The Patriots have notoriously dominated this division in the 2000s, but four years later, the division looks completely different. The Patriots are now in the position that used to belong to the Jets and Bills, and they are now the least exciting team in the division. With three potential playoff teams, this division could shake out to be quite a good one in the loaded AFC.
1st: The Bills still have the most talented roster in the division, but most importantly, they have by far the best quarterback. While I’m not as high on the Bills as I was last year and I do think there are a lot of questions about this team in the playoffs, I do think some people are forgetting just how dominant they were at the start of last season. A huge turning point was Josh Allen’s elbow injury. He played half the season with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow, which is, of course, his throwing elbow. That is when you started to see a lot of inconsistency in his play. I expect him to get back to his best this season. He still has Stefon Diggs and I’m very high on rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. They also need more production from the running back position and hopefully they get that. I believe the defense will be very good again. I like the addition of Leonard Floyd but they need Von Miller back if they are going to make a deep playoff run.
New York Jets
2nd: I’m on the Jets hype train. This is all about Aaron Rodgers for me. I like the roster a lot and I think he will guide those young players to the playoffs. They went 7-10 last season and all they needed to make the playoffs was just competent quarterback play. They unfortunately couldn’t get anywhere near that level of play from any of their quarterbacks. There were 37 quarterbacks that took at least 150 snaps last season and the Jets had the bottom three quarterbacks in passer rating. An interesting thing about this whole thing is that Rodgers is coming off of probably his worst season as a starter. Despite that, I believe Rodgers is at his best when he has a chip on his shoulder and I think he will have a bounce back year. He has a guy that I believe will cement himself as a star wide receiver in Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, who was having a great rookie year before getting hurt, and other good weapons. On the other side of the ball, they have a very good defense. They were excellent last season and I expect them to be good again led by guys like Sauce Gardner and Quinnen Williams that are amongst the best players in the league at their position.
3rd: Even as I’m writing this, I feel like I’m being harsh by having them this low in the division. I think they are a good team that has the ability to win the division, but I think they’ll come in third in a tightly contested division. I expect their offense to be explosive once again this season. Mike McDaniel will have had another off-season to bestow his wizardry on the league with his track team of skill position players. I think Tua Tagovailoa will play well when he is healthy. That is one of the reasons I don’t think they’ll quite win the division or finish second. I expect the defense to be much improved despite Jalen Ramsey being injured. Getting Vic Fangio in the building was their biggest acquisition this off-season and he will be the biggest reason for their defensive improvement.
New England Patriots
4th: Normally last place teams are awful. I don’t think that will be the case for this year’s Patriots. Bill Belichick won’t allow it. I still expect them to compete for a playoff spot for most of the season but ultimately fall short and finish last. I believe the Patriots’s defense will be excellent as usual under Belichick. Last year, they allowed the ninth-fewest offensive touchdowns and fourth-fewest yards per play. First-round pick Christian Gonzalez is an exciting prospect to look out for this season at cornerback. The offense will be the main reason that they won’t make the playoffs. I like Mac Jones probably more than most. I think he can play some good football with talented guys at the skill positions, but I don’t think the Patriots have enough of those guys.
So, I expect the rankings to be Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Patriots. Which, funny enough, is the exact reverse of the 2012 season. It is crazy how much difference ten years can make.
Header Photo: The most unlikely friendship of all time, pictured above. Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner and other Jets players have seemingly made Aaron Rodgers feel young again. Does Rodgers have a vintage season in him? The Jets’ hopes rest on his shoulders. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)
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