Neil Reynolds' Division Preview - AFC East

With Tom Brady now working on his tan and chasing a seventh Super Bowl ring in Tampa, the long-downtrodden teams of the AFC East are sensing an opportunity to rise up. While the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets may not be ready to topple Bill Belichick's men just yet, the Buffalo Bills will certainly be thinking that way. The winds of change could be about to blow through the AFC East and we could have a champion other than the Patriots for the first time since 2008.

Neil's Predicted Finish

  1. Buffalo Bills
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. New York Jets

BUFFALO BILLS

State of the Franchise

The Bills have made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons but have been one and done on both occasions. But it feels like they have a chance to rise up and take a first division crown since 1995. Buffalo went 3-32 against Tom Brady during his time in New England… but TB12 isn't there anymore! Now could be the time for this talented team to strike and make a decent playoff run.

Star Man

Tre'Davious White is a true shutdown corner and an elite defender who can take away the opponent's best receiver week in and week out. White jointly led the NFL with six interceptions in 2019 and now has 12 picks in three seasons. He almost opted out of 2020 but will be back to lead a Buffalo D that is elite.

Secret Superstar

Ed Oliver was Buffalo's first-round choice a year ago and he came on strong towards the end of 2019. The powerful defensive tackle has the skill set to create some havoc up the middle as he grows into the NFL.

By the Numbers

0… The Bills were the only team in the NFL not to allow a deep (20+ yards) passing TD in 2019.

5.13… Devin Singletary averaged 5.13 yards per rush in 2019 – best among all running backs with 150+ carries.

19.6… Buffalo averaged 19.6 points per game in 2019 – fewest among the 12 qualifying playoff teams.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

State of the Franchise

The Patriots are not about to disappear off the face of the NFL map, but Belichick is going to have to be at his brilliant best to scheme this team into the playoffs. The skill-position talent around Cam Newton is hardly inspiring and the defense was hit hard by Covid-19 opt outs from linebacker Don't'a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung. That said, it takes a brave person to bet against The Hooded One.

Star Man

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year resides in New England in the form of shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He does an excellent job of shadowing opposing receivers and taking the ball away with a league-leading six picks in 2019. Gilmore was also around the ball enough to knock down 20 passes.

Secret Superstar

While he has endured another up and down camp, second-year receiver N'Keal Harry has to become New England's secret superstar. The 2019 first-rounder caught just 12 passes as a rookie. The Pats need more.

By the Numbers

8… The Pats had eight players opt out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns. The most in the NFL.

14.1… New England boasted the NFL's number one defense in 2019, allowing just 14.1 points per game.

85,959… Quarterback Tom Brady is no longer in New England after throwing for 85,959 yards as a Patriot.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

State of the Franchise

The Dolphins were in a world of hurt at 0-7 last season. Fast forward to the eve of 2020 and it is clear there is a plan in place. Miami are well led by head coach Brian Flores, they have added defensive talent across the board and have their quarterback of the future in place in rookie Tua Tagovailoa.

Star Man

Wide receiver DeVante Parker finally stayed healthy enough to live up to his first-round status and enjoyed a career year with 72 receptions for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns. If Miami can get him involved regularly once again in 2020, Parker has the skills to be the team's most dominant offensive player.

Secret Superstar

Tight end Mike Gesicki has shown constant progress in Miami (22 catches as a rookie in 2018 and 51 receptions in 2019). He boasts excellent size and athleticism and has the trust of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

By the Numbers

21… Miami have started 21 different quarterbacks since the great Dan Marino retired at the end of the 1999 season.

22… Tua Tagovailoa won 22 of his 24 starts at quarterback at the University of Alabama, throwing 87 TD passes.

72.3… Miami averaged just 72.3 rushing yards per game in 2019 and the ground attack was led by Fitzpatrick.

NEW YORK JETS

State of the Franchise

The Jets may have won six of their last eight games to end 2019 but there is hardly a good feeling around this club as they head into 2020. Adam Gase will be coaching from a warming seat and key players such as receiver Robby Anderson (free agency), linebacker C.J. Mosley (opt-out) and safety Jamal Adams (trade) leave big holes in the roster.

Star Man

This would have been Adams all day long if not for his summer trade to the Seahawks. The do-it-all safety will be a big miss. Quarterback Sam Darnold has the potential to rise up and take this spot, but his supporting cast is sketchy and his newly-built offensive line must offer up much greater protection.

Secret Superstar

Chris Herndon's 2019 was marred by injuries and suspensions but Darnold likes throwing to the tight end so this could be a key target in 2020. Herndon could emerge as one to watch in the coming months.

By the Numbers

52… The Jets gave up 52 sacks a year ago – fourth-most in the NFL. Their line could have four new starters in 2020.

73.8… Le'Veon Bell was rated as the best player on the Jets roster in 2019, even though he averaged a career low 83.3 yards from scrimmage per game.

273… The Jets averaged just 273 offensive yards per game in 2019 to rank dead last in the NFL.

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