriots took steps to address that by adding a couple of guards, acquiring Jonathan Cooper in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals and drafting Joe Thuney from North Carolina State in the second round. That should buy both Garoppolo and Brady more time.

Garoppolo also won’t have to hold onto the ball that long in the pocket with a dynamic Pro Bowl tight-end duo to catch his throws in Ron Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, who was acquired in the offseason from Chicago, working the short and intermediate routes.

The New England defense took a hit with the deal that sent top pass rusher Chandler Jones (12 ½) sacks to Arizona for Cooper, but Bill Belichick hopes to replace a chunk of that that production with Chris Long, a former first-round pick of the Rams who became a salary-cap casualty in the franchise’s move to Los Angeles.

The Bills swept both the Dolphins and Jets last season but lost twice to the Patriots on the way to an 8-8 finish. With Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Buffalo appears to once again be the best of the rest.

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