The Patriots have claimed 11 consecutive AFC East division titles and 16 of the last 17, but the departure of quarterback Tom Brady and several key pieces in the defensive front seven paves the course for a new king of the east.
While the Patriots are champions until someone else knocks them off, the door appears to be wide open for New England’s reign to end.
Let’s examine the biggest hurdle each team in the AFC East faces in the race for the crown in 2020.
Buffalo Bills: Meeting Expectations
Fresh off a 10-6 season and Buffalo’s second playoff berth in the last three seasons, many believe the Bills are primed to win the division for the first time since 1995. Buffalo is armed with one of the best defensive units in football and an offense that remains intact from 2019 with the notable addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs and young talent continuing to mature in the league.
The challenge for so many teams where expectations are suddenly high is actually meeting them. Buffalo is well-coached under Sean McDermott, who has built a competitive culture with the Bills since being hired in 2017. He inspires plenty of belief that his team won’t get caught up in its press clippings. But with that in mind, the Bills are set out for a mission it has not accomplished in 25 years.
Miami Dolphins: New Pieces Coming Together
There’s so much to like about the direction Miami is headed in. In his first season as head coach, Brian Flores took a roster full of fringe NFL players and found five wins over the last nine games of the season, including a victory that took the Patriots out of a postseason bye.
The Dolphins were aggressive in free agency, adding a host of pricey young talent in addition to 11 picks in the draft including three first-round selections and six in the top 70.
In a reduced offseason, Miami is acclimating roughly 10 new starters in addition to changes at both offensive and defensive coordinators. Getting all of that to mesh together in such a short period of time is extremely challenging but the talent upgrade in the roster from 2019 to 2020 is substantial.
New England Patriots: The Worst QB Room in Football
New England went from having the greatest quarterback of all time to arguably the least desirable quarterback room in football. The depth chart includes journeyman Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round draft pick from 2019 who has thrown four passes in his NFL career.
The Patriots are likely to rely on their defense while running the football on offense in order to compete. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and there’s plenty to be concerned about in New England’s current options.
New York Jets: Adam Gase
New York finished 2019 on a hot streak, going 6-2 in the back half of the season after a 1-7 start. The roster has been improved at wide receiver, offensive line, running back, cornerback and a healthy C.J. Mosley in the middle of the defense will be a big boost.
While there appears to be plenty of momentum with the Jets, Adam Gase serving as the head coach sours expectations. Gase has been a head coach in the NFL since 2016 and his teams have finished with a losing record in three consecutive seasons. His lack of success as a head coach is concerning but so is the frequent issues he’s had managing personnel. The contrast is performance of players before and after playing under Gase throughout his history as a head coach is drastically different.
The Jets have enough talent to make a run for the division but overcoming Gase as the leader of the football team is the biggest hurdle for the team to clear.