2021 AFC East Preview

Trying to predict the future is sort of what my blog is all about. I have spent more time this year keeping up with the NFL action than any time before, whether it’s watching The Pat Mcafee Show, listening to the PFF Podcast, or just scanning Twitter for the day-to-day minutia.

I did this exercise last season — the one where I gave a few paragraphs to every team and tried to guess whether they would go over or under their projected win total. I enjoyed it, so I’m doing it again. Being a typical American and working five days a week makes me appreciate the time I have to myself, and I can’t help but spend the overwhelming majority of that time following the sports I love. Everything that follows is the culmination of how I have spent my February (since the Super Bowl) through June (a couple weeks before training camp starts), at least as it relates to my free time.

With that being said, I imagine it will be pretty easy to tell which teams I paid more attention to and which teams I didn’t have much to say about. I also imagine I’ll have a few instant regrets once I get done posting all the divisions, since that’s the nature of betting over/under props — theoretical coin flips — and since the NFL is so unpredictable. For purposes of this, two-plus months before the actual season starts, I consider it to be more of a snapshot of what I feel right this second. So take it all with a grain of salt.

Disclaimer: All over/under win totals are provided courtesy of Bovada.

Part I: NFC East

Part II: NFC North

Part III: NFC South

Part IV: NFC West

Part V: AFC East

Common opponents: AFC South (Colts, Jaguars, Texans, Titans), NFC South (Bucs, Falcons, Panthers, Saints)

My AFC East record last year: 2 wins (Bills, Dolphins), 2 losses (Jets, Patriots)

1. Buffalo Bills

2020 record: 13-3
2021 over (-160)/under (+120): 11 wins

On paper I think the Bills are the third-best team in the NFL, so I like them. I think the Chiefs and Buccaneers are both better, but everyone thinks the Chiefs and Buccaneers are better. Being the best non-Chiefs, non-Buccaneers team in the NFL means Buffalo is the best of the a very crowded second tier. That’s a good thing. But it also means they are a couple bad breaks away from being, like, the 9th or 10th-best team in the league.

Offensively the Bills were a juggernaut in 2020, and given the addition of the always-solid Emmanuel Sanders to flank Stefon Diggs on the outside, they have the chance of being one of the best units again. The narrative around them last year was that they had no running game, but since they won 13 games I don’t know if that means a whole lot. Josh Allen is an effective runner and one of the best in the business at extending plays, and… let’s face it. This team wants to shoot first and worry about running the ball on 3rd and 2 later.

Buffalo’s downfall last year was on defense. They used their first round pick on an EDGE, which was probably their biggest weakness. But unless they make meaningful gains in that area this might just be a really good regular season team with a ceiling in the playoffs. If they aren’t able to consistently pressure guys like Patrick Mahomes in the biggest moments, I don’t see how they take the next crucial step.

One big thing: If Josh Allen isn’t as spectacular as he was last year, I don’t know how much more this team can improve. If he takes even a minor step backwards, Buffalo could be in a dogfight just to win their own division. I will lean under 11 wins — even though 11 might be the perfect number — because of this team’s dependency on Allen to duplicate his greatness from a season ago.

2. Miami Dolphins

2020 record: 10-6
2021 over (-145)/under (+110): 9 wins

Betting markets aren’t high on Tua Tagovailoa; that’s the only justification for why a 10-6 team from a year ago is only slated to win 8.5 games despite there being an extra game on the schedule.

Everyone knows Miami’s story from a year ago. Tua would play, sometimes flash brilliance and sometimes put the team in some hairy situations, and then they would bring in veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick out of the bullpen to save the day. With Fitzpatrick signing with the Washington Football Team the Dolphins no longer have that crutch, but they are basically returning everyone else of consequence and added WR’s Will Fuller (via free agency) and WR Jaylen Waddle (via the NFL Draft).

One big thing: Last year Tua was coming off a major hip injury and didn’t have a full offseason because of COVID. With the additions of Fuller and Waddle to a wide receiver corp also featuring DaVante Parker and Preston Williams, as well as tight end Mike Gesicki, this offense has the potential of being in the top half of the NFL. Assuming Tua is motivated to show the world he isn’t third fiddle to the other high end QB’s of his draft class — Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow — then I like the Dolphins over 9 wins and acting as a legit challenger to the Bills in the AFC East.

3. New England Patriots

2020 record: 7-9
2021 over (-135)/under (+105): 9.5 wins

Listen, I don’t know if any of the free agents New England signed are any good. All I know is they have Bill Belichick, the greatest coach that’s ever done it, and he thought it was a good idea to spend $159.6 million in guaranteed money this offseason.

It is curious timing, though, given that his star quarterback — Tom Brady — signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, brought along his pals Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, and probably had some influence in the Bucs signing RB Leonard Fournette. And what do you know, Tampa won the fucking Super Bowl after all was said and done.

I’m not saying Belichick is a monkey see, monkey do kind of guy. He isn’t. If anything, he’s the opposite. But for all the old school cliches about how football is won, I like to think part of the reason Belichick has had so much success over the years is because he is always willing to adapt. And right now, with super teams like the Chiefs and Bucs dominating the sport, I wonder if Bill surveyed the landscape and saw that to win in 2021, he needs to spend money. He needs to send the message to his team that they are “going for it.”

One big thing: Cam Newton is in his second year with the Patriots, he’ll get a full offseason, and he won’t be sidelined and affected by COVID like he was last year. Don’t forget that even in spite of all the opt-outs the Patriots dealt with last year, along with the fact they had perhaps the weakest skill position players in the NFL, they still managed to finish the year 7-9. With an extra game on the schedule, a better Cam Newton, and a bunch of free agent acquisitions, I am all-in on the Patriots to go over 9.5 wins.

4. New York Jets

2020 record: 2-14
2021 over (-120)/under (-110): 6 wins

He has yet to take a meaningful snap, but I am already all the way out on 2nd overall pick Zach Wilson. I don’t know what it is about him that makes me feel that way, but I’m guessing a large part has to do with the fact he’s playing for the New York Jets.

I was bullish on the Jets last year because everyone thought they were going to suck. Again we see one of those times where the masses were right and contrarian me was wrong. It happens. This time around it’s supposed to be different since they have the hottest coaching prospect in the game — former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh — and they are no longer shackled to former 1st round pick Sam Darnold.

Skill-wise they have some talent with WR Denzel Mims and free agent WR Corey Davis. Their offensive line should be better than it was in 2020, but that’s really to say it was one of the worst units in the league. Defensively they are still in a world of shit, though that may have something to do with why they hired a defensive guy to be their head coach. I guess all I mean to say is the Jets could be better on both sides of the ball and still be by far the worst team in the AFC East.

One big thing: How good is Zach Wilson? That’s really the question with every team, and every quarterback, but I picture the Jets being this revolving door of first round picks playing QB who never make it because they are playing for an organization that doesn’t know how to make it work. I’d like to be wrong — I’d like every young QB to be great — but until proven otherwise I’m just going to assume New York is destined to go under 6 wins and again draft in the top 5 next year.

AFC East Prediction

  1. Buffalo Bills: 11-6
  2. New England Patriots: 11-6
  3. Miami Dolphins: 10-7
  4. New York Jets: 5-12

3 thoughts on “2021 AFC East Preview

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