(Nick Wojton/USA Today Sports)
By Stephen Brown Twitter: @sbtrey23
The first AFC division we are going to look at is the AFC East. The East had been dominated by the Patriots for so long, but since the departure of Tom Brady, it’s been all Bills. This year, not only are the Bills the favorite to win the East, they are the favorite to win the entire AFC, and many are picking them to win the Super Bowl. Can they live up to these impossibly high standards?
1. Buffalo Bills, 11-6, 1st place, Lost to Chiefs in Divisional Round
Last year’s divisional round matchup between the Bills and Chiefs was one of the greatest football games I’ve ever seen played. The back and forth was incredible, and the game just wasn’t over until it was over. Unfortunately for Bills fan, they were on the losing end of this shootout. Now, the Bills will look to bounce back and finally win a Super Bowl.
Of course, the most important cog in the Bills’ machine is back: Josh Allen. Allen has gone from boom or bust draft prospect, to one of the best QBs in the NFL. Unfortunately for Allen, he might have tougher sledding this year. Brian Daboll, his OC, left for his first head coaching job and sure handed possession receiver Cole Beasley wasn’t resigned. However, after an incredible 4 TD performance in the divisional round last year, many expect Gabe Davis to step up and be a legitimate number 2. Returning for the Bills are Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, and Devin Singletary. Adding to that strong core is second-round pick James Cook and fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir. The Bills also signed Jamison Crowder, who, despite some down years in New York, I expect could fit into that Cole Beasley role nicely.
The Bills had one of the best defenses in football last year, and this year, it has gotten better. A first-round pick was spent on CB Kaiir Elam and a third on linebacker Terrel Bernard. They also signed DaQuan Jones from the Titans. I’m pretty sure that’s it. Right? Oh wait, they also signed some guy named Von Miller. That’s right, one of the best defenses signed one of the best defensive free agents. Von Miller may be past his prime, but he still produces at a highly elite level and is a great locker room presence. My only concern with this defense is the corners, especially with Tre’Davious White starting on the PUP list. Once he’s back, this defense will truly be solid from top to bottom.
Many people want to anoint the Bills Super Bowl champs already. While their roster is stacked, I still have some reservations. If Gabe Davis doesn’t take a step forward, then their receiver core is pretty weak. And if new OC Ken Dorsey, can’t fill the void of Daboll, this offense could take a step back.
Final Record Prediction: 13-4
2. New England Patriots 10-7, 2nd place, lost in Wild Card round to Bills
The Pats looked to fill the Tom Brady sized void by drafting Mac Jones in 2021. Jones had a solid rookie season, but fell off towards the end. The season ended with the Pats getting absolutely bludgeoned by the Bills. The Pats are hoping to build on a solid 2021 and take back the East from the Bills.
The Patriots offense is reportedly in trouble. With Josh McDaniels leaving, the offense is being run by a combination of Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia, and Joe Judge. Reports from camp suggest that the offense is significantly simpler, but also significantly less effective. There really isn’t much to say about the offense. The bring back everyone minus N’Keal Harry, and added DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor. Since this team lacks star power on offense, the creativity that McDaniels brought may be sorely missed.
The Pats have always had strong defenses and this season should be no exception. Like the offense, the defense remains largely unchanged. Matthew Judon played his first full season last year and was an absolute monster. The other key player on that defense return, including Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, and Devin McCourty. Most great players in the Pat’s defense never seem to do well in other places, but Belichick has them working well together year in and year out.
As someone who grew up in Massachusetts, I’ve learned to never bet against the Patriots. But this year, I just might have to. With a lack of firepower on offense and losing their best weapon (Josh McDaniels) and with the odd decision to not hire a new OC, there’s just too much stacked against the Pats to think they have a chance to make much noise in a stacked AFC.
Final Record Prediction: 6-11
3. Miami Dolphins, 9-8, 3rd place
After three years with an overall winning record and some controversy with the front office, the Dolphins decided to fire Brian Flores and hired offensive guru Mike McDaniels. This team has had everything they need to succeed for the past couple seasons. The question is: is Tua the guy?
The Dolphins already had a solid offense, with a good line, rookie Jaylen Waddle at receiver, and Mike Gesicki at tight end. They beefed up the line by signing Terron Armstead and beefed up the receiver core by trading for Tyreek Hill. They also drafted Erik Ezukama, someone who I liked a lot coming out of this draft. They added to their backfield as well, signing both Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. And leading all this talent is 2020 first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa. Tua has been divisive as a QB. Many think he’s a bust while others think that now that he’s finally healthy, he’ll be ready to step up as the franchise QB.
The defense was built up to an elite level over the past three years by Brian Flores, and that elite defensive play should continue to be a strong point of this team. Christian Wilkins, Xavien Howard, and Noah Igbinoghene all return as the studs of this defense. Veterans Emmanuel Ogbah and Jerome Baker also return. They are joined by newcomer Melvin Ingram. This defense might take a step back with Brian Flores running it, but it still has enough talent to be in the top 10.
The Dolphins’ season, maybe more than any other team, relies entirely on their QB. This team has enough talent to make some noise in the AFC, but not enough that mediocre QB play will be enough. Tua has to be “the guy” if this team is going to succeed.
Final Record Prediction: 8-9
4. New York Jets, 4-13, 4th place
The Jets have done some good things the last two offseasons. The one thing they did that I hated was draft Zach Wilson. I didn’t think he was a good draft prospect, and certainly not worth taking 2nd overall. I would’ve rather them have traded the pick and built the roster.
On offense, this season should be all about developing Wilson. It wasn’t a good look that he struggled so much while pretty much anyone else who came in after he got hurt looked at least competent. The Jets continued to get him help, drafting WR Garrett Wilson in the first-round. They also drafted RB Breece Hall in the second round. The rookies join Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Michael Carter. The Jets also signed TE CJ Uzomah. With a pretty solid offensive line and pretty good weapons, this offense has enough around Zach Wilson for him to succeed. The success of this offense will rest solely on his shoulders once he returns from his bone bruise.
The Jets used their first first-round pick on CB Sauce Gardner to add to a defense that looks better each year, which is no surprise given Robert Saleh is their HC. Gardner joins an already stout defense made up of Quinnen Williams, Quincy Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Carl Lawson, CJ Mosely, and LaMarcus Joyner. This defense has a lot of solid pieces and with Robert Saleh running the show, they have a chance to be a strength of this team.
Very simply put, the success of this team lies on Zach Wilson’s shoulders. I don’t think they have enough talent to compete in the AFC, but with solid QB play, they could be hovering around .500, which would be a big win for a franchise that has been bad for so long.
Final Record Prediction: 2-15
Final AFC EAST Standings
1. Bills, 13-4
2. Dolphins, 8-9
3. Patriots, 6-11
4. Jets, 2-15