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2018 NFL Preview: The AFC East

AFC East
Tom Brady and the Patriots are once again heavy favorites in the AFC East. (Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Projected Afc East End-of-Season Standings

1 New England Patriots (12-4)

2 Miami Dolphins (7-9)

3 New York Jets (6-10)

4 Buffalo Bills (3-13)

The Patriots deserve every sliver of credit given their way for being as dominant as they’ve been in the Tom Brady era. However, they have gotten pretty lucky playing in a weak division for most – if not all of – that span. That doesn’t change for the foreseeable future, either.

Miami had a mini-firesale this offseason. But somebody’s gotta take second in this division, and it’ll come down to the Dolphins or Jets. Miami seems perpetually on the verge of a total breakdown, but they always just dip a toe into their rebuild. This season won’t provide many answers as far as that goes, but they have a lot of players playing for their careers (whether in Miami or elsewhere). Plus their defense – especially pass rush – could be sneaky good.

WIth Sam Darnold now cemented in at quarterback, this Jets season became more about setting the organization up for future success. Young players might take snaps away from veterans because New York might as well figure out who they can develop. That will cost them a few games (but also probably worth it), enough to keep them out of second place.

It’s kind of hard to believe this is an incumbent playoff team, right? We’ll hold out judgment on Josh Allen for the time being, but naming Nathan Peterman as starter puts the Bills in the lead for worst QB situation right now. Combine that with a general lack of playmakers outside of LeSean McCoy (who may face a suspension at some point this season), this season looks like a bottom-out year here.

QB Watch (Because It’s the Most Important Position)

New England: Tom Brady is going to play quarterback with a 101.5 QB Rating for the rest of time. These are just facts we have to deal with now.

Miami: Doesn’t it feel like we’re in year ten of “Is Ryan Tannehill good or not”? Granted, it’s only Tannehill’s sixth season. He’s a perfectly fine, average quarterback. Good enough to win Miami some games (which puts them into “surprise team” conversations), but not good enough to put an otherwise pedestrian roster on his back.

New York: A lot of people liked the move to bring in Teddy Bridgewater. Ultimately, though, Bridgewater was traded to New Orleans before he saw a regular season snap with the Jets. It’s the Sam Darnold Show in New York. And like most TV shows, it’ll probably take an entire season to fully evaluate where Darnold’s ceiling is.

Buffalo: Nathan Peterman is the placeholder here until the Bills feel comfortable playing rookie Josh Allen. Buffalo doesn’t figure to make much noise this season, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily be more inclined to turn to Allen early.

Non-QB Positions/Players to Watch

New England: The pass rush. There was justifiably a lot of attention to the benching of Malcolm Butler in last season’s Super Bowl. However, lost in that was that the Pats’ pass rush was really bad. And probably more responsible than Butler’s absence for New England taking the L. If they can’t find a way to pressure opposing QBs, it may cap their season potential.

Miami: It may not be a sexy pick, but the Dolphins offensive line is fascinating. Between draft picks and free agency signings, the Miami has (arguably) put more resources into building an offensive line than any other NFL team over the past decade-plus. Spoiler Alert: Over that span, the Dolphins O-line hasn’t been very good. This organization growing frustrated with its line over the course of the season then overreacting by spending a first-round pick on a center or overpaying for an over-the-hill guard during the offseason is lowkey one of the NFL’s most humorous recurring plots.

New York: There’s hasn’t ever been a rookie quarterback that was truly ready to carry a team to success. That sort of thing takes a minute. In this case, the Jets aren’t doing their rookie QB any favors by putting a less-than-stellar cast of offensive skill players around him. If there isn’t anybody on New York’s offense that can make a play, they may regret going to Darnold this early. Starting him Week 1 is a risk, setting him up to fail is a massive gamble.

Buffalo: A few years ago, Donald Trump wanted to buy the Buffalo Bills. The NFL pretty much put a stop to it before any momentum got going. But picturing our current president (and his Twitter account) in the Bills’ owner box suite – and with this particular team – is a funny thought. It’s about the small victories in life this year, Bills fans.

Crazy-Wild Scenario

While Buffalo is set up to be pretty bad this year, the general lack of depth in the AFC would make it safe to assume either the Jets or Dolphins will finish around .500. And that’s probably a better record than otherwise warranted. Should anything happen to New England, we could be looking at a scenario where Sam Darnold is sitting at home for the first round of the playoffs … and not because they were eliminated.

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2018 NFL Preview: The AFC East


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