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The State of The AFC East



AFC East

The AFC east has been one of the NFL’s most boring divisions for years. The dynamic is the same every year; the Patriots put on a clinic and watch from the top as the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins all claw at each other for a wild card spot. In theory, no NFL team can dominate forever. The NFL is designed to self regulate through the draft and free agency. A team gets good, and they stay good for a time until their team falls apart due to free agency and low draft picks. At the same time, its rival teams build up with lots of cap space and high draft picks. This creates a natural ebb and flow that makes the games exciting to watch.

However, Bills fans know all too well that the AFC east has been everything but exciting this century. The only logical explanation for this is that Belichick has sold his soul to keep the Patriots at the top. Either that or the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins have made countless half-baked attempts at rebuilds that are always scrapped within just a few years. Thus keeping themselves in a perpetual state of mediocrity at best, allowing the only functional team to clean up year after year. I think it has to be one of the two. Either way, there are rumblings indicating change in the AFC east. Let’s take a look at who is rising and who is falling.

New England Patriots

  • 2018-19 record: 11-5
  • Record against Bills: 2-0
  • Season accolades: AFC East champions, AFC champions, Super Bowl LII champions
  • Draft position: 32
  • Cap space: Roughly $19 Million

We hate them. We hate them more than anything. The Patriots are the bane of the Bills’ existence. The Pats are public enemy number one every season, and they usually end up with two victories against the Bills. However, that will change, and soon. The Patriots’ offensive scheme is becoming increasingly friendly to Brady’s age with more and more passes of 10 yards or less. Belichick knows that his star his not what he used to be and is giving Brady as much help as he can. This may work for now, but time waits for no one. Brady is well into the back nine of his career and will not be able to perform at a high level for much longer. Further, one of Brady’s top weapons in Rob Gronkowski has just retired, and the Patriots also lost Dwayne Allen to Miami through free agency. This makes Jacob Hollister their TE1. And no, with a total of four catches last season, I hadn’t heard of him either.

There has also been an unusual amount of friction in the franchise that used to be so cohesive. The Kraft-Brady-Belichick trifecta has begun to split, as a result of the dealings with Garoppolo. Brady wanted him out, Belichick wanted to keep him, and Kraft sided with Brady, forcing Belichick into trading the young quarterback. When Kraft’s recent prostitution scandal is added to this, it becomes apparent that things are about to get a bit rocky for the dynasty. The tides are turning. The shoe is about to be on the other foot. For two decades the Patriots have messed with the bull. And with the Bills on the rise, it could be time for the Patriots to get the horns.

Miami Dolphins

  • 2018-19 record: 7-9
  • Record against Bills: 1-1
  • Season accolades: N/A
  • Draft position: 13
  • Cap space: Roughly $38 Million

The Dolphins are in rebuild mode. They have parted ways with Adam Gase (who is now head coach of the Jets) and Ryan Tannehill (the franchise pick that never delivered). The Dolphins made a strong move signing Brian Flores, an ex-defensive coach for the Patriots. These are a few good moves, but they do not make the Dolphins a threat. These moves lay the foundation for their future which looks like it could be strong if done right. The Dolphins have also lost Danny Amendola, Cameron Wake, and several other players to free agency, a typical occurrence in a rebuild. The Dolphins have done little to fill the roster holes, signing Ryan Fitzpatrick (better known to the Bills Mafia as Fitz-tragic) and a couple of ex-Patriots in Dwayne Allen and Eric Rowe. Fun fact: Ryan Fitzpatrick has now been under contract with three of the four AFC east teams.

In short, I don’t expect the Dolphins to set the woods on fire but it seems as though they hang around every year. With the good amount of young talent left on the roster and a good hire at head coach the Dolphins have put together the base for a solid rebuild.

New York Jets

  • 2018-19 record: 4-12
  • Record against Bills: 1-1
  • Season accolades: N/A
  • Draft position: 3
  • Cap space: Roughly $26 Million

First off, there’s a Le’Veon Bell sized elephant in the room. The Jets landed the top free agency target locking him up for four years. He did cost a pretty penny, as he is guaranteed $35 million and can make as much as $61 million with incentives. Bell is a force to be reckoned with, and he could be a real problem for the Bills’ front seven. The Jets have been very aggressive this off season, signing other notable players such as C.J. Mosley, Kelechi Osemele, and Jamison Crowder.

The Jets have also found what they believe to be their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold. With the Bills settling on Josh Allen the same year, we can look forward to the Darnold versus Allen debate for years to come. The Jets have laid a strong foundation and could very possibly be the next powerhouse of the AFC east.

Buffalo Bills

  • 2018-19 record: 6-10
  • Division record: 2-4
  • Season accolades: N/A
  • Draft position: 9
  • Cap space: Roughly $33 Million

Saving the best for last, the Buffalo Bills. Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane came out swinging this offseason, filling major holes in the offensive line and receiving corps (check out our free agency signing rankings here). Buffalo was a strong team whose season was tanked by a few glaring position holes, namely on the offensive line. The Bills showed they mean business by signing Mitch Morse and other offensive linemen like Quinton Spain and Ty Nsekhe. Beane also gave Josh Allen a few new targets including the reliable Cole Beasley and speedster John Brown.

The Bills and Jets will be the next premier AFC east rivalry. The days of watching Tom Brady march up and down the field are numbered, and the Patriots are nearing the end of their historic dominance in the AFC east. With the top spot opening up and the Bills locked in a race with the Jets, the AFC east is about to become a very competitive division. Bias aside, the Bills have the best chance at becoming the new top dog. The defense is so young and so effective. Josh Allen is better than Sam Darnold. McDermott is better than Gase. The pieces are falling into place. The Jets and Bills are poised to become playoff teams, the Dolphins are starting another rebuild, and the Patriots are finally close to being dethroned.