In this new series, we’ll be reviewing each division in the NFL - taking a look at each team’s 2019 season, their ups and downs, as well as looking ahead to what their 2020 might look like. This week, we’re investigating whether anyone can finally overtake the perennial powerhouse that is New England in the AFC East.
One of the reasons there was such excitement ahead of the Super Bowl was that New England were not in it.
That is not to say that New England don’t have a big fan base – they do – but we have become so accustomed to seeing them in the grand finale that we’ve grown tired of it.
So, just imaging how the other three AFC East teams feel each and every season. However, now that Brady is gone, the other teams may feel like their time is now.
The Bills finished 10-6 with one of the better defenses in the NFL.
Their fan base is a consistent talking point with their colourful pre-game antics, and McDermott has had a pretty strong start to his time in the northeast.
But a 10-6 record is deceiving. The Bills played four playoff teams all season (New England twice, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Tennessee), and they lost four of those five encounters, not including the heart-breaking playoff loss in Houston.
They’re a great example of a team who benefitted from a relatively easy schedule. Houston had that luxury in 2018 and made the playoffs because of it, too. But they do have that impressive defense. Ranked top five in both yards and points conceded, that’s a big positive to build upon.
On the offensive side, they have a centrepiece of uncertainty with Josh Allen.
Allen is an interesting quarterback to watch. He is ranked 24th in QBR and while he can be exciting and tenacious, he is also liable for a questionable decision or two. That was never more apparent than in the aforementioned playoff loss in Houston.
Leading 16-0, they lost 22-19 and their offensive output in the second half left a lot to be desired. To an extent, credit is due to Deshaun Watson, but Josh Allen also made a series of egregious errors that killed them.
That game felt like quintessential Josh Allen in many respects – it showed his good and bad sides, and the good was usually him running.
He does have good arm strength, but it’s not always been efficient. The Bills are unlikely to move on from Allen in 2020, so he needs to improve for Buffalo to make the playoffs again.
Going into the off-season, the Bills had the fourth most cap space in the league and using a chunk of that to land Stefon Diggs from Minnesota is sure to get fans excited. That could help elevate Allen improve in 2020, too.
A tougher schedule means reality bites beckon for Buffalo, but with McDermott at the helm, the floor doesn’t feel too low either.
In spite of a poor season, Miami have a lot to be excited about in the future. Or at least, if they manage the next few months correctly, there’ll be a lot to get excited about.
But first, a look back.
The year 2019 saw Brian Flores take over as their new head coach. The commonly held belief among NFL fans was that Miami would ‘Tank for Tua’, and although that might be what ends up happening, it has not unfolded as seamlessly as we all first thought.
Their roster became depleted after losing Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kenyan Drake, Ryan Tannehill and Laremy Tunsil, but Miami showed grit when all seemed lost and fought their way to 5-11.
Generally, when a bad team shows fight, it means that they believe in their coach. If that is true, then Flores will go into 2020 knowing he has a team ready to rally behind him and a plethora of new talent acquired in the offseason.
This is where Dolphins fans can get excited.
Miami possess three first-round picks this year, and at least two next year as things stand. So, while they may not see a huge lift immediately, they’re very much in a position to correct things over two drafts.
Finding their next quarterback (in spite of trading for Josh Rosen, curiously) will almost definitely be their first port of call in the draft. And as things stand, Cincinnati are said to have the hots for Joe Burrow. With the next three teams (Washington, Detroit, New York) unlikely to pick a quarterback, Tua may well fall into Miami’s lap anyway.
That is not to say Miami will automatically select him, however. Tua suffered a pretty serious hip injury last season, and the Dolphins might harbour reservations about picking someone with that risk attached.
There is no doubt that finding the right quarterback will galvanise this team more than any other position.
Having said that, Miami did a lot of business in Free Agency. Signings like Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy will help their defense, while Ereck Flowers (nobody could have seen this coming a few seasons ago) looks like a man reborn who should help their offensive line. They’re a young team, so they are a few years (at least) from contention. Mediocrity beckons in 2020.
Ceiling: 8-8 Floor: 6-10
New England Patriots
There was a point in the 2019 season where every NFL fan was thinking “here we go again”.
The New England defense was dominating early on in the season with their fans calling it one of the best of all-time (in spite of the fact they hadn’t played decent opposition until November), they had acquired Antonio Brown to give Brady some form of a target, and all seemed well. They couldn’t stop winning.
Fast forward to the playoffs, and they were eliminated in embarrassing (by their own high standards) fashion at the hands of a man who does push-ups on field before games – Mike Vrabel.
Now, the narrative is focused around who’ll be under centre for them, with Brady taking his veggie-based diet down to Florida.
Whoever comes in will need help. This team isn’t as good on offense as it once was - Gronk is gone, the Brown era didn’t last, Sony Michel has regressed, and the Mohammed Sanu trade hasn’t worked out. The poor Patriots need some help, dammit!
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. They have a really, really good defense.
Stephon Gilmore won defensive player of the year, their pass-rushing was so good that at one point, Sam Darnold famously confessed he was “seeing ghosts”, and they finished as the top-ranked unit in terms of passing yards and points per game. Oh, and Belichick is still in charge. They’ll be fine.
In terms of what they can do to improve, for the first times in years, they need to find a starting quarterback, and who they land on will be fascinating. Will it be the draft or will Newton/Dalton get the call-up? It probably won’t be Brian Hoyer anyway. Whoever it is, they’re still the Patriots, and they’ll still be in the playoffs.
Ceiling: 13-3 and a Super Bowl push Floor: 10-6
New York Jets
Putting last season aside, there is a bizarre trend among former Jets head coaches.
Their past three head coaches (Todd Bowles, Rex Ryan, Eric Mangini) all started their Jets eras off respectfully. Mangini finished 10-6 in 2006 and lost in the Wildcard round, Ryan finished 9-7 and made it to the AFC Championship, and Bowles finished 10-6 in 2015. Their terms all went downhill from there, though.
So, if that’s the trend, and the peak is the start, then what next for the 7-9 Adam Gase Jets? Since attaining roles of significance, there has never been a huge reason to believe in Adam Gase as a coach. He succeeded in Denver as their OC in large part because of Peyton Manning running their offense.
At Chicago, the Bears finished as the 18th ranked offense, and as the head coach in Miami, the team finished with an average winning percentage of .479% - so why should New York feel like 2020 should be any different?
Sam Darnold showed glimpses of why he was selected at number three in the 2018 NFL draft. After missing four games due to mono, he came back to show that he could be a franchise quarterback in the future.
Beyond that, the Le’Veon Bell experiment is yet to pay off, and Jamison Crowder is their best receiver. They ranked dead last in the following offensive categories:
· Yards per drive
· Plays per drive
· Points per drive
So, if you’re hanging your hat on the Jets being an offensive powerhouse in 2020, you might want to reconsider. The 7-9 record probably flatters to deceive, and they have a lot of gaps to fill this off-season.
Protecting Darnold should be their priority, with a star receiver not being far behind in terms of importance.
The Jets don’t have a great head coach, they have a lot of gaps to fill, and their schedule looks much, much tougher in 2020.
Ceiling: 8-8 Floor: 2-14.
Written by Matthew Carolan.