For the first time in several years, the AFC East appears to be a much closer race. It will be the first time in two decades that a quarterback named Tom Brady will not suit up for the New England Patriots. Still, the New England dynasty has the master – head coach Bill Belichick – at the controls.
The Patriots will finally have some real competition for the division title, something New England has won for the past 12 seasons. Buffalo, with its powerful defense and running game, has been closing the gap on the Patriots. The 2020 season could be the year Buffalo emerges as a playoff contender.
For years, Buffalo has been terrorized by Brady. Last year, the Bills lost a pair of games by one score. They dropped the first one 16-10 and then could not capitalize on a game-tying drive in the second losing 24-17.
This could finally be the year Buffalo turns the corner. Quarterback Josh Allen took a step forward in his second year in the league and now he has a game-breaker in WR Stefon Diggs. The former Vikings wide receiver was acquired in a trade and should help ignite the Bills offense.
The defense, which was outstanding in 2019, should be one of the NFL’s best again. Buffalo re-signed DTs Quinton Jefferson and Vernon Butler and DE Mario Addison. The Bills top draft pick was DE A.J. Epenesa who at 6-6 and 280 pounds, should make an immediate impact.
The Bills are a +105 favorite to win the AFC East for the first time since 1995 when Marv Levy was still the head coach.
The Favorites Part II
Even without Brady, the Patriots are a +115 favorite to win the AFC East again. Since 2001, New England has won the division every season but two – 2002 and 2008. The Patriots finished second in each of those seasons and those are the only two years in the decade New England has failed to make the postseason.
The big question for New England is at quarterback. Does second-year Jarrett Stidham step in and assume the starting role? Belichick signed Brian Hoyer in the offseason and there is a chance he could be the opening day starter.
New England also signed undrafted free agents Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith, but neither would appear to be in line to become the Day 1 starter.
What Belichick will have though is another outstanding defense. New England led the NFL in total defense (275.9 ypg) and scoring defense (14.1 ppg) last season. If the defense can keep the Patriots in games, the offense just might come around with whoever starts at quarterback.
The Rest of the Division
Both the Jets and the Dolphins are given +700 odds to win the division. Neither is really in a position to pull off the upset. The 2019 Jets were a lesson in Murphy’s Law. Everything that could go wrong did for the Jets last year.
It started with the bout of mononucleosis for QB Sam Darnold. That kept him out for most of the first half of the season. Backup QB Trevor Siemian got hurt in Week 2 forcing Luke Falk into action. The Jets had injury after injury add to their misery and by the time Darnold was healthy it was just too late.
The Jets still have RB Le’Veon Bell who had a miserable year in 2019 and a top-10 defense with the likes of C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams. What New York lacks is a pass rush, which championship contenders possess.
The Dolphins have also made some strides, maybe even more so than the Jets. What will be interesting is the quarterback battle. Miami drafted former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Tagovailoa will compete with Josh Rosen and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
It’s likely that Fitzpatrick wins the job – one he has had before in Miami – with Tagovailoa as the understudy. Regardless, the Dolphins need to get much better on both sides of the ball before they become a real contender in the AFC East.
First-round pick Austin Jackson should step in and play offensive tackle right away. The Dolphins also took guard Robert Hunt from Louisiana-Lafayette in the second round.
The defense, which ranked 30th in the league (397.8 ypg), must improve. The Dolphins took Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene in the first round to try and upgrade the secondary. Still, at +700 Miami’s roster just doesn’t give that bet much value.