AFC East Preview
It’s the start of a new era in the AFC East at the quarterback position with the New York Jets and New England Patriots finding younger options. Rookies Zach Wilson and Mac Jones are both set to make their first NFL starts in Week 1 as all four of the starting quarterbacks in the AFC East are at or below the age of 25.
The Buffalo Bills took advantage of the first year post-Tom Brady as they cruised to a 13-3 record and a division title. As the other three teams in the division continue to improve however, can the Bills repeat?
Let’s take a look.
The Bills took a major leap in 2020 as they went all the way to the AFC Championship game losing to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Josh Allen took a big step forward and made his first Pro Bowl as a reward. The offensive core around him saw few changes during the offseason and may have gotten better. Receiver John Brown, who missed half of last season with a high ankle sprain, was replaced with Emmanuel Sanders in free agency.
Defensively, the Bills added to the pass rush during the first round of the NFL Draft as they picked up Gregory Rousseau from Miami. No one for the Bills last season had more than five sacks last season, and Rousseau should help change that statistic this season.
The running game could still be an issue for this Bills team, but this roster top to bottom is still the best in the division and they should once again be the biggest challenge for the Chiefs.
After finishing just short of a playoff appearance last season, the Dolphins made big moves on the offensive side of the ball to build around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Receiver Will Fuller was brought in during free agency from the Texans in what was a low-risk signing by the Dolphins. Fuller has yet to play a full season, and last season he had almost 900 yards in 11 games before getting suspended the last five games due to performance-enhancing drugs.
The Dolphins also went receiver during the first round of the draft, picking Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle giving Tagovailoa his former college teammate to throw to as well.
The defensive side of the ball still looks to be the Dolphins best area with both Xavien Howard and Byron Jones still at the two cornerback positions despite trade requests from the former. While Kyle Van Noy was surprisingly cut after just one year into his big contract, another former Texan in Benardrick McKinney was brought in to replace him.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick gone, the pressure is all on Tagovailoa to take the next step in his sophomore season to help the Dolphins make the playoffs.
New England Patriots
The big story here came recently with the release of Cam Newton. Instead of going back to its starting quarterback from last season, it will be first-round pick Mac Jones taking over in New England.
Surrounding him, the Patriots spent big this offseason acquiring tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as passing options for Jones. At receiver, the Patriots took a risk on Nelson Agholor, who had a breakout season for almost 900 yards and eight touchdowns with the Las Vegas Raiders after leaving the Philadelphia Eagles.
Linebacker Matthew Judon was also given big money to come over from the Baltimore Ravens, and Van Noy was brought back after a one year stint with the Dolphins. Coupled with Van Noy’s is the return of Dont'a Hightower, who sat out last season due to COVID-19, which makes the Patriots defense almost completely rebuilt for this season.
The big question is how Jones will fare in his first year. If he can break out, the Patriots suddenly become big threats in the AFC, as well as the division, but he might not be at that level just yet.
New York Jets
Most Jets fans may have considered this offseason a win when head coach Adam Gase was finally fired at the end of last season.
In came defensive minded head coach Robert Saleh from the San Francisco 49ers to replace Gase, and he will start his first season in New York with a rookie quarterback.
After trading signal caller Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, Zach Wilson was drafted with the second overall pick, and fans have high hopes for him after a breakout junior season at BYU.
The Jets surrounded Wilson with a revamped offense as former Tennessee Titan Corey Davis was brought in to be the team’s No. 1 receiver. The first four picks in the draft for the Jets were all offensive players with Alijah Vera-Tucker brought in to help protect Wilson and Elijah Moore to help the receiving game.
While the Jets did lose defensive ends Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry for the season, Sheldon Rankins was a good find in free agency from the New Orleans Saints, and Shaq Lawson was just picked up in a trade with the Texans.
There’s still a lot of work to be done as it’s just the beginning of a new era for Gang Green but there’s a lot to be excited about for the future.
Logan Bourandas is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Third-Year / Broadcast Journalism