Which AFC East team is the biggest threat to the Bills?
By: Louis Damiano
Last year, the Buffalo Bills won the AFC East division title for the first time since 1995, a drought every fan couldn’t wait to end. So much so, thousands of fans gathered to celebrate when the team plane arrived back in Buffalo in the freezing cold night after the Bills clinched the division title in Week 15 at Denver with a 48-19 victory.
The AFC East is no longer a division where the topic of conversation is which team can potentially be the biggest challenge to the New England Patriots. This division is as competitive as it has ever been, and it is filled with young highly touted quarterbacks. Two rookie quarterbacks drafted high in the first round, a former number 5 overall pick who has only played in nine games, and the other who is entering his fourth season and finished second in the MVP voting a season ago.
The New York Jets finally seem to have a plan, and it appears that they are building toward something that has the potential to put them in contention in this conference in the future. The Jets have rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson who will be facing some of the best defensive head coaches in the NFL. Sean McDermott, Bill Belichick, and Brian Flores are as good as they come, and they welcome a rookie head coach in Robert Saleh who will certainly be going through his ups and downs just like his young signal caller will. The Jets will not be AFC East contenders this year, but if things go right, they might not be the worst team in the division.
As for the Miami Dolphins, this is a team with high expectations. Many tout this Dolphins squad as a team that has the talent to win a lot of games and potentially the division. But it will all come back on their young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Miami has been one of the most active teams the last couple offseasons, building from the bottom up with general manager Chris Grier. Miami won 10 games last year, and it was due to solid quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick and an opportunistic defense that featured cornerback Xavien Howard who led the league with 10 interceptions. The Dolphins season came to an end when they fell one game short of the playoffs when they got beaten by the Bills and their backups 56-26.
So, what have the Dolphins done this offseason to make the next jump?
The Dolphins entered the offseason knowing they needed to support their young quarterback who struggled mightily when he played against stiffer competition. We saw a few times when Tua started the game but didn’t finish because Flores thought Fitzpatrick gave their team a better chance at winning. We all remember that Saturday Night game in Las Vegas against the Raiders when Fitzpatrick brought the Dolphins back late and won on a game winning field goal 26-25. Tua was taken out of the game after completing 17 of 22 passes for 94 yards. Yes, 94 passing yards on 17 completions. I am not making that up. Fitzpatrick is no longer on the team, and you have to think the Tua will not be coming out of the game for his new backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
The Dolphins appear to have given Tua the keys to the franchise, (unless they trade for Deshaun Watson which would not surprise me) but that also means they must put him in position to succeed. The receivers Tua had to work with was not enough. They brought in the speedy wide receiver Will Fuller in free agency and drafted another speed demon in Jaylen Waddle with the 6th overall pick last month. The moves to bring in deep threat wide receivers did catch some criticism considering Tua is not the greatest deep ball thrower attempting only 3.3 deep passes per game which was 27th in the league and averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt which was ranked 30th. Tua also had a 36.4 deep ball completion % which was 24th in the league. All of this of course may have been due to the fact that he didn’t have the best deep ball receivers but there are no more excuses for him now.
In the draft, Miami drafted four players in the top 42 picks. After Waddle, the Dolphins took Jaelan Phillips who if it wasn’t for injuries could’ve been a top 10 pick. Injuries aside, Phillips should help the pass rush, which feasted on a lot of blitzing but also left the secondary for dead. The passing defense ranked 23rd in the league last year, and Josh Allen was amazing in both games against them. If the Dolphins are going to improve the passing defense, getting to the quarterback with just four will certainly help.
Other notable picks who can make an impact, Oregon safety Jevon Holland and Notre Dame right tackle Liam Eichenberg should make an immediate impact for the Dolphins in year 1.
What have the Patriots done?
The Patriots on the other hand are as interesting as they ever have been even with Tom Brady no longer in the picture. It starts with the quarterback position, and it’s a very interesting situation to monitor. The Pats drafted Alabama signal caller Mac Jones 15th overall, resigned Cam Newton to $3.5 million in guarantees, they already have former 4th rounder Jarrett Stidham, and then just this week they signed veteran backup Brian Hoyer. Mac Jones is the only lock for the roster, Cam has been named the starter by Belichick but if he has a rough camp and Jones shows out, Cam isn’t making enough money to guarantee him a spot. Stidham was a guy many thought would be the Brady replacement, but his 4 interceptions in 48 career passing attempts doesn’t look great. Hoyer could be the mentor for Mac Jones while Cam is the starter, which would leave Stidham as the odd man out, but anything is possible in New England.
Elsewhere on the roster, the Patriots spent a ton of money in free agency to fill holes. The two biggest splashes the Patriots made were at the tight end position. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith were paid as top 5 players at their position, and after having Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene split reps last year, these new tight ends are a major upgrade for a team that loves to utilize two tight ends sets.
At receiver, the Patriots also had no talent and production, so they brought in two under the radar guys who are no longer under the radar given the contracts they received. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne provide the Patriots talent they have missed. On defense the Patriots brought in former Raven Matt Judon to provide more grit on the defensive line, brought back Kyle Van Noy after being cut in Miami, brought in Henry Anderson from the Jets, and drafted Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the second round of the draft. Don’t forget all the guys that are coming back after opting out last year too!
So, who is the biggest threat to the Bills after all these moves both teams in the division have made?
I have to go with the Miami Dolphins. They were so close last year, they won 10 games and I believe they upgraded their roster where it needed upgrading. The defense was at the top all of last season and they have the potential to be even better, however facing better quarterbacks this year can certainly change that. But again, what this comes down to for me is the quarterback position on both teams. I am not a big Tua fan, but it has only been nine starts for him. We can’t judge the former number five overall pick on just nine starts. For the Patriots, I think Mac Jones will sit in year 1 until… Cam is the Cam we saw last year. Cam looks shot, I think we know what we will get from Cam, but we don’t know about Tua. I will roll with the unknown and the upside and take the Dolphins as the biggest threat to Josh Allen in the AFC East.