Vault Valuables: AFC East Preview


The AFC East has long been owned by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. That changed when he left for Tampa Bay and Josh Allen and the Bills took the league by storm. Can anyone unseat Buffalo this season?

 

Buffalo Bills

After having an amazing season, the Bills have -150 odds to win the division. With the makeup of their team, it doesn’t seem like they are slowing down. Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll are masterminds on both sides of the ball.

Offense

Quarterback

After having a shaky first two seasons (especially in regard to accuracy), Josh Allen put it all together last year, as he had an MVP caliber season. He jumped up to almost 70 percent completion percentage, had 37 touchdown passes, and 4500 passing yards. On top of that, he had over 400 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown. He has the height, arm, legs, etc. Josh Allen is the total package (as long as he can keep his accuracy up), and he is in line to get a massive contract extension very soon. He sure looks like Buffalo’s franchise QB.

Skill Positions

At running back, the Bills have Zack Moss and Devin Singletary, and they brought in Matt Breida to be a complemental piece. Last season, Singletary and Moss split carries, with Singletary being in on third downs and Moss being in on short yardage situations. This year, Breida will likely be the pass catcher, as he is one of the fastest players in the league. Also, the Bills don’t pass very often, so it looks like they’re set here with three good pieces in their backfield.

Trading for Stefon Diggs last year was arguably the best decision the front office could have made. Diggs led the league in catches and yards last year with 127 and 1,535 respectively. He was also able to score eight touchdowns which was top 15 in the league. It seemed like every game Allen would find him for at least a couple of huge chunk plays, and he could always count on Diggs to move the chains. Behind Diggs, the Bills brought back Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah Mckenzie. They also signed Emmanuel Sanders to add to this corps. Overall, this position group is deep and talented and will help out Josh Allen tremendously.

At tight end, Buffalo’s starter will be Dawson Knox. Last season, Knox had almost 300 yards and three touchdowns, but it felt like he was much more impactful than that when watching their games. They also brought in Jacob Hollister and Tommy Sweeney (in Buffalo last year) to be Knox’s backups.

Offensive Line

Buffalo’s line was largely successful last year and played a big part in their victories. If you can impose your will in the trenches, you tend to win games. The starters here will be Dion Dawkins, Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse, Cody Ford, and Daryl Williams. If you have success on the line, why not keep the same group? That is exactly what Brandon Beane did. They look to be a top ten offensive line in the league, giving Josh Allen loads of time to throw and opening up holes in the run game.

Defense

Front Seven

The Bills defense was elite last year. As has been said throughout many of these articles, a lot of success is determined in the trenches. This defensive line has Jerry Hughes, Ed Oliver, Star Lotulelei, and Mario Addison as the starters. Off the edges, they have AJ Epenesa and this year’s first rounder, Greg Rousseau off the bench to rotate in. To make a long story short, this front line is really good, and will not get cooked by the opposing team’s offense very often.

Not only do they have a great line, but the second level of their front seven has impact players on it as well. Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, and AJ Klein are the starters at the linebacker spots. All three have excelled in this defense, especially Edmunds and Milano (Edmunds is a former first round pick and Milano just re-signed for a large sum of money). Behind them though, there is not much depth, so they may want to go out and sign a veteran now so that they are not lacking if one of their first three starters goes down with a long term injury.

Secondary

You thought just some of a defense could be elite? Think again. The Bills have great players all over the roster. In the cornerback spot, they have Tre’Davious White who is arguably one of the top five corners in the game. While he may not pick the ball off an extreme amount (even though he has 15 interceptions in his first four years), he is as lock down as it gets. You are not really going to be able to pick on him much. Opposite of White is Levi Wallace. He isn’t bad at all, but he is certainly the weakest link on this defense. While it may not matter much because essentially the other 10 players on the starting unit are elite, quarterbacks tend to throw towards his side due to fear of White or the impact safeties that are about to be mentioned.

Those two star safeties are Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Last season, the strong safety, Poyer, had 124 tackles. Meanwhile Hyde didn’t have as good of a statistical season as Poyer, but he was a blanket up top. Free safeties are meant to be the quarterback of the defense, they don’t necessarily make so many tackles. But regardless, this safety tandem is likely the best in the league.

