Pre-Draft AFC East Preview: Expectations, Predictions, Analysis and More
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
As more and more negative Coronavirus news rolls out, it’s easy to forget that sports were, once upon a time, a routine thing in America. For NFL fans, the league seems like a distant memory that may not come back for a while. I am here to bring a good distraction for sports fans and remind everyone about a division in the NFL that is finally back to a very competitive state: the AFC East. The AFC East is shaping up to be as volatile and chaotic as ever next year, in what will perhaps be the most exciting division to watch and follow. After 20 years of Patriot rule, the AFC East is officially up for grabs. Below is a brief team by team breakdown of what to look for next year in the AFC East, and who might claim the division.
Updated Odds (According to BetOnline SportsBook) to win the Division:
New England Patriots: +100
Buffalo Bills: +150
New York Jets: +700
Miami Dolphins: +10000
New England Patriots
In the last 21 years, the Patriots have won the AFC East 17 times, including a stretch where they won 11 times in a row from 2009-2019. This run of absolute domination is why Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane once again has the Patriots pegged as the team to beat in the division. I believe, as well as the odds and other analysts show, that despite the discouraging prior season and gloomy offseason, the Patriots are still the top dog in the division and favorites to win again. For them to be abdicated from their throne, I need to see a clear regression paired with hefty losses within the division. While such a scenario is entirely possible, pre-draft, the Patriots are still number one in my mind. Tom Brady’s decision to leave and other key departures such as wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, linebacker Jamie Collins, and fellow boogeyman Kyle Van Noy weakened the Patriots’ skill and leadership. Despite losing the greatest quarterback of all time and a couple of boogeymen, I still have the Patriots as the team to beat. Despite personnel losses, the team still has a strong foundation in place and a stellar defense led by a top-notch secondary. With Nick Caserio in the front office and the greatest coach of all-time Bill Belichick still at the helm of the ship, the Patriots shouldn’t have to fret. Despite a plethora of questions surrounding the future of the Patriots, it’s hard to bet against the most successful franchise of all-time.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 01: Jarrett Stidham #4 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 01, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills are coming off a resurgent season, finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs for the second time in three years. After 20 years of mediocre football, it’s finally looking like the Bills and the city of Buffalo are back on the rise. With double-digit wins for the first time since the 1999 season, Josh Allen took a huge step forward in his sophomore season to lead the Bills to key wins down the stretch. Coach McDermott created a winning mentality in Buffalo since coming over from Carolina. No longer will the Bills find themselves on the butt-end of every NFL fans’ jokes. The Bills are for real. However, trusting the process and instilling a championship mentality can only go so far. A successful franchise needs both a winning culture and skilled players. Thankfully, the on-field performance is beginning to emerge and flourish, demonstrating the effects of instilling a winning mentality. The Bills had a top 5 defense last year and are looking to build on it, with multiple free agent signings including cornerback Josh Norman. The Bills are destined to draft an edge rusher in the first round of this year’s draft which will only add to the strength of the defense. The addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs added further firepower to a rising offense. The Bills are in a great position to take the final step forward and win the division. While I still believe the Patriots are the favorites, the Bills are primed to capitalize on Brady’s departure and win the division for the first time since 1995. I like the value of +150 on the Bills winning the division. This very well could be the year the Bills finally beat the favored Patriots for the division title.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 14: Stefon Diggs #14 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after scoring a touchdown to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium on January 14, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Miami Dolphins entered the 2019-2020 season as the laughing stock of the NFL. After a 59-10 defeat in week 1, it was a wonder if the Dolphins were ever going to win. By replacing quarterback Josh Rosen with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins made a huge turnaround and became much more competitive. Head Coach Brian Flores and his creative play style set up the Dolphins in winning situations, even unseating playoff teams in the Philadelphia Eagles and division leader New England Patriots. Brian Flores helped rebuild the Dolphins, leading them to five wins after a putrid start coupled with players demanding trades. The team’s overall effort, especially on defense, greatly improved. As Sean McDermott can attest to, rebuilding a franchise requires tearing the whole team down to its foundation. The Dolphins have been active this offseason, bringing in talents such as Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Jordan Howard, and Shaq Lawson. Furthermore, Miami has the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft and is rumored to be targeting top quarterback Tua Tagovailoa out of Alabama. The future finally looks bright for the Dolphins as they put the Ryan Tannehill debacle behind them. Despite dramatic improvements, the Dolphins are still at least 1-2 years from being legitimate contenders and stare at another finish in the basement of the AFC East.
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins exits the field after a win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
New York Jets
The New York Jets, under the poor leadership from Adam Gase, are coming off of a season to forget. An 0-4 start sunk the Jets’ playoff hopes early and they never recovered. It looked like potential franchise quarterback Sam Darnold took a step backward. The front office was so disorganized that no one within the office at the time Darnold was drafted remains with the organization. Darnold’s slow development can be attributed to the disorganization of the organization and poor personnel decisions. What’s different between Sam Darnold’s situation in New York and Josh Allen’s in Buffalo is that the front office and coaches behind Darnold weren’t there from the beginning and were never in his corner to begin with. The talent the Jets have on the field is being offset by incompetent coaches and front office members at the top. Despite this disconnect, it’s hard to overlook the potential the Jets have to be a contender in the future. Sam Darnold is improving, albeit slowly, and the Jets are angling to target offensive weapons in this year’s draft. The Jets’ defense also has the potential to be a top 10 unit, and coupled with a more efficient ground game from Le'Veon Bell, we could see a return to the old ground and pound Jets team. The disconnect between the head coach and star players such as Le’Veon Bell will continue to hamper the Jets next season. The Jets are poised to return to what they do best, lose. The Jets very well may finish once again in the lower half of this division race, maybe even behind the Dolphins.
MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 03: Head Coach Adam Gase of the New York Jets coaching against the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on November 03, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)