Overview of AFC East and provisional ranking
Until last season, the AFC East operated at a familiar pace. The Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, have won 16 of 20 division titles. They made all the necessary changes from year to year and sprinted early, leaving the other teams to stumble upon themselves in an effort to catch up.
The division emerged from its trance in 2020 as New England, without Brady, faltered and the Bills finally maximized their potential. Buffalo’s rise – not to mention an impressive rebuild in Miami, led by coach Brian Flores – will prolong the disruption of the old status quo. For the first time in ages, three teams (sorry, Jets) are able to win the division.
Buffalo is the obvious favorite now that Josh Allen, 25, has gone from a raw quarterback prospect to an MVP contender. The trip had its share of speed bumps, but once coordinator Brian Daboll found a way to create a match spread attack that maximized both Allen’s mobility and his cannon arm, the Bills were able to keep the tusks on their heels. In his first season at Buffalo, Stefon Diggs solidified as a true No.1 wide player who can succeed against covers designed to stop him.
The Patriots, having finished 7-9 last year – their first losing season since 2000 – could rebound after capitalizing on a depressed free agent market and signing wide receivers (Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor), tight ends from high level (Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith) and one of the most versatile rushers on the market (Matthew Judon). New England also drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at No.15 and Crimson Tide defensive tackle at No.38, Christian Barmore, addressing two important areas of need. After a handful of preseason starts, Jones seemed quite capable of steering the Patriots offense, delivering precise balls on time without many of the frenzied mistakes typical of rookies. The Pats are also recovering a series of defensive starters who retired from the 2020 season, including inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Under Flores, the Dolphins have finally taken the time to quell bad habits and mediocre practices and are now investing resources in developing QB Tua Tagovailoa as quickly as possible. The 2020 No.5 pick made his debut with a thud last year and has been sidelined several times for substitute Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tagovailoa has a high cap, but he could look over his shoulder again this year after Miami signed competent replacement Jacoby Brissett, who is familiar with the offense from coordinator George Godsey. While Tagovailoa’s potential may be greater than that of any quarterback in the division, it’s unclear whether he will adjust to offense and play more confidently this season.
New York has a new coach, former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Not only is he a sociable personality and a strong defensive leader, he also brought in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who helped build the explosive system currently in use in San Francisco, Tennessee and Green Bay. If the new coaching staff can bring talented rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, BYU’s No.2 pick, to immediate capacity, the Jets could turn some heads. Otherwise, New York, after five lost seasons, would be the only team in the division to play their familiar role.
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Expected order of arrival
1. INVOICES (11–6)
Best case: The Bills build on last year’s offense, perhaps adding an additional weapon early in the season via trade. It diversifies the looks they put on the film last year, and they score even more – a feat, considering last year’s unit was No.2 in the NFL. Buffalo becomes a real competitor of the Super Bowl.
Worst case: New England resumed the division by resolving the Bills offensive. Belichick, who has trained against what is essentially the Buffalo schedule every summer for the past two decades, defends it better in 2021 with the pieces he added thanks to free agent signings and the return of exclusions. of COVID-19.
2. PATRIOTS (11–6, Wild-Card)
Best case: The offense is starting to look like the best it was under Tom Brady: effective and not doomed. Jones doesn’t take much of the rookie struggles that take place when a quarterback’s college tendencies are discovered by NFL coaches. Rather, it is protected by a system that rewards decision making and precision.
Worst case: The Patriots’ free agency follies turn out to be a true reflection of their desperation, a sign the list is fading, paper thin and ultimately punchless without Brady. Jones begins to look frantic. The injuries reveal impairments on the offensive line and in the secondary.
3. DOLPHINS (9-8)
Best case: Tagovailoa, in his second season in the NFL and now well removed from the brutal hip injury that ended his college career, becomes a top-15 starter. As he gains confidence he plays a lot more freely, as he showed he can against the Cardinals in his second start last year, in Week 8.
Worst case: The Dolphins fall out again between Tagovailoa and his replacement, now Brissett, which overshadows their defense progress and spoils the rookie season of WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama’s No.6 pick. Fans are kicking Miami’s pick of Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert in the 2020 Draft.
4. JETS (5-12)
Best case: Eight wins would be miraculous given the state of the list. New York fans are optimistic, however, after the team tightened in games it was reportedly destroyed last year, and rookie QB Wilson throws twice as many touchdowns as interceptions as his mechanic stay healthy.
Worst case: The Jets are unable to effectively execute their new Kyle Shanahan style attack. That means Wilson, who had plenty of time in his pocket at BYU, is playing under constant pressure and, like so many New York QBs before him, is developing bad habits as the losses continue to pile up.
More division overviews:
AFC North: Cleveland time has arrived
AFC South: the Titans and Colts rise to the top
AFC West: the chefs, and then what?
NFC East: it can only get better
NFC North: the leaders are back in the pack
NFC South: the champions have room to improve
NFC West: Fight to be the best of the best