Overall

It is clear that this Bills team is one of the best in the league. If Josh Allen and Brian Daboll can keep up their magic on the offensive side of the ball, this team is likely to be a top two super bowl contender in the AFC (along with the always dangerous Chiefs). The defense will perform, and this Bills team has talent all over the roster. It almost feels like a foregone conclusion that those -150 odds to win the AFC East are a safe and sure bet to win you some money.

 

Miami Dolphins

At +325, the Dolphins will need a repeat performance from their defense (6th best scoring defense in 2020) and a large improvement from 2nd year Tua Tagovailoa if they want to make the playoffs.

Offense

Quarterback

After surprisingly taking over for Ryan Fitzpatrick 6 games through, Tua Tagovailoa threw 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He went 6-3 as a starter; however, he was pulled from a few games (Fitzpatrick would take over). He was criticized for not pushing the ball downfield, a product of both the playbook and him not trusting contested throws. This season, new offensive coordinators, a new playbook, and Tua’s improvements have so far led to good reviews in training camp. The year 1 to year 2 jump seems like it should be big for Tua, but there is no guarantee in this league.

Skill Positions

After many assumed the Dolphins would select a running back in the draft, they opted to not take one early. Instead, they will ride with last year’s starter, Myles Gaskin, along with Salvon Ahmed and newly signed Malcolm Brown. Gaskin will likely be the all around guy, good at running, catching, and especially pass blocking. Ahmed is the speed guy, and Malcolm Brown will be the short yardage/goal line back. Many also thought they would add a veteran, but so far they are content with this group.

The wide receiver group for the Dolphins was arguably the worst in the league by the end of the season. The front office made sure that would not be the case this year, surrounding Tua with plenty of weapons to throw to. They bring back Devante Parker, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant, and got back Albert Wilson from his COVID opt-out. They also signed Will Fuller V in free agency and made Jaylen Waddle the second receiver off the board at 6th overall. Clearly, this group will be improved. Parker is the big jump ball guy, Waddle is the speedster, Wilson has received amazing reviews throughout camp (his chemistry with Tagovailoa looks like they’ve played together for years), and Will Fuller was a huge signing out of free agency (he hasn’t practiced much due to injury). Overall, as long as they stay healthy (big ask for this group), Tua should have plenty of weapons to target, and ones that should get open and hold on to the ball.

Tight end is also strong. While he is not the greatest blocker, Mike Gesicki is a great athlete, and he has great hands to go along with his 6’6” frame. Behind him are Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe who will rotate in as well. The Dolphins also drafted Hunter Long in the third round, but he was carted off during a practice.

Offensive Line

Despite all the investments in the offensive line, the reviews out of training camp and the first preseason game have been abysmal. From left to right, the starters are likely to be Austin Jackson (first round pick), Liam Eichenberg (second round pick), Michael Dieter (third round pick), Robert Hunt (second round pick), and Jesse Davis (5 million per year). With all the investments in this offensive line, one would think it would be successful, but it has been dreadful. There is also no depth on the line. They need to call a veteran or make a trade. The line isn’t great.

Defense

Front Seven

A lot of this defense’s success has to do with scheme rather than talent, especially in terms of pass rushing. On the line, Miami will rotate Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, Andrew Van Ginkel, Adam Butler, Zach Sieler, and Jaelan Phillips, among others. While many of these players may not be household names, Brian Flores and Josh Boyer scheme up pressure with their Amoeba look like no other. Phillips has yet to play any snaps, as this year’s 18th overall pick was injured in practice. Other than that, overall, this defensive line has many above average players that play for the team rather than themselves, and that starts with Wilkins.

At linebacker, the Dolphins main starters will be Jerome Baker and Bernardrick Mckinney. Baker was just given a large contract extension and has led the team in tackles two years in a row. He also excels in pass coverage and blitzing. Mckinney was brought over from Houston in a trade. He is a run stuffer who looks to return to his pro bowl ways after injuring his shoulder last year. Behind Mckinney is Elandon Roberts who is essentially a lesser version of Mckinney. After them three, their depth is lacking though, and they may want to add another player via free agency or trade.

