The AFC East has been ruled by the New England Patriots since 2003. Besides the Tom Brady injury in 2008, no one has really been a challenge. In 2017, the truth is that the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets will be playing catch up as the Patriots will continue their dominance after the additions of Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, and other notable players. The Dolphins look to challenge the king though, going into Adam Gase’s second year. The Buffalo Bill’s hope that Tyrod Taylor proves his ability to be the face of the Franchise with their run-first offensive attack. Along with offensive consistency, new Bill’s coach Sean McDermott hopes to turn this defense into a top-10 force. The New York Jets want to be competitive this season but the front office seems to be rebuilding. So let’s see how the prediction of the 2017 season for the AFC East will look.
New England Patriots: 1st Place
Best Positions in the Division: Quarterback, Tight End, Secondary, Offensive line, Receivers, Linebackers, and Special Teams.
How can a Super Bowl winning team also be one of the most improved coming into 2017? Welcome to New England. If it has not clicked that the Patriots are the heavy favorite going into this season, I am worried about you. Coming off the best Super Bowl comeback in NFL history the Patriots look to tighten their grip on the AFC East this year. Tom Brady has an improved bag of toys with Brandin Cooks and a stable of new running backs. If Rob Gronkowski can stay healthy he is the best tight end in football.
Devin McCourty is coming off one of his best seasons as the main coverage guy in New England according to ProFootballFocus with a coverage grade of 91.9, the highest among safeties. The recent signing of David Harris solidifies the linebackers as the best in the division as he joins Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich. This team looks to make a Super Bowl return by adding more firepower on both sides and also playing in one of the weakest divisions. New England has a strong chance of being 16-0 in a few months.
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
The loss of Chandler Jones showed last season as this group was at best average in 2016. Kony Ealy was brought in to help and win one-on-one matchups on the outside. If this group can get up to top 12 in sacks in the league (They finished 16th in 2016), this could easily go into a strength column. The addition of third-round pick Derek Rivers can only help as he is expected to participate in limited play on passing downs. These two new additions will go into Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s tool bag on this front seven that has players move around and become role players. Look for this position group to improve their numbers heavily towards the end of the season.
Miami Dolphins: 2nd Place
Best Positions in the Division: Defensive Line
Ndamukong Suh has been one of the NFL’s best interior lineman since entering the league. His tenure with the Dolphin’s has made him the top playmaker on their defense. Along with the monster in the middle, Miami seems to hold the Fountain of Youth as Cameron Wake just came off a major year with 11.5 sacks. One of his best years comes at the age of 35! These two already cause Tom Brady problems twice a year and Miami added on to that firepower by drafting Charles Harris in the first round. With an extra pass rusher on 3rd down now, the Dolphins hold a dangerous front four.
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Tannehill looks to grow on his promising relationship with second-year coach Adam Gase. The future seems to hold more Jay Ajayi who was a pleasure to watch last season. The Dolphins will be the little brother to the Patriots again this season but expect consistency from last year.
Weaknesses: Offensive Line and Linebackers
Mike Pouncey is a great NFL center, when healthy. Coming off a hip injury and having not played all 16 games since 2012, this is one major part of weakness. The two guards around Pouncey are not that great either. While Laremy Tunsil is a great player, he alone can not hold up this line that will struggle with the interior again in 2017. Jay Ajayi will have to fight for every yard this season. While Tannehill will enjoy his blind side blocker, he’ll see the rest of the line struggle in front of him.
A group that has a decent initial appearance is the Dolphins linebacker group. The signing of Lawrence Timmons does give this team a leader but an aging one. Kiko Alonso is a role player that had a decent year. The problem with this group is its depth. Rookie Raekwon McMillan will be thrust into a starting role more than likely because there is not much competition for the three linebacker spots. Behind the three mentioned there is no one of notice. So if an injury were to strike this position, the Dolphins will be in trouble.
Buffalo Bills: 3rd Place
Best Positions in the Division: Running back
LeSean McCoy was one of the best running backs in the NFL last year. Shady may not have Anthony Lynn back but hopefully, he can maintain his level of production from last year. If the Bill’s continue with this run-heavy identity, Tyrod Taylor would be helped immensely. Mike Tolbert, Patrick DiMarco, and second-year man Johnathan Williams will look to handle the backup role in a collective way. Add Tyrod Taylor’s potential in the running game, and the rushing attack could keep the Bill’s afloat this season.
Another promising group for Buffalo would be their defensive line. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are great interior players. