One of the most anticipated outcomes this season is which team will top the AFC East in 2020 after the New England Patriots lost quarterback Tom Brady. For years, the AFC East has been one of the most predictable divisions in the league – with the New England Patriots winning 17 titles in the last 20 years.
In fact, the New England Patriots have won the last 11 AFC East titles in a row and given new meaning to the word dominant. This was thanks largely to the genius pairing of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. But now we are in a brave new world – Tom Brady has left the Patriots and the AFC East for what he hopes are greener pastures.
Brady shocked the NFL by signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he hit free agency for the first time in his two-decade career. But what does that mean for the New England Patriots and the AFC East? There have been some significant changes this off-season on top of Brady’s departure that mean the AFC East will be one of the most competitive divisions in the 2020 season. Here’s why:
Who Will Win the AFC East?
The Case For the New England Patriots
Ok – let’s get one thing out of the way. Yes the Patriots are no longer led by one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever suit up. However, Brady was simply one part of a phenomenally successful duo and the other half – Bill Belichick – is still at the helm. There are a handful of instances we can look back at to see how the Patriots have fared without Brady under center.
The most notable example has to be the 2008 season when reigning NFL MVP Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Patriots still managed an 11-5 record with quarterback Matt Cassel, as Belichick flexed his scouting and game-planning skills. It was unusual and unlucky for them not to make the playoffs that year at 11-5 as the Miami Dolphins, who had the same W/L record, topped the division.
You can also look at the 2015 season when Brady was banned for the first four games and Bill managed to go 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. In short, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels know how to build a successful offense without star quarterback Tom Brady.
The Case For the Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills had one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports history – missing out on the post-season from 1999 to 2017. And while they made fleeting appearances in recent years, it was their 2019 campaign that caught the attention of NFL pundits and really looked promising.
Far from a polished product, Josh Allen showed significant improvement from his rookie year and carried his team to the playoffs. The Bills recorded some impressive wins and their losses were mostly within one score. Imagine, then, his third year in a division without Tom Brady and with star receiver Stefon Diggs in his arsenal.
Even without a stand-out receiver, Allen threw for 3,089 yards and 20 touchdowns with a passer rating of 85.3. The team enjoyed their first 10-win season of the century and Josh Allen can surely build on his previous success and find success against the AFC East in 2020. The rest of the team is loaded from top to bottom. If Allen can take the next step, then this division is theirs.
The Case For the Miami Dolphins
With former New England Patriot defensive coordinator Brian Flores at Head Coach, the Dolphins have added players who he will be familiar with. In the midst of a rebuild, the Dolphins are looking in pretty good shape having landed elite cornerback Byron Jones and tailback Jordan Howard. Miami has also added three players from the New England Patriots – most notably Kyle Van Noy but also including Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts.
According to Spotrac, no team has spent more this off-season than the Miami Dolphins who have spent more than $237 million on free agents alone and $100 million more than the next closest team – Detroit. With Flores and three Patriots on their roster, Miami will now have invaluable insight into the New England Patriots franchise which could prove decisive come September.
While he may not start in week 1, fans are excited to see what he can do.
The Case For the New York Jets
Not many fans will forget Sam Darnold’s infamous “I’m seeing ghosts” line which came amidst another dominant display against the New England Patriots. But the truth now is that Sam Darnold is in a make or break year and, while he has shown a flash of talent in some games, he needs to prove he has the mettle now that the division is as weak as it has been for years.
Fans were surprised when the Jets signed former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco who should be able to impart some invaluable wisdom to Darnold and help him improve. The Jets have also invested massively in terms of its offensive line which should give Super Sam some time to develop.
Signings included Conor McGovern and Greg van Roten who provide vast improvements to the line and drafting Mekhi Becton in the first round gives the team a potential franchise left tackle for the next decade. They have replaced Robby Anderson with Breshad Perriman and have cut a pair of starting cornerbacks who were proving unproductive.
And if Le’Veon Bell stays with the Jets, they may be able to develop a potent offense that could challenge the division for the first time in 20 years.
The New England Patriots Defense Remains Mostly Intact
The New England Patriots may have lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins who went to Detroit, but the defensive unit largely remains intact. On average last season, the Patriots surrendered just one touchdown a game and owned the best interception rate in the league. That was largely due to Devin McCourty who signed on to stay at New England with his twin brother Jason through the 2020 season.
While they may have lost linebacker Kyle Van Noy, they will still have veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower. And anyone who was paying attention to the Patriots’ most recent Super Bowl victories will note the importance of Hightower. The Patriots also used their top pick of the draft to sign safety Kyle Dugger, showing their commitment to support the talented but ageing defensive unit.
The Bills Are Building a Formidable Defense
There’s a famous saying among NFL fans and pundits and that is that defenses win championships. The Buffalo Bills’ defensive unit ranked top 10 for total defense, run defense, pass defense and scoring defense in the 2019 season. In fact, Buffalo’s defense ranked third in the league overall, 10th against the run, fourth against the pass and second in points allowed.
This unit, which was able to stifle New England, should prove to be a dominant force in the division in this upcoming season. They have invested heavily in their defensive line in free agency and by using their top draft pick to take AJ Epenesa. They have also have signed talented cornerback Josh Norman.
When not facing an elite quarterback like Tom Brady, the Bills’ defense could smother opposing offenses and help lead the Bills to success over the AFC East in 2020. What do you think? Which team is going to succeed in the AFC East division this year?
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