Secondary

Brian Flores’s defense heavily relies on lockdown man to man coverage. That is precisely why they have invested heavily in cornerback. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are two of the highest paid corners in the league. Jones plays a lockdown type style, meanwhile Howard is a ball hawk as he led the league in interceptions last year with ten. Behind them is first rounder Noah Igbinoghene, undrafted star Nik Needham, Justin Coleman, and others. They will all rotate and play a lot in dime and nickel packages.

At safety, a Flores defense also requires many players. After getting rid of Bobby Mccain last year in a salary dump, the safety room is left with Eric Rowe, Jason Mccourty, Brandon Jones, and second rounder Jevon Holland. Rowe will largely blanket the opposite team’s tight end, and Holland will play deep. They will also rotate in veteran Jason Mccourty and 2nd year player Brandon Jones.

Overall

This year is the year to advance to the playoffs for the Dolphins. They started a massive rebound, and they finally have the roster and personnel to make the playoffs. They need 10+ wins and hope to take the league by storm.

 

New England Patriots

At +350, the Patriots and Bill Belichick hope to return to the glory they had for about two decades.

Offense

Quarterback

After a disappointing last year for Cam Newton, the Patriots drafted Mac Jones 15th overall. In a shocking turn of events, New England has released Newton, giving Jones to the keys to the franchise. Bill Belichick must think he found his next Tom Brady.

Skill Positions

Running back has always been a mystery in New England. Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and James White are the main three backs for the Patriots. As of right now, it seems that Harris will be the lead back with White being the main pass catcher. Former first rounder Sony Michel hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but he hopes to prove his worth as the backup (or if Harris gets hurt).

Receiver was upgraded this offseason, but it is still not great. The Patriots signed Nelson Agholor after his breakout season for the Raiders last year and Kendrick Bourne after having another solid year with the 49ers. Jakobi Meyers will return after becoming Cam Newton’s favorite target last year. They also have their former first round pick N’Keal Harry, even though he requested a trade due to his subpar performance so far in New England. Besides them, there isn’t much depth.

The Patriots invested heavily in tight end this offseason. They gave large contracts to Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith even after drafting Devin Asiasi last year. They will be more than fine here, as they are trying to re-establish what they had when they ran two tight end sets with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. While Smith and Henry aren’t as physical as Gronk and Hernandez, they are big receiving threats that have speed and athleticism. Newton is going to love those two.

Offensive Line

When they had Tom Brady, the Patriots always had a strong line. While they have a different quarterback, the strength of the offensive line is no different. Isaiah Wynn is a former first round pick. Mike Onwenu had an amazing rookie campaign last year. David Andrews is one of the best centers in the league. Shaw Mason and Trent Brown form an amazing (and massive) tandem on the right side. Overall, this offensive line should be top 10, maybe even top 5 in the entire league.

Defense

Front Seven

The Patriots spent serious money in free agency. A lot of that went to the defensive side. On their d-line, the rotation will consist of Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, Christian Barmore, Henry Anderson, Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich, and Josh Uche. A lot of money and draft picks have been spent on these big boys. Bill Belichick, one of the best coaches of all time (if not the best), knows that trench play is important, and he spent to improve it. Judon was their big signing, and they brought back Van Noy to complement him on the outside.

At linebacker, the Patriots will be getting back Don’t’a Hightower from his COVID-19 opt-out. Hightower is one of the best linebackers in the game, as well as one of the hardest hitters. Next to him will be Ja’Whuan Bentley. Bentley had 90 tackles this past year filling in for Hightower among others.

Secondary

On the outside, the Patriots have one of the best duos in the league. Former defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore shadows one side (he wants a new contract), and JC Jackson (among leaders in interceptions the last two seasons) will shadow the other side. Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills (brought over from Philadelphia) will help as backups and in the slot.

At safety, the Patriots have Devin Mccourty (one of the best in the league), Adrian Phillips who had 109 tackles last season, Kyle Dugger (last year’s second round pick), and Adrian Colbert (a good veteran). Overall, this group has a lot of talent and depth and will help out this defense tremendously.

Overall

This Patriots team will certainly not be as successful as the Brady-led teams, but they shouldn’t be too bad. With an elite defense and Bill Belichick, you can never count them out of contention.

