For the first time in two decades of domination, the New England Patriots could possibly struggle to come out on top of the AFC East.
As tight as the division is projected to look this season, the New England Patriots will finish the year playing in three straight divisional games — Dolphins, Bills, Jets — that could very well determine the outcome of the AFC East.
For the first time in 20 years, Bill Belichick and the Patriots find themselves surrounded by teams that are actually capable of taking the division right out from under them this year. It’s something that has only happened three times during Belichick’s coaching tenure in New England: 2000, 2002, and 2008.
With Tom Brady now out of the AFC East, the playing field is essentially “even,” as all four teams in the division have intentions of utilizing a starting quarterback that is at least 23 years old or younger. Both Jarrett Stidham and Josh Allen are 23, while Sam Darnold and Tua Tagovaiola are both 22.
In regards to the rebuilding and retooling process, the Patriots are a few steps behind the other teams in the AFC East. They’re essentially late to the party in that regard, as this is a unique position that the Patriots have never found themselves in.
When it comes to the AFC East, it really all comes down to how well the New England Patriots can truck through the battles of the season — a season in which they have the hardest schedule in the entire NFL.
The schedule also will feature the Pats taking their annual December trip to Miami (Week 15) — where we know that they typically struggle down there at the end of the year — followed by the Bills (Week 16) and Jets (Week 17) at home to end the regular season.
So let’s take a look at how the AFC East has improved this offseason.
After finishing second in the AFC East in 2019, the Bills did an excellent job of upgrading their team this offseason. It makes them the best team suited to take the division from the Patriots this season.
The Bills went out and acquired a wide receiver in Stefon Diggs to keep up with the cannon-arm quarterback that is Josh Allen. They also signed veteran free agent cornerback Josh Norman to join Tre’Davious White and Micah Hyde in the secondary.
Despite the Dolphins drafting Tua Tagovailoa this year, it’s worth mentioning that they still have a capable veteran quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also have an ascendant wide receiver in DeVante Parker — who led the entire AFC last season in receiving yards (1,202) and receiving touchdowns (9).
The Dolphins made a handful of upgrades to their defense as well this offseason, making them a team to watch out for this season.
While the Dolphins made a big splash during free agency this offseason, the Jets have been relatively quiet in regards to bringing in some additional positive reinforcements. Although, in hopes of replacing wide receiver Robby Anderson — who signed with the Panthers as a free agent — the Jets signed Breshad Perriman and drafted Denzel Mims in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Not to mention, the Jets have been building a defense that is just about ready to rise to the occasion this season.
Although you can never underestimate the New England Patriots, this also isn’t the year to be underestimating any of the other three teams in the AFC East.