Are you ready for some football? We sure are. Today, we preview the AFC East Division. At first glance, it would appear that the New England Patriots are finally ready to step aside as the division’s top team. The Buffalo Bills are nipping at their heels after getting a taste of the AFC Playoffs last season. The Bills are talented and hungry. But are they ready? And what about Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins? And are the New York Jets primed for takeoff? Here’s what our crystal ball says:
1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2019 RECORD: 12-4
KEY ADDITIONS: Cam Newton (QB)
KEY LOSSES: Tom Brady (QB), Dont’a Hightower (LB, opted out), Patrick Chung (S, opted out)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Coaching + Cam = Crown”
The Pats’ usual formula used to be “Continuity + Cheating = Championships” (we kid, kinda!), but that’s no longer the case. Tom Brady is now in Tampa, and Bill Belichick’s reputation as the chief architect of the Patriots dynasty will be put to the test. At least for one more season, we’re not ready to bet against him. While the Buffalo Bills appear primed to dethrone New England as the division’s top team, Belichick has a way of making doubters eat their words. Besides, the team rebounded nicely with the acquisition of Newton. If he can stay healthy, he could have a better season than Brady. Everyone waiting for the Patriots to falter will have to keep waiting. They’ll take the division again in 2020.
2. BUFFALO BILLS
2019 RECORD: 10-6
KEY ADDITIONS: Stefon Diggs (WR), Mario Addison (EDGE)
KEY LOSSES: Shaq Lawson (EDGE), Lorenzo Alexander (EDGE), Star Lotulelei (DT, opted out), EJ Gaines (CB, opted out)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Not Mature + Not Enough Weapons = Not Yet”
The Bills are young and talented, and they took a big step forward in 2019 by making the playoffs. But we’re not quite yet ready to pronounce third-year signal-caller Josh Allen as a championship-level QB. Although the former Wyoming Cowboy improved in almost every area in 2019, he still needs to be a more accurate passer and a better decision maker. Also, despite adding Stefon Diggs to an already capable receiving corps, the Bills still lack weapons at the RB and TE positions. This team will likely be carried (again) by its defense. Once the offense catches up, so will the Bills catch up to the Patriots.
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS
2019 RECORD: 5-11
KEY ADDITIONS: Tua Tagovailoa (QB), Ereck Flowers (OG), Shaq Lawson (EDGE), Byron Jones (CB), Jordan Howard (RB)
KEY LOSSES: Reshad Jones (S), Allen Hurns (WR, opted out)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Tua + Time = Turnaround”
Is it Tua Time in South Beach? Not yet, but it’s coming. Even incumbent starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has acknowledged that he is a “placeholder” for the promising rookie from Hawaii. And, much to Fitzpatrick’s credit, he has embraced his role as a mentor to Tua. The Dolphins have so far made all the right moves to position Tua for success, including taking steps to fortify their offensive line. A healthy Tua can take the Dolphins from the AFC East cellar to a notch or two above the New York Jets. We are also big believers in head coach Brian Flores, a Belichick disciple who led the Dolphins to a strong finish in 2019, his first year as an NFL head coach. After going 0-7 to start the season, Miami went 5-4 the rest of the way. This team is going in the right direction.
4. NEW YORK JETS
2019 RECORD: 7-9
KEY ADDITIONS: Frank Gore (RB), George Fant (OT), Connor McGovern (C), Joe Flacco (QB)
KEY LOSSES: Jamal Adams (S), Robby Anderson (WR), Demaryius Thomas (WR), Ty Montgomery (RB), CJ Mosley (LB, opted out)
FORMULA FOR 2020: “Darnold + Defections = Disappointment”
We love Gary Dickman, but we think he’s in for a rough 2020 NFL season. The Jets occasionally tease their fans by showing great promise, only to fall back into mediocrity by season’s end. In fact, the same can be said for QB Sam Darnold. He shows flashes of potential, then has everyone wondering if he’d be better off holding a clipboard on the sideline. It’s now Season 3 for the former USC Trojan, and his performance this year may go a long way in determining his future as a Jet. What’s not in question is the hit that the team took by losing safety Jamal Adams, their best defensive player. Their top receiver, Robby Anderson, is also gone. Top LB CJ Mosley opted out of the 2020 campaign. Bottom line: These Jets won’t take flight anytime soon.
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