The AFC East will be arguably the best division in football this season from top to bottom. New England is once again the clear cut favorite, despite having to be without star quarterback Tom Brady (suspension) for their first four games. It should otherwise be competitively balanced regarding the other three teams. The Bills (8-8), Dolphins (6-10), and Jets (10-6) combined to go 24-24 last year. You can certainly make a strong case for either the Jets or Bills as a possible playoff team. Miami should improve upon last year’s disappointing 6-10 finish with new head coach Adam Gase in charge.
Futures Betting Odds on AFC East Division Winner
- Patriots (-220)
- Bills (+550)
- Jets (+600)
- Dolphins (+700)
Note: All betting odds are courtesy of OddsShark.com.
There were extremely high expectations in Western New York heading into last season. It began with the hiring of bombastic head coach Rex Ryan. There was also excitement that followed with high profile offseason acquisitions of running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Percy Harvin, and tight end Charles Clay. However, all of Rex Ryan’s bravado exuded during his press conferences prior to last season, fell by the wayside as a result of an 8-8 year, and a drastic decline of a Bills defense that ranked fourth overall the season before under former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Furthermore, Percy Harvin was lost early to a season ending injury, LeSean McCoy suffered a serious hamstring injury in training camp that plagued him all year, while Charles Clay’s production tailed off considerably after a strong start.
On a positive note, Tyrod Taylor won a heated quarterback competition over E.J. Manuel and Matt Cassel during last year’s training camp. Taylor rewarded the Bills coaching staff in his first year as a NFL starting quarterback by going 8-6, tossing 20 touchdown passes versus 6 interceptions, throwing for 3035 yards, and running for an additional 568 yards. His favorite target was Sammy Watkins who amassed 1047 receiving yards and hauled in 9 touchdown receptions. Watkins was especially productive over the second half of the season. That’s when he and Taylor developed an inspiring chemistry together.
Rex Ryan entered last season with a reputation of being a defensive genius. Nevertheless, Buffalo went from #4 to #21 in total defense, and their sack total plummeted to 21 compared to 56 the year before. If Buffalo is going to challenge New England in the AFC East, or even contend for a wild card playoff berth, the performance of their defense will be called upon to dramatically improve.
It’s a new era for Dolphins football with Adam Gase taking over the reins of head coach. This will be Gase’s first NFL head coaching job. He’s certainly earned the opportunity following successful tenures as offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos (2013-2014) and Chicago Bears (2015). The 38-year-old Gase inherits a Dolphins team which vastly underachieved a season ago, finishing last in the AFC East with 6-10 record.
Gase’s primary take at hand is elevating quarterback Ryan Tannehill to an elite level, coinciding with the lucrative deal he signed in 2015. Although receiving his fair share of criticism last season, the former Texas A&M Aggie compiled 4208 yards passing while throwing for 24 touchdowns. He’ll have two very talented wide receivers at his disposal in Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker. The running game should be vastly improved by the addition of former Houston Texan Arian Foster. He’s topped 1200 yards on four separate occasions through his 7-year career. Unfortunately, Foster has been unable to remain healthy over the last three seasons, and has missed 25 games due to injury over that course of time. Miami also possesses two other capable runners in Jay Ajayi and rookie Kenyan Drake (Alabama).
On paper, Miami has the makings of a NFL top ten defense line. They’ll have two premier edge rushers in defense ends Cameron Wake and newly acquired Mario Williams. Ndadamukong Suh can certainly be considered as an elite defensive tackle when his head is screwed on right. I’m not crazy about the Dolphins back seven defenders, and that may ultimately be their undoing regarding that side of the ball.
New York Jets
The prolonged soap opera involving free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was finally resolved just prior to the start of training camp. The veteran signal caller signed a guaranteed deal worth 12-million dollars. Fitzpatrick is coming off a successful campaign a season ago that saw him throw for 3905 yards, and a Jets franchise record 31 touchdown passes. He’ll be the beneficiary of two excellent wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Furthermore, the addition of former Bears running back Matt Forte will provide Fitzpatrick with a dual threat option he wasn’t privy to last year.
The strength of the Jets defense will be its defensive line led by ends Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson. With the exception of David Harris, I’m not enamored whatsoever with the Jets linebackers. Future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis is considered the strength of their secondary and rightfully so. Nonetheless, Revis showed a lack of invincibility late last season, and that was magnified in a failed must win Jets regular season finale at Buffalo when he was absolutely torched by Sammy Watkins. All in all, this defensive unit should still remain a somewhat formidable group, and is good enough to carry their weight regarding a possible playoff run.
Well find out just how good the Jets are during their first seven games. That portion of their schedule is extremely tough, and doesn’t even include New England who’ll they’ll be facing twice in the second half of its slate. They’ll open the year against Cincinnati, at Buffalo (Thursday night), at Kansas City, Seattle, at Pittsburgh, at Arizona, and Baltimore. Five of those seven opponents were playoff teams last year, and the other two (Buffalo/Baltimore) are widely considered to be playoff contenders for this upcoming NFL campaign.
New England Patriots
The Patriots biggest obstacle to defending their AFC East crown will come during its first four games. In case you’ve been living under a rock, they’ll be without Tom Brady throughout that time period due to suspension pertaining to the widely publicized “Deflategate Scandal”. New England will have to rely on third year 24-year-old quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo who’s yet to make a NFL start, and has only seen regular season duty in a mop up role. Those aforementioned four games are at Arizona, Miami, Houston, and at Buffalo. Realistically, if New England comes out of that stretch at 2-2, they’ll still be in very good shape pertaining to win the AFC East, barring an injury to Brady when he returns.
New England’s already lethal passing game became even more dynamic with the offseason acquisition of tight end Martellus Bennett. The combination of Rob Gronkowski and Bennet now gives New England two tight ends that can stretch the field vertically. This dynamic duo may remind Patriot fans of the days when Gronkowski teamed with former partner in crime (no pun intended) Aaron Hernandez. The usual reliable and productive pair of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola return at wide receiver. The Patriots own a stable of five experienced running backs, all of which have enjoyed some degree of success at one time or another. Going into last season, New England’s offensive line was considered to be a huge question mark, but that concern was quickly put to rest. I look for the consistency in play from that group to be apparent once again.
The defensive unit will fly under the radar as they usually do, often overshadowed by Brady and their offense. Yet, they’ll have all the pieces in place to be a top notch unit. Legendary head coach Bill Belichik made his initial mark in this league with his prowess as a defensive coordinator, and that’s a frequently forgotten fact. The defense will be depended upon heavily throughout the first four games, and they’ll be more than capable of stepping up to that challenge.
New England will once again be the class of the AFC East. Although, I’ve never been a proponent of making a futures bet of odds of better than 2-1 (-220). Despite the Patriots being a most logical and wisest choice, there’s way better values found elsewhere among the other five divisions.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, I would opt for Buffalo at +550. It’s put up or shut up time for Rex Ryan, and I look for the defensive unit to return to the form displayed two seasons ago. The Bills have all five offensive linemen return from last year’s NFL best rushing attack. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Sammy Watkins are future stars, and it will become evident sooner rather than later.
Although I have a lot of respect for this current Jets roster, the grueling early schedule will be too much for them to overcome. You can put me in the category of not being so enamored with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Dolphins won’t be an easy out for any opposing team. Nevertheless, with a new coaching staff in place, there will be growing pains, and as a result Miami is still away from being considered a serious contender to win the division.