AFC North Divisional Breakdown: Josh Allen and the Bills Claim the Division Crown

In a division that hasn’t seen a new champion since 2009, I believe the AFC East will have a new team that takes the division crown in 2020. While three of the teams in the division have gone under serious turnaround this offseason, the division is still primarily a two-team race. With Tom Brady on the move to Tampa Bay, the division is again wide open, and a new champion should be crowned this season.

Per usual, my rankings take into account the odds and win projections for each team, as well as the moves each franchise made during the offseason to improve their respective squads.

TeamOdds to win DivisionWin Totals2019 Record2019 PF2019 PADIFF

1. Buffalo Bills

Buffalo BillsYes, you read that correctly. My prediction for the division winner lies in Buffalo, New York. For the first time in more than a decade, the division crown will be given to a team that isn’t in New England. After years of turmoil and ample amounts of success, the Buffalo Bills finished with a 10-6 record and made the playoffs last season. I’m going to disagree with many experts here, as I believe that the Bills are serious contenders this season and should win the division over the New England Patriots.

The Bills have finally found stability in head coach Sean McDermott, as he has solidified himself as one of the best young coaches in football. Buffalo has also seemed to have found a franchise quarterback in Josh Allen, as he made tremendous strides since his rookie season in 2018. In 2019, Allen threw for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Like his rookie season, Allen led all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns in 2019, as he rushed for 510 yards and 9 touchdowns. Although his passing totals aren’t exactly jaw-dropping numbers, Allen showed significant growth in his sophomore season.

Despite Allen’s success last season, Buffalo only managed 19.6 points per game -good for 23rd in the NFL. That number should improve vastly as the Bills have managed to acquire a ton of talent through the draft and in free agency. In the draft, Buffalo selected Utah’s Zach Moss in the third round. Moss spent four years in Utah, where he had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while scoring 41 total touchdowns. Moss should complement running back Devin Singletary and give the Bills a very young, promising backfield for the next five years or so.

Out wide, Buffalo pulled off an impressive trade during the offseason, where they acquired former Vikings receiver, Stefon Diggs. In 2019, Diggs recorded his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, catching 63 passes for 1,130 yards and 6 touchdowns. Diggs gives Allen and the Buffalo offense a true number one receiver that they have been missing for years. Opposite of Diggs, the Bills had their own 1,000-yard receiver in 2019. In his first season in Buffalo, John Brown recorded 72 receptions for 1,060 yards and 6 touchdowns. Both he and Diggs possess tremendous speed and should keep defenses honest and open things up for Buffalo on the ground. Although Buffalo was heavily dependent on their run game (130.9 YPG), I expect them to open things up a bit through the air this season.

On defense, Buffalo was elite, trailing only the Patriots in opponent scoring per game (16.5 OPPG). As hard as it seems, the unit got better during the offseason. In free agency, the team added defensive lineman Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, and Vernon Butler, as well as cornerbacks Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines. All five players have started games during their careers and provide Buffalo with exceptional depth on defense. In the draft, Buffalo spent its first pick on Iowa State defensive end, AJ Epenesa. Epenesa was the 3rd highest ranked defensive lineman in the draft and could work his way into the starting lineup in the future. Buffalo also returns all of their starting players on defense in 2020 and should record another top-five finish, barring any injury to their top players.

2. New England Patriots

New England PatriotsThe Patriots are coming off of arguably the most important offseason in franchise history. Everything changed for the team when quarterback Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Brady’s departure leaves the Patriots with a gaping hole at the quarterback position, as Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham are expected to compete for the starting spot in 2020. The team was significantly hampered by injuries to an already depleted wide receiver group, and most of the team’s success in 2019 came at the expense of an elite defense.

On offense, the team did very little during the offseason to improve their weapons through the air, which gives me very little confidence in seeing any quarterback succeed this season. The only additions were veteran receiver Marquise Lee and tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the draft. New England averaged 25.5 points per game last season, but I expect that number to decrease significantly. While the team returns nearly the same offensive line, I expect defenses to stack the box against the run and force New England to beat them through the passing game.

Although they failed to make any critical moves to improve their aerial attack, the Patriots have a promising running back committee in Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. While the unit disappointed in 2019, I expect them to be more involved this season and produce at a better rate. This should certainly be possible if receivers Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, and N’Keal Harry perform much better than they did in 2019.

Like Buffalo, a large part of the Patriot’s success was due to their defense. They finished first in opponent scoring, limiting teams to 14.4 points per game. The defense is led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year, cornerback Stephon Gilmore. In 2019, Gilmore recorded 53 tackles and a league-leading 6 interceptions. Gilmore also returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season and is regarded as the best defensive back in the NFL.

In free agency, New England signed defensive lineman Beau Allen to a two-year contract and resigned starting Pro-Bowl safety Devin McCourty. Allen is a projected starter for the Patriots, and the veteran McCourty is coming off a season where he made 58 tackles and caught 5 interceptions. In the draft, New England used their first two picks on defensive players. They used their first pick on safety Kyle Dugger, and their second pick on defensive end Josh Uche. Dugger was the 6th rated safety before the draft and could start for the Patriots in the future as safety Patrick Chung continues to age. Uche brings a ton of upside to the Patriots and could compete for the starting spot in training camp.

