Everyone, except for New England Patriots fans, didn’t mind the juggernauts of the NFL being knocked down a peg or two after the departure of Tom Brady.
The AFC East will now look a lot different without arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, and in this exercise, without any quarterbacks factored in, the Patriots no longer beat out their closest competition. Here, the Buffalo Bills take that honor. Are they in a position to win the division with all of the pieces surrounding third-year passer Josh Allen? The short answer: Yes.
Allen is now the best quarterback in the division. He edges out Sam Darnold, also out of the 2018 class but with a lot more to prove in Year 3, in New York; Jared Stidham, who will take over for Brady; and the Miami Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa. The rest of the Bills’ roster isn’t in bad shape either.
Let’s take a closer look.
Any team topping the Patriots is odd, and I wouldn’t have pegged the previously sputtering Bills to be the one to do it. But after a 10-win season and an influx of young, and newly signed, talent, Buffalo has the strongest roster in the division.
The Bills traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs in their biggest move of the offseason and used their draft picks to continue to add talent around Allen; Buffalo selected receivers Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins as well as running back Zack Moss. Moss will help fill the hole Frank Gore left, but the aging back was a short-term option. Now, Moss can pair with second-year back Devin Singletary and create a young, energized 1-2 punch from the backfield. The Bills’ tight end room already has depth, and their healthy offensive line will now have the services of All-Pro Daryl Williams.
Both Buffalo and New England’s offensive lines are the most established here, the only difference heading into this season is the absence of coach Dante Scarnecchia on the Patriots’ sideline. So, the Bills got the nod here and again with the defensive line with the veteran additions of Mario Addison and Vernon Butler. Buffalo’s secondary—most notably with Tre'Davious White—make its defense one of the best, top to bottom, in this division.
White is the star here, and the Bills know it; they exercised his fifth-year option. Since 2016, White is the only player to lead the league in interceptions without allowing a single touchdown, according to Sharp Football Analysis’ Warren Sharp.
New England Patriots
New England is more vulnerable than ever. Bill Belichick has done a masterful job of building around Brady, but now with Brady gone and his unproven replacement out of this picture, the talent looks thin.
One of the biggest losses, for the second season in a row, is tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots will look to 2015 undrafted free agent Matt LaCosse and two rookies—Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene—to try a drum up an ounce of the production Gronkowski had. The Patriots still have Julian Edelman, a reliable pass-catcher with Brady under center, but he’ll have to prove he can be a top receiver with Stidham.
They also have Sony Michel, who didn’t quite live up to the high hopes placed on him ahead of the 2019 season but still bested 900 rushing yards for the second consecutive year. His production and pass-catching will need to improve for the third-year back to play up to his first-round value.
New England lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy to Miami and Jamie Collins to Detroit, and its defensive line will be without Danny Shelton, who also went to the Lions. However, the Patriots’ best position group on defense is their secondary, which has been largely unaffected by turnover. Stephon Gilmore returns after earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. New England re-signed Devin McCourty and added safety Kyle Dugger via the draft.
Have the tides turned for the Dolphins? It seems to look that way. After three consecutive losing seasons, Miami finally has—hopefully, has—its franchise quarterback and a lot of options surrounding him.
Mike Gesicki will be a reliable target at tight end after posting career highs in receptions (51), yards (570), and touchdowns (five) in 2019. Gesicki posted some of his best performances later in the season, as all five touchdowns were scored from Week 11 on. DeVante Parker is arguably the best receiver in the division. In fact, he was the best receiver in the AFC East last season. He posted 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns on 72 receptions—all career highs—and will continue to be the top target in 2020. The Dolphins traded for Matt Breida and signed Jordan Howard to add some depth to their backfield; Miami finished with a league-worst 72.3 rushing yards per game last season.
The Dolphins added offensive line talent as well in an effort to protect the new face of their franchise. They signed Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras and drafted Austin Jackson with their 18th overall pick. This was one of their weakest areas last season. Miami will need to protect its rookie passer, who comes into the league after injuries plagued his collegiate career.
The Dolphins also addressed a number of needs on defense. They added Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah to help with pass-rushing and drafted Raekwon Davis to help with their depth. Xavien Howard will need to bounce back after a forgettable season and now has Byron Jones opposite of him to create a great cornerback tandem if he does it.
New York Jets
It’s almost painful to have to put Le’Veon Bell in the bottom of these rankings, but the Jets lack depth behind him, and signing Gore certainly doesn’t help long term. But it’s not all doom and gloom in New York. The Jets made some key moves this offseason—whether or not it will all mesh if and when the season starts, is what landed them here.
New York has revamped its lowly offensive line by signing Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, Alex Lewis, and George Fant and drafting Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick. The Jets’ offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL in run blocking and sat just above the Dolphins, according to Football Outsiders.
Bell’s production, and that of the non-existent quarterback in these rankings, will depend largely on what the offensive front can improve on in 2020. The Jets have a decent tight end room, manned by Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin, and signed Breshad Perriman to add to the receiving corps to make up for the loss of Robby Anderson. Incumbent Jamison Crowder and second-round draft pick Denzel Mims make up the rest of a decent receivers room.
The Jets need a healthy year from both C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson in the middle of the defense and Quinnen Williams to take the next step in his career after being selected third overall in the 2019 draft.
Jamal Adams is reportedly on his way out; the All-Pro cornerback has requested a trade, saying multiple times online, “It’s time to move on.” His departure would be a big blow to New York’s secondary, and the unit would be pretty green. New York did sign former Indianapolis Colts starting cornerback Pierre Desir and drafted safety Ashtyn Davis, who is capable of playing strong safety and could potentially be Adams’ replacement.
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