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After a year that saw the Buffalo Bills stand as the lone representative in the AFC East for the playoffs and the New England Patriots on the outside looking in, things seemingly went back to normal last season. Buffalo won the division, but New England behind then rookie quarterback Mac Jones made it back into the postseason.
While Buffalo and New England are surely seen as favorites, it’s time to look at the rest of the field. With this division now in the hands of four young men, it’s time to see who will develop and who may be heading down a road of ruin.
Record in 2021: 11-6
Key Player: Running Back – James Cook
Player to Watch: Linebacker – Matt Milano
The Buffalo Bills, bar none, were the best team in this division last season. They were the best team defending the pass, boasted a top ten team when passing and rushing on offense and were just outside the top ten defending the run. They were so good, they were third in points allowed.
How do you follow that up? By continuing to build around what’s been working.
Adding star linebacker Von Miller, tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Jamison Crowder bolstered positions that were looking strong already. Drafting players like running back James Cook, cornerback Kaiir Elam and wide receiver Khalil Shakir should pay dividends for this team in the long haul. Probably biggest of all though, they really didn’t lose too much.
With all the additions this team has made, Buffalo should once again make the playoffs with ease. Having more help at the linebacker position, don’t be surprised if this becomes the breakout season for linebacker Matt Milano. It’s going to be hard to beat Buffalo this year, and it wouldn’t be hard to see them in the Super Bowl. Prediction: 12-5
Record in 2021: 9-8
Key Player: Quarterback – Tua Tagovailoa
Player To Watch: Running Back – Raheem Mostert
Every year in this division, there’s a team whose player to watch is a quarterback. This year, that team is Miami.
Recently acquired receiver Tyreek Hill has done nothing but build up Tua Tagovailoa, even going so far as to compare him to his previous signal caller, Patrick Mahomes. This does nothing but add another layer of pressure to an already crucial season for the third-year Alabama product after a modest 16 touchdown-10 interception season last year.
With the clock ticking on Tagovailoa, and a new offensive minded head coach at the helm, it’s time for him to put up or have Hill shut up. Miami needs a huge year or they may be looking for another quarterback in the next year or two.
Having a more flushed out run game should also help. Bringing in underrated running back Raheem Mostert should help this squad. If the defense can return back to its 2020 form, they should be fine. It’s just a matter of what happens at the most important position on the field. Prediction: 7-10
New England Patriots
Record in 2021: 10-7
Key Player: Offensive Play Caller
Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Tyquan Thornton
There’s always something in Patriots camp that stirs the headlines. Over the last couple of seasons, we’ve gone from Tom Brady leaving to Cam Newton to Mac Jones to now wondering who’s going to call offensive plays since Josh McDaniels left to take on the Las Vegas Raiders head coaching job.
This normally wouldn’t matter, but with second-year quarterback Jones still developing and no real clarity on what effects this may have, New England is definitely driving pundits to some head scratching.
Of course, this is head coach Bill Belichick’s greatest trait: leaving people to scratch their heads and then shock the world with a great record. New England has done it once, they’ll do it again, and probably about five more times before Belichick’s time is up. It’s inevitable, just like death and taxes.
Something else that’s inevitable will be another strong year on defense. New England kept what worked for them last year, minus a couple of pieces and built around it. Belichick always has the defense near the top and this should be no different.
If New England can figure out which direction to take this offense in, this could resemble the Tom Brady Patriots’ offense. With all the hype surrounding Tyquan Thornton, this offense should be extremely exciting. It’s the flip-side that should make people worried: if there’s a step back, they could be in trouble this year. Prediction: 11-6
New York Jets
Record in 2021: 4-13
Key Player: Defensive End – Carl Lawson
Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Elijah Moore
The New York Jets haven’t been good, and it’s getting to the point that you wonder when they’ll be good again. They were 30th when defending the pass, 29th when defending the run, 20th in offensive passing, and 27th in offensive rushing. Simply put, they were miserable last year.
“Gang Green” seemingly overhauled their defense by bringing in veterans edge rusher Vinny Curry, linebacker Kwon Alexander and safety Jordan Whitehead. Grabbing cornerback Sauce Gardner and defensive end Jermaine Johnson should also add a new threat to this defense.
The offense should be fine, but may take some time to gel. Rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson will be fun when Zach Wilson returns from injury. Also, rookie Breece Hall should be a contributor.
The phrase for the Jets this season will be growing pains, as several key positions will be held down by rookie or sophomore players. While the New York media can be ruthless, it’s unrealistic for this team to be expected to go from 4-13 to 13-4. If New York can win at least two or three more games, that would be a good step forward, but regardless they can’t have a knee jerk reaction. Prediction: 6-11