3. New York Jets

New York JetsNot much has gone right for Jets fans in the last decade, and that continued to be true in 2019. The Jets finished last season with a 7-9 record and remained near the bottom of the AFC East. Coming into the season, the Jets had high hopes for their franchise as quarterback Sam Darnold was entering his second season, and the team had just signed former All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell. If there is anything to be excited about in New York, it should be in the Jets’ 2020 draft class, as the team has heavily invested in their future with a ton of potential on the roster.

In a division that is more of a two-team race, I expect the Jets to finish 3rd in the AFC East and win around 6.5 games. With an offense that had a talented young quarterback and proven running back, it was puzzling to see the Jet’s lack of production in the scoring department last season. New York finished behind only the Washington Redskins in points per game (17.2), and the offense struggled to keep up with opponents all season long. If there was any silver lining to New York’s lack of production on offense, quarterback Sam Darnold improved upon his mediocre rookie season. Although Darnold was limited to thirteen games last season, he threw for 3,024 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions -all career highs.

The team’s big offseason acquisition, Le’Veon Bell, failed to make the desired impact that the Jets had for him when they signed him to a $52.5 million-dollar deal. Bell is coming off a season where he rushed for only 789 yards and 3 touchdowns. His rushing totals were the lowest since 2015, and his lack of production hurt the Jet’s offense tremendously. Bell’s lack of production wasn’t entirely his fault, as the Jets had the 28th ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus in 2019. As the biggest need for the team, the Jets heavily invested money and draft picks to the offensive line during the offseason. In free agency, New York signed center Connor McGovern, tackle George Fant, and guard Alex Lewis. In the draft, the Jets selected the number two ranked tackle, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, with the 11th overall pick. Becton is an immediate starter for the Jets and should help a line that allowed 52 sacks last year.

The Jets also added a significant infusion of talent and youth to the offense in free agency and the draft. New York kick-started their offseason by signing veterans Joe Flacco, Frank Gore, and Breshad Perriman in free agency. Perriman, a former first-round draft pick, is coming off his best NFL season. He recorded 36 receptions for 645 yards and 6 touchdowns last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Keep in mind Perriman posted these numbers in only four starts and was utilized due to injuries at wideout. The Jets also added Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims, who should be a terrific red zone threat for quarterback Sam Darnold. With the additions of Mims and Perriman, the Jets now have three capable receivers who complement each other tremendously. Perriman should be utilized as a deep threat, while Jamison Crowder is one of the more underrated slot receivers in the NFL. Mims also gives the Jets a future number one wideout that the team has been missing for years.

Defensively, the Jets were much better in 2019 and showed a ton of promise on that side of the ball. The defense ranked 16th in scoring (22.4 OPPG), and 2nd in opponent rushing yards per game (86.9). The Jets defense is again led by linebacker C.J. Mosely, Pro-Bowl safety Jamal Adams, and former 3rd overall pick Quinnen Williams. The defense should improve again this season, as the Jets added linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, edge Jordan Jenkins, and corner Pierre Desir in free agency. New York also gained a ton of value in the draft, adding players such as safety Ashtyn Davis, Jabari Zuniga, and Bryce Hall to their roster. Zuniga is projected to start right away for the Jets at defensive end, and is an excellent value pick for New York, as they selected him in the 3rd round of the draft.

4. Miami Dolphins

Miami DolphinsSimilarly, to the Jets, Miami’s 2019 season gave little for their fans to cheer about. The team finished with a 5-11 record and once again finished at the bottom of the AFC East. The team is in full rebuild mode, as general manager Chris Grier unloaded a ton of veterans for draft picks and young players in 2019. If there is anything for Dolphins fans to get excited about, the team has started to gain an extensive collection of young talent, and the franchise looks to be headed in the right direction.

Under head coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins finished with the worst defense in football last season, surrendering 30.9 points per game. While I don’t expect Miami to become an elite defense in 2020, they should improve drastically on defense this season. Miami kickstarted their offseason by making a ton of moves in free agency. They signed the number one corner, Byron Jones, to a five-year $82 million contract. Miami also added pass-rushers Emmanuel Ogbah, Kyle Van Noy, and Shaq Lawson. Lawson and Van Noy each recorded 6.5 sacks in 2019 and will help a unit that. All three players will help a group that recorded only 23 sacks in 2019.

Entering the draft, Miami had a whopping eleven picks at their disposal and addressed many of the team’s needs. With the 5th overall pick, Miami selected quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who I thought was the best overall player in the draft. While Tagovailoa has a ton of injury history, his talent and upside are undeniable. He should be a franchise quarterback if Miami can keep him healthy and surround him with talent. Miami is also a terrific fit for Tagovailoa, as he has a chance to redshirt this season and learn from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins used their second first-round pick on offensive tackle Austin Jackson, who many scouts regarded as the 8th best offensive lineman in the draft. Jackson needs experience and seasoning but should be a franchise tackle by the time Tagovailoa is healthy enough to take over as a starter.

Defensively, the Dolphins drafted a ton of future starters in the draft. With the 30th overall selection, Miami took Auburn corner, Noah Igbinoghene. While Miami already has two legit corners in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, Igbinoghene provides the team with terrific depth and is insurance for Howard. He missed 11 games in 2019 with a knee injury. The Dolphins also added former 5-star Alabama defensive tackle, Raekwon Davis, in the second round of the draft. Davis could become a steal for the Dolphins, as he has all the potential of a first-round player and should start right away for Miami.

Diehard Laker and Seahawk fan. I unfortunately witnessed the Seattle Seahawks passing the ball on the 1 yard line. I hope that sports can unite people and bring them closer together. Current student at Chapman University.

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