It’s part two of “Beast of the East” week, which means I’ll be breaking down the AFC East for your enjoyment! For the first time in two decades, the New England Patriots will be without future Hall of Fame QB, Tom Brady. This division is up for grabs, and should be a fun one to keep an eye on throughout the duration of the 2020 season. However, only one team can win the East, and whoever wins it, should be the only one that makes the playoffs out of these four teams.
As of right now, the Buffalo Bills have the strongest roster on paper. They played great last season, and aim to be even better this year. The New York Jets may be one of the most slept on teams in the league, even though they played rather well in 2019. Look for the Jets to be competitive next year. Bill Belichick is still the Head Coach in New England, and as long as Emperor Palpatine himself is in command, you can never truly count the Patriots out. The Dolphins have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, so despite the excitement around this squad, their inexperience will likely prevent them from playing at their full potential.
Beast of the East
I have the Bills winning the Eastern division with relative ease, as I also view them as the 3rd best team in the AFC, only being behind the Ravens and the Chiefs. Vegas thinks differently, as they have the Bills winning 9 games in 2020. To me, that’s a bit underwhelming, as I envision Buffalo ending the regular season with a double digit win column.
Buffalo has 10 of 11 returning starters on offense, which is being led by QB Josh Allen. The guy can throw, and run the ball with the best of them, and has the talent to improve off his performance from a year ago (he reminds of a level headed version of Vince Young). The new starter on this offense is super star WR Stefon Diggs, who will be the Bills obvious WR1 on this team. The WR group played great last season with John Brown and Cole Beasley, but with Diggs in the picture, this Bills offense now has the weapons needed to be a legitimate threat through the air. Dawson Knox is also a young TE that could be a guy that emerges into the top TE conversation by the end of the season. Additionally, Buffalo’s run game should be tough stop, as Devin Singletary will likely garner a majority of the carries (finally). I like Singletary to be one of the top RBs in the NFL next season, which means this Bills offense should be capable of winning games through the air AND the ground. Buffalo’s offense is setup to run the table, and is easily the best offense in the AFC East.
This Bills defense is going to be for REAL this year. Ed Oliver and Mario Addison lead the way on the defensive line, and rookie AJ Epenesa will have opportunities this year to play too. Those 3 guys alone makes it hard to run on this defense, and the LB group will likely play at an above average level. Furthermore, the Bills secondary may be one of the best in the NFL this year, as Corner Tre’Davious White has been a lock down defender every year of his career. The front office also snagged Josh Norman, who looks to bounce back to full potential after having a down year in Washington. In addition to these guys, Micah Hyde is a fantastic Safety, and is still somehow under rated in this league. Buffalo has one of the most stacked defensive groups in the NFL, which will make it extremely difficult for opposing offenses to find success when facing the Bills.
The roster of this squad is stacked throughout, and they have a solid coaching staff to pair with it. The offense should put up the numbers, and the defense should be able to contain their opponents. I really like the Bill’s chances this season, as they have a great opportunity to make a deep playoff run.
New York Jets
I know what you might be thinking… “Really? The Jets in 2nd place? GTFOH”… or whatever acronym you want to come up with in the comments section. Vegas only has New York winning 7 games, but considering the state of the AFC East right now, and how surprising the Jets were in 2019, I like the Jet’s chances of being rather competitive next year. Although that may be the case, I still don’t think they have enough weapons to make it to the playoffs.
QB Sam Darnold leads the way as he enters his 3rd season of his career. Typically, a QBs 3rd season is when franchises (and fans especially) expect to see their young leader take the next step towards the top QB conversation. So far, Darnold hasn’t played all that bad, and he does have a chance to prove to New York that he can be the guy for years to come. The front office has done pretty well in building around their QB, especially this year after they drafted rookie LT Mekhi Becton in the first round. People also seem to be sleeping on RB Le’Veon Bell, who, despite not doing much the last two seasons, still has the juice to get back into the top RB discussions as well. In 2020, the Jets will likely be a run heavy offense, as New York has a rather weak WR group. Jamison Crowder and Breshaud Perriman will likely be their top 2 wideouts, and rookie Denzel Mims will have multiple opportunities to make some key plays for this offense. But right now, the Jet’s don’t have a true WR1 on the roster, which will make Darnold’s job a bit more difficult than Jets fans would like.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jets actually look pretty stout, and should be the reason this team stays competitive throughout the year. Quinnen Williams was an exciting rookie prospect last year, and he’ll likely improve his game this season, which could mean the Jets have a dominant force on the D-line. The LB group should cause fits for opposing offenses, as CJ Mosely and Jordan Jenkins are great at stopping the run. During this offseason, the Jets front office stole CB Pierre Desir away from the Colts, as Desir aims for have his biggest season of his career. And you can’t talk about the Jets without mentioning Jamaal Adams. Despite trade rumors circulating the twitter feed, Adams is a premiere Safety in the NFL, and is poised for another spectacular performance. The Jets defense should surprise opponents next year, as they have the potential to finish as a top 10 defense in the league.
I’m expecting the Jets to run the ball a lot, and rely on their defense to contain their opponents. It seems this team is being slept on due to the fact that HC Adam Gase has a bad reputation of not getting the most out of his players (AKA being a shitty coach). I still don’t see New York making it to the post season this year, but this will be a team you won’t want to play against late in the regular season.