 

New York Jets

At +2500, the Vegas book makers are essentially saying that the Jets have no chance to win the division.

Offense

Quarterback

After hiring a new coach in Robert Saleh, the Jets also drafted Zach Wilson to be their new quarterback at number 2 overall. The BYU product burst on to the scene last year, and the Jets are hoping he will be their QB of the future. With a huge arm and what many scouts believe to be massive potential, Wilson has a chance to develop into a top ten QB. Throughout training camp, he has been up and down, as you might expect from a rookie. Being the starter from day one, he will get real game experience right away, and he will have to lead this team as best he can.

Skill Positions

The running backs for the Jets are fine, but nothing special. They signed Tevin Coleman in free agency and drafted UNC’s Michael Carter in the fourth round of the draft. They also have Ty Johnson and La’Michael Perine who played in New York last year. Carter has been getting plenty of first team reps so far throughout training camp, but this is likely to be a split of carries between Coleman and Carter for at least the first bit of the season. Overall, they should be fine at the position.

The Jets also upgraded at receiver this offseason. They signed Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, drafted Elijah Moore, and have Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims returning from last year. Davis and Wilson seem to have a nice rapport so far. Moore has exceeded all expectations and has so far looked like a world beater in practice. Crowder was Darnold’s go to, so he may continue to be Zach Wilson’s security blanket, and Denzel Mims is the big body at the position.

Chris Herndon has not lived up to his hype coming out of college. He was a great receiving tight end in college, and he has the chance and opportunity in the NFL, as he may be the starter. Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft are also there. Kroft and Griffin have both had solid backup roles in the NFL and look to continue that reliance from the coaches while in at Metlife Stadium.

Offensive Line

On the left side, Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker have been the last two first round picks for New York. Becton performed and showed everyone that even though he is massive, he can move with anyone. If Vera-Tucker lives up to his first round draft status, the left side of the line will be extremely strong. The line also has Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant. On the right side, Fant is the strong player, thriving in both pass and run blocking situations.

Defense

Front Seven

This Jets defense was bad last year. It probably goes to say that most of the team is bad if you get the second pick in the draft, but long story short, it wasn’t good. On the line, they added Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry. They also have former first rounder Quinnen Williams. They paid Lawson quite a bit of money to be their edge rusher in the 4-3 defense. Williams improved last season, and Rankins and Curry are veterans that have proven it before. There isn’t much depth behind them, but Joe Douglas is beginning to build a strong defensive line.

This season, the Jets have Hamsah Nasirildeen, CJ Mosley, and Jarrad Davis as their starters at linebacker. The name to write home about is Mosley. After being one of the best linebackers in the league for five years in Baltimore, he signed a huge deal with the Jets. He got hurt in his second game in year one, and he opted out of last season due to COVID. Hopefully he can return to form, but that contract has not been a good one so far for New York. In his four year career, Davis has not lived up to his first round status, but hopefully he can put it together and have his first 100 tackle season to date. Overall, there is also minimal depth here, but GM Joe Douglas has put together a solid starting three.

Secondary

The secondary might be a problem for the Jets. Bless Austin and Bryce Hall are the starting boundary corners, with Javelin Guidry and Michael Carter as the two depth pieces. Austin is 25 and Hall is 23. Neither have had particular success in the NFL. New York’s pass defense may be a struggle bus.

At safety, the Jets have Ashtyn Davis who was their third round pick last year with Lamarcus Joyner behind him for depth. At free safety, New York has Marcus Maye who was a second round pick and had his best year last year. He is looking for a contract extension and is currently upset with how those negotiations are going with the front office. As written above, the pass defense might be horrid.

Overall

All in all, this is not the year to bet on the Jets’ divisional chances, but they got their quarterback (they think so) and are starting to build a team with supporting pieces around him. In another two years or so, Robert Saleh hopes to have his group competing in the playoffs and for a super bowl.

 

Recap

This division will not be much of a race for first. As long as they look similar to how they did last year, the Bills should run away with the division with about 13-14 wins. The Dolphins and Patriots should be able to compete for a wild card spot in the AFC.

This division will likely go in the order of Buffalo (-150), Miami (+325), New England (+350), and the Jets in last (+2500).


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