2021 AFC East Preview: Division of Game Changers

Welcome to the 2021 season where Bill Belichick has taken his Patriots down to Miami a full week early to thwart the 2-7 record his team has in away games with the Dolphins. This move mirrors the desperation of not naming an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator in what looks to be an unceremonious end to Bill Belichick’s career. This will be his last year.

Where does this team turn when they start 0-4?? At Patriots, at Steelers, home to Baltimore then off to Green Bay. Yikes!

Yet elsewhere in the division it’s full speed ahead as Josh Allen and the Bills have become the talk of the league having made several upgrades heading into 2022.

AFC East Champions

  1. Buffalo Bills 13-4**
  2. New York Jets 9-8
  3. Miami Dolphins 6-11
  4. new England Patriots 5-12

The 1st of which is signing former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller to bolster the reigning #1 defense and help school former 1st round DE Greg Rousseau. This should free up DT Ed Oliver from interior double teams as all 3 -1st rounders should be after QBs all season. Schematically this defense played well but needs playmaking game changers and this pass rush has to be that. Just look back to the last :13 in Kansas City.

Jan 23, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Von Miller (40) forces a fumble by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the second half in a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Hall of Fame pass rushers shouldn’t fall from the sky and the Bills got the biggest defensive acquisition in football. Miller has 4.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in Super Bowl competition. In the ’15 AFC Championship he had 2.5 sacks of Tom Brady and another 4 hits on him to rattle TB12. Then last year it was Von’s sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on Brady that gave the Rams strategic control of the game sending them to the NFC Championship Game.

However the most improved team in the division is the New York Jets. Drafting Zach Wilson home run speed in OSU WR Garrett Wilson and grabbing CB Sauce Gardner and DE Jermaine Johnson with their #1 picks. Its Wilson taking the top off defenses that will allow Braxton Berrios to continue to be dynamic in the slot. However if 2nd round pick Breece Hall hits at running back this offense has the potential to be one of the best in football. They will mirror Joe Burrow and the weapons  in Cincinnati but they may be one year away from hitting full stride.

Miami will be the middle of the pack team they have been with Tua at quarterback. They did get Tyreek Hill who should turn heads early in the season with bubble screens and turning short gains into big ones early in the season. Yet look to defensive coordinators to figure out Tua’s arm can’t threaten downfield and his affectiveness to be minimized by midseason.

This season of dynamic playmakers begins and ends with Bills QB Josh Allen who could be league MVP with another great season. Completing 409 of 646 for 4,407 yds 36TDs with 15 interceptions had him in last year’s race. His 763 yards rushing will hopefully be lower and he needs to get slide more and not take so many hits. With Diggs (102 rec. 1,225 yds/ 10TDs) back and the emergence of Gabriel Davis (NFL playoff record 4 TDs in KC) this team has no obvious weaknesses. Barring injury this group of playmakers should be playing in early February in Super Bowl LVII.

It all begins by showcasing it Thursday Night against the defending Super Bowl champion Rams on the road. Time for the rubber to hit the road!

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2020 AFC East Preview: Winds of Change

When Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason the winds of change swept through the AFC East. The stranglehold Bill Belichick and Brady had was finally broken and teams began anew with dreams of storming the Patriots castle. Most notably the Buffalo Bills who were in the playoffs for the 2nd time in 3 years.

The Bills arrive with the NFL’s #3 ranked defense and added former Viking wideout Stefon Diggs to bolster the offense.  Josh Allen has the keys to the offense and RB Devin Singletary is the engine that powers this team forward. Will they emerge as division champions as many pundits believe?

2020 AFC East Predictions

  1. New England Patriots 11-5*
  2. Buffalo Bills 10-6**
  3. Miami Dolphins 6-10
  4. New York Jets 5-11

Not so fast as the Patriots will become a surprise division champion as Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will coax a turnaround season from Cam Newton. The former NFL MVP allows New England a solid weapon in the running game and will be able to work in a more traditional offense and some two tight ends. He has a spectacular young wideout in former ASU star N’Keal Harry and an underrated Jakobi Meyers. These two 2nd year players will benefit from Julian Edelman still in the slot to move the chains.

Singletary should have a 1,200 yard season in 2020.

In upstate New York the Bills have to get more out of Josh Allen as a downfield passer. He has to show the ability to get through his progressions and revert to running as a 3rd option in a make or break season. His fight or flight mechanics were highlighted in last year’s wild card loss. He has to get the ball into the endzone and not rely on field goals and get his defense a cushion.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, right, hands off the ball to Bills running back Zack Moss during an NFL football training camp in Orchard Park, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (James P. McCoy/The Buffalo News via AP, Pool)

One of the issues is the Bills didn’t step up and take one of the games against New England last year.  Each were in reach and they just couldn’t seize it. That came back to haunt them in why the Bills gave up a 16-0 lead in the wildcard game and couldn’t maintain it. They can’t assume they will win the division just because Brady is gone. The Bills have to learn to seize the opportunity and not expect to default into a division championship.

This team also lost a lot of leadership with the retirement of LB Lorenzo Alexander, RB Frank Gore, and DE Shaq Lawson. New leaders have to emerge for Buffalo to take that next step and why they will be in a wildcard slot again.

Aug 26, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) attempts a pass during training camp at Baptist Health Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins are building on the momentum of their 3-2 finish which included a win in New England in the finale. The future looks bright with the drafting of QB Tua Tagovailoa.  The team has brought in RB Matt Breida, and RB Jordan Howard to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright as well. He just doesn’t have the tools to move the ball downfield. The team drafted mostly defense to be better prepared to have a defense minded team when Tagovailoa takes over later in the year. Its only a matter of time.

Never underestimate Belichick and the NFL’s #1 defense as he is the best teacher of situational football in league history. He will coax another division championship in New England and Cam will be NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

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