Teams and Division Championships All-Time (Last 10 Years):
- New England Patriots: 20 (10)
- Miami Dolphins: 14 (0)
- Buffalo Bills: 10 (0)
- New York Jets: 4 (0)
In contrast to the AFC West, the AFC East is one of the most imbalanced divisions in the league, especially recently. The New England Patriots have dominated since the beginning of the 21st century and (spoiler for below), I fully expect them to continue that reign this year. The AFC East now features three starting QBs drafted in the first round in 2018, and one quarterback drafted 199th overall in 2000. Even if the results don’t change, the other teams have a new, exciting look at the very least. Here’s how I expect things to shake out:
New England Patriots
Yet again, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl last year, and yet again I expect them to finish in first place in this division. Despite the eventual victory, last season was something of a down year for New England. The talent across the roster was lacking, they lost their best wide receiver just a few weeks after they traded for him, their defense was still suspect at times, and they leaned heavily on an unproven rookie running back to win most of their games. And it worked flawlessly. The Patriots defense held the high-scoring Rams offense to 3 points in one of the best Super Bowl performances in NFL history, even if many people found it boring. While it may not end with a defensive performance like that one, this season should be better in terms of skill players.
Tom Brady was criticized for finally looking human at times last year, especially when he put up pedestrian stats in the playoffs. It has to be taken into consideration, though, that he didn’t have much to work with in terms of offensive threats besides himself. His top targets were an aging, injured Rob Gronkowski, a still-recovering/suspended Julian Edelman, a problematic Josh Gordon who didn’t even last until the end of the season, and a receiving back in James White. Though they lost Gronk in the off-season, the Patriots addressed their receiving issue by picking up Demaryius Thomas and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and drafting top Wide Receiver N’Keal Harry. Their offensive line is still one of the best in the league at both pass-blocking and run-blocking, and Sony Michel should take a step forward in his second year. On the defensive side of the ball, New England’s experienced secondary and strong Linebacker corps should be the heart of their defense again, and they’ve addressed losses on the Defensive Line with another few signings. Somehow, this team only figures to get better, as long as Brady holds up. It doesn’t hurt that they have an easy schedule.
Projected Record: 13-3
I have to give the edge to Buffalo here over the other two teams in the division for a few reasons. Firstly, they aren’t all that far removed from an actual playoff appearance, everyone else is. Secondly, out of the young QBs here, Allen showed the most drive to win in the last season. Darnold is probably better than him, but the rest of his team is a disaster, and he’s turnover prone. Rosen had the worst season of any starting QB in 2018, and now he’s been moved to a different organization that also isn’t that great; he’s going to need time to develop. If Tannehill could have started for the Dolphins over Rosen, maybe you could slot them in here, but it wouldn’t exactly be an impressive second place finish. Allen dominated the ground game somehow last year, after being hailed for his arm strength and not really anything else. You can’t blame him for wanting to run–Buffalo had an even weaker receiving corps than New England, likely the worst group in the league. With some additions there and some development from Allen, this team is more complete than any of the others in the East. It helps that their Defense is always impressive, regardless of how bad the offense usually looks.
This might be a do-or-die year for Head Coach Sean McDermott in Buffalo, and I have faith in that guy. He now has some talented young defensive players to work with in Tre White and Tremaine Edmunds, and overall the Bills have overperformed in the past few years he’s been around. If he can develop Allen as a legitimate passer–and that is a pretty big “if”–that would be the first time in many years that Buffalo has had a QB that is an actual threat from the pocket. They’re moving in the right direction so far this offseason, making additions at WR, TE, and OL, all of the positions that should encourage a young Quarterback to feel more comfortable throwing the ball. Their running back situation is kind of a question mark at this point, with LeSeaon McCoy aging and oldest-running-back-in-the-league Frank Gore being their Free Agent of choice there. However, Gore honestly doesn’t look like he’s slowing down, and the two of them create a pretty dynamic backfield where neither of them have to play an exhausting amount of snaps. With TJ Yeldon in the mix as well, the Bills have a deceptive amount of offensive weapons to deploy throughout games. I don’t expect a playoff berth here, but they’re on the way up.
Projected Record: 8-8
New York Jets
As far as I’m concerned, no team with Le’Veon Bell can finish in last place in their division. Like a great QB, Bell is good for a few wins throughout the year by himself, due to his versatility and ability to make big plays any time he has the ball. As noted before, the Jets are a disaster as far as most of the roster goes. However, they’re making the right moves in the offseason so far, and starting to build a team that could be a real threat in a couple of years. Signing LB C.J. Mosley, WR Jamison Crowder, K Chandler Catanzaro – these are all names that will make a team more consistent at the very least. Pretty much any signing they’ve made will contribute to this team because they needed help absolutely everywhere. If they can lock up CB’s Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne from Free Agency, as well as maybe Jermaine Kearse, the New York Jets could start to reach Denver Broncos status. Do you expect them to win? No, absolutely not. But could they? Maybe. And “Maybe” is the best thing Jets fans have had to celebrate in a long time.
Concerning Sam Darnold specifically, I mentioned before that he was turnover-prone, and he is. Aside from that though, he showed the best pure passing skills out of anyone in the draft last year, and those are the kind of skills that will improve as he gets used to reading defenses and making the high-percentage plays. You pretty much can’t ask for a better weapon to take the pressure off of him than Le’Veon Bell either, and I think he’ll have more success as a direct result of that signing. Teams will no longer be able to sit back and wait to see what he does with the ball; they have to actively adjust to what the Jets are doing, or they’ll get burned. Notably, the young receiving duo of Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa will also be back to full strength next year, so Darnold will have somewhere to put the ball. As far as defense goes, it depends on who they sign, but there will be strong and weak points that I expect to balance out. With an easy schedule next year, the Jets still won’t look great. But they’ll be better.
Projected Record: 6-10
I’m sorry Rosen, I’m really rooting for you in Miami. This just isn’t your year though. The Dolphins finally gave up on Ryan Tannehill and have entered full rebuild mode. They were more than happy to trade for Josh Rosen, who needs more time to develop as a QB, because they need more time to develop as a real football team. Besides that move, I can’t even say that their other decisions so far have been all that great. They signed Eric Rowe, a young cornerback with a lot of upside, and Dwayne Allen, a solid run-blocking TE with decent receiving skils. I’ll give them credit for those. But they also released Danny Amendola, an ideal safety blanket for a quarterback, and re-signed DeVante Parker, who has been nothing but a complete disappointment since he was drafted. Their focus right now should be on loading up on talented young players, and as long as they can manage that, the AFC East could finally be a real competition for the first time in years. But the odds that all 3 of these non-Patriots teams can pull that off are pretty low.
There are a few bright spots in Miami though, and I’ll address those. Even if he’s a dirty player, MLB Kiko Alonso is still a talented defensive signal caller and all-around asset. CB Xavien Howard has developed into one of the best in the league, while S Minkah Fitzpatrick is on his way to being elite as well after just one year. The Offensive Line is getting there as well, maybe breaking the top 15 in the league at this point, and Tight End Mike Gesicki has an unbelievable amount of upside in the passing game. Kenyan Drake has been a pretty decent halfback so far as well. These guys and Rosen are the building blocks for the future of this team.
Projected Record: 4-12