The Buffalo Bills had a rough 2018, but they may be in position to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East in 2019.
Every season, 28 other fanbases deride the New England Patriots for the inherent advantage of residing in the AFC East. The Patriots, winners of the division in 16 of the past 18 seasons – including 10 consecutive now – often make their division-mates look like cannon fodder while taking their annual march to the playoffs.
All three teams have had ups and downs over the past two decades. Occasionally, the Patriots’ rivals have come close to usurping the throne:
Drew Bledsoe and the Bills looked ready to make a run in the mid-2000s;
Ditto the Wildcat-focused Miami Dolphins of the Tony Sparano era at the end of the 2000s;
Rex Ryan and the Jets of 2010 made the best run of any team, knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs and even making it all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
For the past three years heading into the 2018 NFL season, there was at least one legitimate threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
In 2015 the Jets won ten games, and only a Week 17 loss to Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills kept them from the playoffs. In 2016, Adam Gase – in his first season as head coach in Miami – led the Dolphins to the Wild Card round. And finally in 2017, the Buffalo Bills rallied around head coach Sean McDermott and snuck into the Wild Card spot after the Baltimore Ravens fell to Cincinnati in Week 17.
In 2018, this streak of the Patriots feeling the heat from their division rivals came to a close.
The New York Jets bottomed out at 4-12; the Buffalo Bills weren’t much better, winning just six games. The Miami Dolphins – after wasting a 3-0 start – seemed ready to charge into the playoffs after their “Miami Miracle” Week 14 victory over the Patriots, but instead finished 0-3, scoring just 41 points while allowing 100 to their three opponents.
Only five teams in the NFL last season allowed 100 or more points than they scored; three of them came from the AFC East. Only the truly pitiful Oakland Raiders (-177) and Arizona Cardinals (-200) had worse point differentials than the Patriots’ division-mates. Miami finished with a -114 point differential, Buffalo with a -105 point differential, and the Jets with a -108 point differential (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
For the Dolphins, the weakness was on both sides of the ball. They were 26th in points scored and 27th in points allowed. Miami fired Coach Gase after a second consecutive season under .500. While seemingly a rash decision, Gase never delivered on his promise as a quarterback-whisperer, with Ryan Tannehill’s unfulfilled promise claiming yet another victim in South Beach.
As for the Jets, they had their moments on offense, and even finished 23rd in points scored, but the defense – especially the boastful “New Jack City” secondary – let down their fans, as they finished 29th in points allowed. As a result, the Jets fired head coach Todd Bowles after a third consecutive season of five wins or less.
In the case of the Bills, the defense was strong, but the offense was dreadful, finishing 30th in points scored. Even though the team took a full step backwards in his second season, head coach Sean McDermott was retained.
While the New England Patriots shift their gaze to the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round, the rest of the AFC East has already started focusing on next season.
Let’s keep tabs on all three teams in the AFC East and analyze their next moves as they try to get ready to challenge the Patriots in 2019. Part one looked at the Miami Dolphins. Part two looked at the New York Jets. Part three concludes with a look at the Buffalo Bills: