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New England Patriots (11-5)
The Patriots come into the season as defending champions (again), and there is no reason to expect they won’t win this AFC division (again). Tom Brady continues to defy time, and while he turns 42 in training camp, I expect at least one more year of his stellar play. The Patriots got him another toy, drafting receiver N’Keal Harry in the first round. They also added depth to their defense with corner Joejuan Williams and linebacker Chase Winovich in the second and third rounds respectively. I expect Sony Michel to have a big year this season running the football, and while the offensive line has their struggles at times, the Patriots figure that out like they always do. Michael Bennett helps the defensive line and Dont’a Hightower will continue to play at his usual high level at linebacker. Stephon Gilmore is still a top-end corner as well. No one in this division has shown the capability of competing with the Patriots, and while the end will eventually come, I won’t predict it until it happens.
New York Jets (7-9)
The progression of Sam Darnold is without a doubt the key to the Jets season. While I didn’t see anything to suggest Sam Darnold can’t be a franchise quarterback last season, I didn’t see anything to suggest he is a guarantee to live up to the fans hopes for him either. Le’Veon Bell gives this offense a much needed dynamic playmaker. Kelechi Osemele needs to solidify that offensive line for both the running and passing game, however. Robby Anderson, Quincy Enuwa, and Jamison Crowder are capable receivers, but one of them needs to step up and be the leading man though. Enuwa has the best skill set to do so. Defensively, they have top-end players on all three levels. First-round pick Quinnen Williams (NT) will be a force up front and despite Jets fans protests, Leonard Williams is a very good lineman in that 3-4. I don’t know why he is so maligned. Avery Williamson is a solid linebacker, and Jamal Adams is one of the best safeties in the league. Corner is shaky, however, and Trumaine Johnson will have to have a bounce-back year, especially on that big contract. Adam Gase should have this team improved. I don’t see the playoffs for this team, however.
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
Buffalo is an interesting team with the talent on the defensive line. The drafting of Ed Oliver to pair with Star Lotulelei should make this team tough to run against and give much-needed pressure up the middle, which will come in handy against quarterbacks like Tom Brady. I’d like to see how Jerry Hughes will fair on the outside with those two clogging up the middle. Tre’Davious White will need to continue his ascension at cornerback and E.J. Gaines is serviceable on the other side. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are underrated safeties as well. My concerns are with the offense. Josh Allen showed flashes last year and they have addressed their offensive line in some capacity. Cole Beasley will be a nice security blanket for the young quarterback as well. I’m not sure what to expect from their running backs, however. LeSean McCoy is up there in age and they did bring in Frank Gore. Gore has always been an exception to the rule but who knows how much longer he can continue that. If the defense can gel as they’re capable of and the questions on offense get the potential answers that are there, the Bills can surprise some teams. I still see too many weaknesses though for them to make a serious run.
Miami Dolphins (4-12)
It’s hard to envision Miami doing much of anything this season. In fact, rumors are this team intends to tank. Whether they are trying to win or not there won’t be many to come by this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick is penciled as the starter for now and he does have speedy weapons in Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake out of the backfield, and DeVante Parker is a big-bodied target downfield. With Fitzpatrick’s habit of turning the ball over, I don’t know how much of a positive this is. I think Josh Rosen is getting a bad rap for what happened with a bad team in Arizona. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn to him at some point. Xavien Howard has become a very good corner and Minkah Fitzpatrick should continue to develop into a solid safety. The rest of the defense doesn’t show me much though. Reliable guys like Cameron Wake are no longer there and there are too many holes. Teams like the Cowboys and Eagles will love seeing the Dolphins on their AFC schedule this year, and first-time head coach Brian Flores has his work cut out for him.
This is the AFC East Preview.
Next week we will give you the NFC East.