After an outstanding 2020 season from the Buffalo Bills, the rest of the AFC East was left to play catch up this off-season. The Bills themselves didn’t make a ton of acquisitions. Instead, they did their best to retain talent from the 2020 roster.
The Jets did everything they could this off-season to hit the reset button and form the foundation for their rebuild. The Dolphins did a good job in the draft and free agency to build around supposed franchise Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, as well as add to their defense. Lastly, the Patriots made major investments in free agency, spending almost $160 million in guaranteed money.
As the reigning champions of the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills are the team that is being chased. The team with the target on their back. The Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots are doing everything possible to beat one another. But, more importantly, making moves that will help them beat the Bills.
Offenses in the AFC East
The Dolphins and Jets have a wide array of offensive weapons that cause concern as a Bills fan. The Jets drafted Elijah Moore and signed Corey Davis to add to a Wide Receiver room that already has Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. While these are good weapons, a Receiver is only as good as the person throwing to him. I personally like Zach Wilson a lot as a quarterback prospect. However, I don’t think he will be wildly successful as a rookie. I think it will take him some time to get acclimated to the NFL game.
As for the Dolphins, a lot of the same can be said about their offense. They have plenty of weapons, including DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Mike Gesicki, and recent additions Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller. This group of pass catchers is certainly concerning as a Bills fan. However, without much evidence of Tua’s viability as a QB and some suspect protection in front of him, those pass catchers may never reach their full potential on this 2021 Dolphins team.
Biggest Offensive Threat to the Buffalo Bills
That leaves the New England Patriots. As poor as the Patriots were on offense last year, I do think that they will be the best offense of the three AFC East opponents. Which is shocking considering I would prefer Zach Wilson and/or Tua over Cam Newton at this point in his career or Mac Jones.
The Patriots are the most threatening offense to the Buffalo Bills. This is because they strategically improved in areas on their offense that specifically target the weaknesses of the Bills defense. These areas are slowing down Tight Ends and defending against the run consistently. I expect the Patriots to operate primarily out of 12 personnel (two Tight End sets), running the ball as much as possible and using play-action passes.
Defenses in the AFC East
The Miami Dolphins were outstanding last year on defense. But, for whatever reason, the Bills didn’t have many issues against them. Their strength was and is their secondary. They were weak at the Safety position last year but drafted Jevon Holland to try and shore up that position. Aside from that, they have Xavien Howard and Byron Jones as their top Cornerbacks. Those two do a great job taking away the outside threats from opposing offenses. However, they don’t have a great front seven or Linebacker group. This tends to leave the middle of the field open for Josh Allen scrambles and quick throws to Cole Beasley over the middle.
Conversely, the New York Jets are much more stout up front and at the Linebacker level than they are in the secondary. This is why their defense doesn’t concern me so much. Although they acquired Carl Lawson and Sheldon Rankins to pair with Quinnen Williams up front and have C.J. Mosley returning, the Buffalo Bills strength is passing the football. If they can’t put up much resistance to the Bills passing attack, then there isn’t much reason to be concerned or threatened.
Biggest Defensive Threat to the Buffalo Bills
Once again, this leaves the New England Patriots. The Patriots did struggle last year on defense, but much of that struggle was tied to a bevy of key players opting out of the 2020 season. The most notable of those opt-outs is Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots didn’t have much Linebacker depth last year, so the opt-out from Hightower was very impactful. They played a lot of nickel and dime defenses (three/four Cornerback groupings) which allowed opposing teams to run on them more easily.
They made plenty of additions this off-season in the draft and free agency. In the draft, they added notable players Christian Barmore, Ronnie Perkins, and Cameron McGrone. In free agency, they added Matt Judon, Devon Godchaux, Jalen Mills, Henry Anderson, Raekwon McMillan, and Kyle Van Noy. Although all of these names aren’t expected to make large contributions to the Patriots in 2021, it has guaranteed depth across the board of the defense.
Additionally, we all know how great the Patriots secondary has been since they acquired Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore has expressed some concern over his future with the Patriots and this throws a bit of a wrench in my evaluation. However, even without Gilmore, the Patriots still have a relatively strong secondary unit. Not to mention how much each player’s game is elevated by being coached by Bill Belichick.
Air Raid Hour recap
On the most recent episode of the Air Raid Hour, Judge and Tilt evaluate the competition within the AFC East. They assess the offenses, defenses, special teams, and coaches of each team within the division. If you liked this article and the analysis of the AFC East competition then you will definitely enjoy this episode of the Air Raid Hour. If you missed us live, you can catch the replay linked and embedded above.
As always, go Bills!