The Ross and Rachel saga that was the NFL lockout has finally been resolved. All the questions of will they/won’t they while the league was “on a break” have been answered, and a frenetically shortened offseason ensued. With no time to waste, teams were trying to steal a march on their rivals by rebuilding their rosters and puffing out their chests. Nowhere was this phenomenon more apparent, and more intriguing, than in the AFC East.

In the past four years, the Miami Dolphins have gone from a humiliating 1-15, to an impressive 11-5, to consecutive 7-9 mediocrity. Off the field, things have been no less turbulent. On the highlight reel is the arrival and departure of Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland’s casual insulting of Dez Bryant’s mother in an interview, and ownerships recent indiscreet flirtations with Jim Harbaugh. Worried about losing further ground to the Patriots and Jets, Miami’s marquee recruitment has been Reggie Bush. With his potential for explosive plays, and a Kardashian ex-girlfriend, he comes with a lot of hype.

The Dolphins are reportedly attempting to convert Bush into an every-down back, but to anyone that’s ever followed Bush’s career this idea seems laughable. The truth is that beneath all the flash, Reggie’s numbers in the backfield have been pedestrian at best. Add to Bush the signing of Larry Johnson, a man with more arrests for assault to his name than rushing yards last season (four to two for those keeping count). Jason Taylor was also signed despite being discarded by the Dolphins only a year ago. Cameron Wake’s emergence last season, combined with Taylor’s insignificant short stint as a Jet, makes this resigning all the more baffling. The Dolphins moves have been confusing, leaving many wondering what their strategy is. It all adds to the perception of the Dolphins organisation as being clueless and without direction.

The Patriots, conversely, have completed several shrewd moves. Already solid at quarterback, tight-end, offensive line and slot, they still desperately needed some speed on the outside. Enter Chad Ochocinco. The Patriots were also in need of a strong defensive lineman. In wades Albert Haynesworth. Handsomely paid from his last deal, and freshly motivated by being part of a 4-3 defense again, Haynesworth will have a big impact this season and all for a cut price of $1.5 million.

The reverberations caused by these two signings were felt across the division, as well as the entire league. Bill Belichick, once again, had struck a huge psychological blow. But let’s think about it another way: if we swapped around the signings of the Patriots and the Dolphins, it is likely that our perceptions of their respective dealings would not change. We would proclaim that Belichick could use Reggie Bush in exciting and unpredictable ways, and also that he spotted something in Larry Johnson that others had not. At the same time, the Dolphins would be desperately reaching for two players that are clearly past their prime.

Is this fair? True, Belichick has revived the careers of wayward stars such as Randy Moss, but he was not so successful recently with Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway. I would argue that it is more about the culture of winning that has evolved in New England. If you win regularly, then we remember your successes; your failures are irrelevant and soon forgotten. So the Dolphins cannot win the psychological battle either way. The only way they can win off the field is by winning on it.

The only other way to win the psychological battle is through relentless confidence. This is where we find the Jets and Rex Ryan. The Jets have done little this offseason. No Nnamdi Asomugha, no strengthened pass-rush, and while they added Plaxico Burress they lost Brad Smith and Braylon Edwards. Yet, we are distracted from their relative inactivity and persistent deficiencies by the deafening bravado of Rex Ryan. Case in point: there is something about a middle-aged man getting his first tattoo, a tribal piece on his leg, that draws attention and distracts. The bottom line is that Rex’s confidence in his own team and their offseason preparation shapes public perception as much as the Patriot’s culture of winning. The league is still extremely wary of the Jets.

The Bills have much bigger problems and, unfortunately, neither exude confidence nor have a winning mentality. Lee Evans was a notable departure, and the quarterback remains a serviceable, but unspectacular, Ryan Fitzpatrick. His Harvard education will be irrelevant when he deduces his lack of targets.

A meaningful snap has not yet taken place, but the mind games are in full swing and our perceptions already formed. The Patriots are savvy and professional; the Jets are the dangerous noisy neighbours; the Dolphins are desperate and confused; and; the Bills are helpless, hopeless and hapless. All that is left now is to actually play the games themselves.