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The Winds Of Change: 2020 AFC East Preview
Photo Courtesy of The Buffalo News

The Winds Of Change: 2020 AFC East Preview

Eric Urbanowicz
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Back in the year 1974, Boston, Massachusetts native band Aerosmith had a hit song that defined The AFC East perfectly for the last 20 years: Same Old Song And Dance. No matter what other teams did, no matter the talent they added, no matter the men in charge, the New England Patriots will always the favorite to win the division. However the year, 2020 may see the winds of change blow.

While massive moves were made within the division by their fellow teams, New England lost their quarterback Tom Brady in free agency. Add to it key players choosing to opt out because of the current global situation and you a have concoction that could see a new champion be crowned.

 

Buffalo Bills

Record in 2019: 10-6

Key Player: Running Back – Devin Singletary

Player To Watch: Linebacker – Tremaine Edmunds

Last year the Cleveland Browns became the most hyped team entering the season after showing signs of a rebound towards the end 2018 and acquiring wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.. That year they went 6-10 and fell victim to the hype train. Buffalo may be one of two teams that could fall victim to it this (Arizona Cardinals are the other).

Buffalo’s rushing attack is top notch, finishing eighth amongst all teams. Running back Devin Singletary split time with former teammate Frank Gore last year and combined for over 1,300 yards. With rookie running back Zack Moss taking over the reigns for Gore, there may be more carries for Singletary and more than likely he’ll break 1,000 yards. This could be the new Fred Jackson/Marshawn Lynch/C.J. Spiller combination for Buffalo.

The biggest bugaboo on offense though has been the passing game. Though quarterback Josh Allen took some steps from his rookie year to his sophomore year, he’s got a lot to work on, including his completions. Adding wide receiver Stefon Diggs to complement John Brown and Cole Beasley will definitely help but it ultimately will fall on Allen to succeed.

Buffalo’s defense last year was top notch, finishing tenth against the run and fourth against the pass. Lead by cornerback Tre’Davious White, the secondary has been electric.

Their linebacker core, as good as it’s been, needs to step up in their development. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is one of the most athletic players at the position but he’s had struggles in coverage as well as some issues with missed tackles (he had 17 last year). If Buffalo’s linebacker core can get tackling under control and clean up the pass game a bit, this could an elite defense. Prediction: 11-5

 

Miami Dolphins

Record in 2019: 5-11

Key Player: Wide Receiver – DeVante Parker

Player To Watch: Cornerback- Byron Jones

Despite a year in which they looked to be tanking for the first overall pick, the Miami Dolphins finished with a 5-11 record. They far succeeded last year’s expectations for many. So how do you build upon that? By splurging in free agency.

Though veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will be leading the charge to start the season, it’s to be expected that rookie Tua Tagovailoa will come in sooner rather than later. Miami had the 12th best passing attack last year, so they can take their time with the change. Wide receivers DeVante Parker and Isaiah Ford as well as running backs Jordan Howard, Matt Brenda and Myles Gaskin will help out whoever is under center tremendously.

Last year Miami’s defense amongst the worst. Their pass defense finished 26th in the league. How did they remedy this? By adding defensive backs Noah Igbinoghene, Eric Rowe and Byron Jones to join Xavien Howard.

Their run defense was even worse, finishing 27th in the league. Adding linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson were huge gets for their front seven. Miami probably is one to two years away from an explosion but expect some results this year. Prediction: 7-9

 

New England Patriots

Record in 2019: 12-4

Key Player: Wide Receiver – Julian Edelman

Player To Watch: Quarterback – Cam Newton

Well, no more Tom Brady under center for New England. Though he’s not the only subtraction (linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, defensive tackle Danny Shelton and defensive back Duron Harmon), it’s easily the biggest change to the team this season. It’s going to take more than just head coach Bill Belichick‘s magic to fix this.

Normally we stay away from quarterbacks and star players as the “players to watch” but in this instance, he’s the biggest question mark. It’s been nearly half a decade since his NFL Most Valuable Player award winning season and ever since then it’s been all down hill. If offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel can get quarterback Cam Newton back to form, they’ll have a chance.

Belichick always finds diamonds in the rough on defense and makes them look like studs, so they shouldn’t worry the team too much. They had a top tier defense last year and historically have put at least solid defenses on the field.

New England has a tall task ahead of them, not only with major free agent loses but also with players who opted-out due to Covid-19. There are going to be a lot of replacement parts available. What will make or break the patriots will be their quarterback play. If Newton looks good, they’ll be fine but if he struggles or back up quarterback Jarrett Stidham has come in, look out. Prediction: 9-7

 

New York Jets

Record in 2019: 7-9

Key Player: Running Back – Le’Veon Bell

Player To Watch: Linebacker – Patrick Onwuasor

In a big year for quarterback Sam Darnold, where he needs to take the next step, the New York Jets made it even more difficult. They fixed up the offensive line with free agents Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten and drafted Mekhi Becton, which is a start. The problem is a lack of offensive weapon options for Darnold.

Running backs Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore should get them more yards on the ground. Last year had a lot to do with their offensive line. It’s the wide receiver room with Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Breshard Perriman and Chris Hogan that should have New York fans biting their nails. Unless Darnold becomes Peyton Manning 2.0, they could be in serious trouble.

The defense doesn’t help much either. While they were able to stop the run, they finished in the bottom half of the league against the pass. Add to it that their star linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out and there may be a problem. Now linebacker Avery Williamson and Patrick Onwuasor have step up. As seen with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in the past, he can stop the run but gets burned on the pass.

This may be head coach Adam Gase’s last chance at being a head coach for a while. If he can’t at least break .500, he’ll probably be fired. This team has brought in talent, spent money, gained valuable assets but have failed to break .500 for five years. Not to mention, players seemingly have not liked his style or attitude. This year will be his swan song, can Gase sing like a canary or honk like a goose? Prediction: 5-11

About Eric Urbanowicz

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