New England Patriots
Placing the Patriots in 3rd place just feels weird (and honestly, kind of great), as a majority of my life watching NFL football, this team has dominated the league nearly every season. It’s hard to imagine New England dropping off the face of the earth with Bill Belichick still working as the Head Coach, which means I still think they’ll be competitive. Vegas has New England winning 9-10 games in 2020, which feels generous for a team that has lost so much in the offseason.
The Patriot Way is technically in full effect, even though they’ll be without Tom Brady for the first time in 20 years. The strongest asset the Pats have going into the regular season is the coaching staff. This team is the San Antonio Spurs of the NFL, they play team ball, and however boring it may be, it’s been extremely successful for this franchise. However that may be the case, it’s going to be difficult for New England to put up the points like we’re used to seeing on a weekly basis. Jarrett Stidham is the listed starter (for now) on this offense, which will be his first time playing as a starting QB. Luckily for Stidham, the Patriots have a rather stout offensive line, which will allow him to read the defense, and make his throws. So, that part, I’m not too worried about… It’s the WR group that really should worry Patriots fans this year. Sure, Julian Edelman is still on the roster, and will likely be a steady target for Jarrett Stidham. But outside of that, the Patriots WR group is desperately thin. Harry K’Neal was underwhelming his rookie season, and there doesn’t seem to be much optimism building around him. Mohamed Sanu was traded to New England in the middle of the 2019 regular season (they gave up a 2020, 2nd round pick… ouch). Sanu is a seasoned vet, and doesn’t quite play at the level we’ve seen him play before. He’ll be the WR3 on this team, but if he played anywhere else, he’d be the WR4, or possibly the WR5. The Patriots Tight End position is nothing to be too excited about either. They were never going to have Gronk this year, and selected two rookie TEs in the draft, and neither of them seemed like great pass catchers during their college careers. In fact, it’s likely that Matt LaCosse wins the starting role, who is an extremely unknown player across the league. I’m fully expecting the Patriots to be a run heavy team, and will probably utilize everyone in the backfield. Sony Michel should be the main RB, but guys like James White, Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris will all be fighting for carries. None of these RBs really jump out at me as a top Back, but as a committee, they do have a chance to do some damage.
Now, the Patriots have lost a few players on defense this year, but it seems they do every season, and still find a way to play as a top defense in the league. I think this defensive unit is going to be NASTY next year, and will contend with Buffalo for top defense in the AFC East. Dont’a Hightower is the clear cut leader in the front seven, and he has some great talent around him. Lawrence Guy is probably the best D-lineman on the roster, and looks to prove he’s one of the top guys in the NFL. The secondary is no joke either, as Stephon Gilmore is still one of the top CBs. While he should continue to dominate the passing game, the Patriots also have the McCourty twins (Devin and Jason) who have played at an extremely high level throughout their careers. The front office has done a great job in adding depth to this unit, as they have exciting young players like Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Anernee Jennings, who are all guys who are more than capable of playing at a high level. New England’s defense is by far the strongest part of this team, and will keep New England’s offense in a lot of games.
The defense is strong, and the offense just looks lack luster. Typically teams built this way can’t keep up with their opponents, as the defense is on the field all the time. When your defense is on the field for a majority of the game like that, they tend to start loosening up and allowing opponents to score. This is a playoff worthy defense paired with possibly the worst offense in the league. Mathematically, playoffs don’t seem to add up, and the Patriots 2020 season looks a bit bleak.
This offseason, the Miami Dolphins stayed busy, and made some huge acquisitions that should push this team towards the right direction. Although that may be the case, this team is young, and seriously needs to develop before they become a legit threat in the NFL. Vegas has them winning 6 games this year, which seems to make sense to me.
Miami had the most draft selections in this year’s draft, and will have a bunch more next year thanks to Texans HC/GM Bill O’Brien’s wheeling and dealing ability (heavy sarcasm). The Dolphins have a great chance to rebuild this team (again), and if the front office selected the right athletes, this could be a team that emerges as a playoff contender a few years from now. But, for 2020, Miami is going to go through a TON of growing pains, as they have a potential 5 rookie starters on the offense alone (along with 3 on defense). With a team so young and inexperienced, Miami is setup to have another long season ahead of them. Also include that a majority of the offensive rookies they selected are all guys that need development, this offense is going to struggle quite a bit next year. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Tua Tagovaila as much as the next guy, but his injury history in Alabama raises a red flag for this organization. Also factor in a mediocre O-line, with 4 rookies competing for reps, the Dolphins definitely chose the longest route possible in rebuilding this offense. I do like the signing of RB Jordan Howard, and he could be someone that gives the offense a little boost in the regular season. And DeVante Parker finally broke through his ceiling in 2019. I like Parker’s chances to repeat his performance, or even play better. Outside of that, I don’t have high hopes for this Dolphins offense.
The defense will be the strongest part of this franchise next year, especially after signing veteran players like OLB Kyle Van Noy, and CB Byron Jones. But the rest of the defense is just as young as the offense, which means the growing pains could dismantle this squad from the get go. In comparison with the rest of the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins, without a doubt, have the worst defense.
Despite being such a young team, I’m a huge fan of Head Coach Brian Flores. This guy has great potential to become a top HC one day, and he did a fantastic job with this team last year. The NFL is a “win now” league, and I really hope the Dolphins front office can be patient with the development of this team, and allow Flores to do his job these next few years. The Dolphins fanbase should be excited for the future of their team, but as for this coming season, fans shouldn’t be getting their hopes up too high.