With the majority of the offseason transactions being completed until preseason cuts, a predictive analysis of the upcoming 2018-2019 season is due. To begin, the AFC East will first be previewed.
Buffalo Bills 7-9
After a series of positive years which culminated with the Bills franchise playing postseason football for the first time since 1999, Buffalo traded away the Quarterback that helped them get there.
Although rather successful in his tenure with the team, the dismissal of Tyrod Taylor seemed evident since the whole Nathan Peterman debacle in week 11 of last year. Personally, I agree with the decision as a new man under center is needed to put the team over the top, but this change may not come with immediate results for Bills fans. Replacing Taylor on the Bills Roster, Peterman remains, while both AJ McCarron and Josh Allen were added to the team’s depth charts. In time, both McCarron and Allen have the potential to lead the team to winning seasons, however, in either man’s first year as a starter I do think they will noticeably struggle to manage an NFL offense; especially with the Bills lack of playmakers on the outside.
For coach Sean McDermott, the main issue on both ends of the field has been a lack of consistency. As mentioned, the offense was rather stagnant at various points in the season, whereas the defense was either great or dismal. For example, in their wins, the Bills defense allowed more than 17 points only one time. Oppositely, however, in their 7 losses they allowed at least 34 points in 4 of those games.
Moreover, the Bills defense does contain a lot of talent and were the 4th least penalized defensive unit in the league last year. Yet, they also finished 18th in points allowed, 26th in yards allowed, and finished 30th in sacks registered.
In sum, the Bills have kept most of the core of their team that has yielded success over the last two years. Despite this, the Bills offense will struggle to put up points in the early stages of the season and will be lucky to enter their bye week in mid-November with a .500 record or better. Overall, expect the Bills to finish near the bottom of the division due to their inconsistencies on both ends of the field.
Miami Dolphins 8-8
On paper, the Dolphins have arguably been the favourite AFC East team to dethrone the Patriots over the last 5 years. Somehow though, the Dolphins just seem to keep getting worse.
Going into the 2017 season, the Dolphins were coming off a playoff appearance and maintained their loaded offense that included weapons such as, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker among others.
Additionally, the teams defense kept superstars, Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Reshad Jones around while the coaching staff remained relatively untouched.
The anticipated result for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was undoubtedly another playoff appearance, but by the end of October, the Dolphins had their schedule altered due to a hurricane, lost their starting Quarterback thanks to injury, had a member of the coaching staff fired for cocaine use, and traded their main running back to the Superbowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles for a mid-round draft pick.
In short; the season was a mess.
For the new year, the Dolphins kept several main components such as Tannehill, Wake, Parker, and head coach Adam Gase while adding one of the best secondary players in the draft this year in Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Considering the Dolphins won 6 games last year with an abysmal offense that managed to score more than 21 points on only 4 occasions; they likely can’t get much worse. Overall, the drama surrounding the Dolphins significantly hurt the team, disallowing them to play to their potential for a full 16-game season. Their 2-8 record over the final 10 weeks of the schedule was arguably a reflection of this.
In an important year for both Tannehill and Adam Gase, the team should once again contend for a wildcard spot. Though they may come close to the postseason, a tough schedule that includes playing the Packers, Vikings, Jaguars, and Patriots twice will provide difficult for an immature Dolphins team. The Dolphins should win more than 6 games, but not enough to make the playoffs, especially if they fail to improve on their .333 record against the AFC East over the last 6 years (14-22 since 2012).
New England Patriots 12-4
In the AFC East, the safe pick to win the division always seems to prove itself to be the right one. In 2017, the Patriots won the division title for the 8th straight year and for the 14th time and 16 years. More impressively, the team has won at least 12 games in 11 of those 14 division titles and has dominated inner division play with a combined 79-24 (.726) regular season record.
In terms of the current roster compared to last season, New England will be without Malcom Butler, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, and Danny Amendola who all signed with new teams. Value wise, the losses unquestionably hurt the Patriots, but, each position was adequately addressed by Belichick and company. At cornerback, James McCourty was brought in via trade, while Duke Dawson was selected late in the draft to further nullify the void left by the talented Butler. Additionally, Isaiah Wynn was picked in the first round to replace Solder, while Sony Michel was also drafted early to help Jeremy Hill and James White replace Dion Lewis’s production. Finally, Coradelle Patterson and Jordan Matthews were brought in as substitutes for one of the Patriots most reliable receivers over the past couple of seasons in Danny Amendola.
Statistically, the main cause for concern for New England the past couple of years has been on defense. Specifically, in the secondary.
Amongst other NFL teams, the Patriots ranked 30th in passing yards allowed last year; a flaw that was heavily exposed throughout the 2017-18 postseason. Although the team’s secondary will likely be shaky once again, the defense of the Patriots is surprisingly good at keeping the ball out of the end zone, ranking in the top 5 in points allowed last year.
In sum, this season for Patriots will look extremely similar to the one of last year as both Tom Brady and the entirety of the team will struggle at some points, but are still significantly better than any other team in the division. Brady will Throw around 30 Touchdowns, Gronk will finish near 1000 yards, and the Patriots will win at least 12 games and the division title for the 9th consecutive time.
New York Jets 6-10
Picking the lowly New York Jets to finish last in the division for the third straight year may anger USC Trojan or Sam Darnold supporters, but the Jets are simply not a good football team.
Since going 10-6 in the teams first year removed from the Rex Ryan era, the green gang has a combined 10-22 record over the past 2 seasons. To make matters worse, management has put in minimal effort when it comes to improving their roster. Aside from drafting a potential Franchise-QB third overall, the teams overall draft grade this year was average at best as they had only five additional picks aside from Darnold. Furthering their rough offseason, the Jets lost two key pieces in Matt Forte and Muhammed Wilkerson but did little to replace them. At the running back position, the team drafted Trenton Cannon late and brought in Thomas Rawls via free agency, however, he has regressed significantly in each of the last two seasons after averaging 5.6 yards per carry in his rookie campaign. Like Rawls, Isiah Crowell was also signed to the Jets backfield. For Crowell, the Jets was a good fit considering both Chris Ivory and Shonne Greene –who have a similar style of play –also found relative success with the team. Keeping this in mind, it won’t come as a surprise should Crowell add another 800-yard season to his career, however, the production of Crowell likely won’t result in more wins for the team.
Meanwhile, no ready-piece was signed to replace Wilkerson.
At first glance, it could be argued that the Jets were better last year than their record showed, seeing 6 of their 11 losses decided by a touchdown or less. However, when looking at the teams overall rankings in the league, their lack of success seems justified. Offensively, the Jets were 27th in total yards, 24th in points, and were in the bottom half of the league it both field goals made and field goal percentage. Congruently, New York’s defense ranked 28th in sacks, 25th in passes defended, 22nd in interceptions, 29th in forced fumbles, and failed to score a defensive touchdown.
Overall, the Jets lone position of confidence is at quarterback due to having the talented trio of Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, and Josh McCown. In spite of the unusual QB depth, the team has too many holes to make up for over the span of a single offseason; especially a lacklustre one like the Jets just went through. Because of this, the team will miss the playoffs for the 8th straight season and will likely send head coach Todd Bowles packing by the end of it.
Check back next Tuesday for a preview of the AFC’s North division!