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Thursday Thought: Can the Patriots Take the Division from the Bills?

The Buffalo Bills won the AFC East a season ago. With the Patriots retooled and rejuvenated, can they challenge the Bills for the division?

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2020 was a year unlike any other in every aspect of life. School and work were different. Going out to dinner looked a lot different. Sports looked nothing like we were used to seeing. This theme carried its way into the AFC East as well. In a division that was dominated by the New England Patriots for two decades, things were flipped on its head last season. The Buffalo Bills won the division for the first time since 1995. They finished the season 13-3.

Throughout these two decades, the AFC East has also been defined by mediocrity. Whether it’s the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins, or the Bills, it seems that year after year, these teams finish around 7-9. Finding themselves in the worst position in football. Not good enough to make the playoffs. Not bad enough to secure a top pick.

A team did go 7-9 last season in the AFC East. However, it was a team that had not known what that felt like for a long time. The Patriots. For the first time since 2008, the Patriots didn’t go to the playoffs.

In 2021, the Patriots have retooled their offense. They got back many members of their defense who opted-out last season, and most importantly, drafted their quarterback of the future in Mac Jones. Many analysts believe that the Patriots are back to being a playoff team and that they are going to take this division back from Buffalo.

This conversation has only heated up recently with the release of Cam Newton, ensuring that Jones will be the starting quarterback for New England week one. Can the Patriots challenge the Bills for this division? Are they really back?

When looking at the Patriots, there is a lot to like. For starters, they still have one of the greatest head coaches of all time in Bill Belichick. They have continuity all across their coaching staff. They still have one of the best defenses in football, which under Belichick have consistently been among the best in the NFL. Their offensive line appears to be one of the better units in football. Their running game is dynamic as they have a plethora of capable running backs. Lastly, they have two playmakers at tight end. This gives them their best tight end duo since the days of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

With all of that being said, I think people need to slow down on the hype for the Patriots.

I believe that this is a team that absolutely can go to the playoffs. They have plenty of talent, and their style (good run game and good defense) is a recipe that can lead to the playoffs. However, saying this team is a Super Bowl contender and that the division is their’s is too much for me.

Looking at some of the previous Super Bowl winners, they all have one thing in common: they had great passing offenses. The 2020 Buccaneers had a great passing offense. So did the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs. Along with the 2018 Patriots. The Eagles in 2017 were good at throwing the football too. The 2016 Patriots were awesome when it came to throwing the pigskin.

The last team to win the Super Bowl that had won from having a great defense and great running game but limited passing offense were the 2015 Denver Broncos. They had an all-time great defense and Peyton Manning at quarterback. My point is; if you don’t have a great passing attack, it’s tough to win it all.

The same goes for division winners. In six of the eight divisions, the team that won had a passing offense in the league’s top half. The other two were the Tennessee Titans, who had the rushing king Derrick Henry, and the Washington Football Team, who went 7-9.

Unless Mac Jones is incredible, I find it hard to believe that a rookie quarterback whose top three receivers are Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne will cruise through a tough division and even contend for a Super Bowl.

I could be wrong and might be eating these words later in the season. It’s very possible. Until I see it, I will not believe it. For now, I look at the Patriots as a good team contending for a wild card spot in the playoffs. A good team that won’t go down easy.

When it comes to the AFC East, we have seen it for the past 20 years that despite how good your defense is or how good you run the football. If you have the x-factor at quarterback, you will win this division.

The only team that has an x-factor at quarterback are the Buffalo Bills. So unless anything changes this season, it should be the Buffalo Bills winning the division.

Cover the Buffalo Bills for the Buffalo Fanatics media group. Follow on Twitter @mitchell_broder

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