In a division that has been essentially noncompetitive for the last couple decades, the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins are praying that the end is nigh for the Patriots, who are entering the new season without their future HOF tight end and a 42 year old quarter back. So do any of the three annual cellar dwellers have a chance to stun New England? Let’s explore the best and worst case scenarios for each of the AFC East teams.
New England Patriots:
Call me crazy, but the Pats have a real shot at perfection this season thanks to a relatively easy schedule. The Chiefs, Cowboys, and Browns all certainly have the ability to beat the Pats, but all of these games will be played in Gillette. Other potential road blocks will be the Eagles in Philly, Texans in Houston, the Ravens in Baltimore (the Patriots always struggle against young QBs), and the annual march to Miami. Would it really surprise anybody if the Pats took all of these games? According to very early odds, the Patriots are favored in every game this season except for Philly. Winning the revenge game for Super Bowl 52, the Patriots give themselves a real shot at perfection.
In this scenario, Brady plays more like he did in 2016 and 2017 rather than last year. Michel, Harris, and White form a three-headed monster in the backfield, all managing to stay healthy and do their jobs. The connection to rookie receiver N’Keal Harry is present early in the season and the older pass catchers (Edelman and Thomas) are able to stay healthy and effectively contribute. Defensively, Bennett fills in flawlessly for Trey Flowers. Rookie Chase Winovich provides both leadership and consistent hard play. One of the many cornerbacks vying for the #2 slot complementing Gilmore (J.C Jackson, Duke Dawson, and Jason McCourty) emerges as clearly worthy of the spot and helps create a lock down secondary. This Patriots team finishes in the top five offensively and defensively.
Such a season from New England would require so major regression by TB12. Without their GOAT playing well, the hoodie turns to the ground game. The Patriots become predictable and are not able to put up many points. Rookie Damien Harris doesn’t pan out, White is used only in pass scenarios and therefore contributes little to the ground game, and Michel faces 8 man boxes often. Edelman slows down and finds himself struggling to get open. N’Keal Harry is not utilized properly as Brady loses his deep ball ability. Defensively, no true #2 cornerback emerges and the position is a committee, with a player begin benched after making a big mistake. Rotating cornerbacks frequently causes communication to largely break down defensively. Bennett is unable to get much pressure and as a result opposing QBs have all day all the time.
This Patriots team would largely look like the Giants last season, where an aging and regressing QB is reliant on the ground game and screens to do anything. The only difference is they are still coached by the GOAT, who I cannot imagine letting them slip below a winning record.
New York Jets:
The Jets have a real chance to go on a run at the end of their season. In their last ten games, they play only two teams who ended last season with winning records: the Steelers, who lost Brown and Bell this offseason, and the Ravens, who quietly lost huge chunks of their standout defense. If New York can survive a grueling start to the season, where they play New England twice, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Cleveland, they should be viewed as a postseason contender.
This scenario comes into fruition largely in the hands of two men: Darnold and Bell. Bell shows no negative signs of the year off (perhaps even has fresh legs). Bell also demonstrates his commitment to the team and ceases to be a locker room distraction. Darnold, meanwhile, builds on the flashes of greatness we saw last season to become one of the game’s best in his second year. Crowder, Enunwa, and Anderson all show themselves to be WR 1.5s, meaning between a normal WR1 and WR2. Darnold is therefore able to spread the ball around with the most talented back in the league behind him. This Jets offense therefore becomes a force to be reckoned with. The Jets defense, which has a few very talented players, is largely able to cohere and pressure the QB. Rookie Quinnen Williams proves himself worthy of the #3 pick and wins defensive rookie of the year. C.J Mosley provides much needed talent to the linebacker position. Despite still being prone to a few big plays, the Jets defense shows itself to be a top 10 unit to match the offense that also occupies the top 10.
Adam Gase proves to be a disaster. Mike Maccagnan is sorely missed as Gase tries to work with a team he didn’t build. Bell proves to be sluggish to start the season and isn’t able to gain much traction. Darnold continues his habit of occasional poor desicion making and costs the Jets at big moments. Quinnen busts and has little impact on the game. The lack of receivers makes life difficult to Darnold and many throws into coverage occur. The relatively weak offensive line collapses and Darnold is on his back far too often. Despite all of this, the Jets still emerge with a better record than last year. The favorable end of season stretch combined with the plethora of added talent should ensure this.
The Bills play largely the same as their divisional opponents, and therefore don’t have an overly difficult slate ahead of them. Trips to Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland could be tough ones, but alternatively hosting difficult teams such as the Eagles and Pats could result in some surprise Ws. The Bills will need to get off to a strong start (5-1 is a real possibility). The Bills could use this momentum to carry them to a decent end of season and a playoff spot.
The Bills success will largely be based on the emergence of a true WR1. Recent acquisition Cole Beasley should be able to help out here. So can tight end Tyler Kroft, who demonstrated his great hands in Cincy. This will obviously need to be paired with strong progression from Allen, who wowed more with his legs than with his arm last year. If the Bills can get a consistent passing game, watch out. Shady is still a force in the backfield and Gore showed last year that he is practically immortal. A well balanced offense could lead this team to big things. A solid linebacker core, dominant cornerback #1, and respectable d-line could make it a task to score TDs against this team. The respectable performance from the defense allows for the offense to take charge and lead this team to big things.
The offense proves to lack a real weapon. Shady shows signs of aging. Allen is told to stop running around and his inaccuracy haunts him. The offensive line continues to give little help and McCoy is stuffed in the backfield while Allen is led into ill-advised throws. The defense proves unable to make up for offensive ineptitude. The Bills take a few, but there aren’t many games where Buffalo can be seen as a clear favorite. With a miserable performance, they could very well drop almost all the 50/50 games, leading to a pretty abysmal season. To conclude on Buffalo, it almost all hinges the offense. The defense will likely end up between 10 and 20 regardless. It’s up to the offense to make or break this team.
The Dolphins certainly appear to be in rebuilding mode and as such I don’t see world where they make the postseason (barring another miracle where a team gets in without a winning record, which, given the Patriots near guarantee of a winning record, is nearly impossible). However, the Dolphins certainly have the potential to surprise a lot of people. This team is consistently ranked last in power rankings released by “experts.” This roster is certainly capable of doing far better than dead last. The primary component in getting a good season out of the Phins is Josh Rosen. Rosen never really got a fair shake in Arizona, being booted after being thrown into the fire with no offensive line and few skill players. Now with a new team, Rosen has a new chance to prove why he was drafted so early. The Dolphins have a fair amount of stars mixed in with many duds. In order to reach a .500 mark, the stars such as Kenyan Drake and Xavien Howard will need to play out of their minds. Devante Parker will finally have that breakout season and Kenny Stills cuts back on the drops, leading to a competent receiving core. The Dolphins have a fair amount of winnable games at home, so don’t be surprised if they end up closer to this 8-8 prediction than the one below.
As has been previously discussed, the Dolphins have a lot of duds in their roster. The above prediction only comes true if people with lots of potential start playing well, such as Rosen and Parker. If these guys don’t shine, then the Dolphins are in big trouble. The team will be completely reliant on the ground game and gadget plays to make any progress. Unfortunately for Miami, they don’t have a great defense to support that style of play. At best, they are slightly below average defensively. The stadium stops filling up pretty early on in the season as it becomes obvious this team doesn’t have a shot at the playoffs this year. Home field advantage is largely lost and the Phins will really struggle. Still see them taking down the Bengals, Giants, and Bills (once) though.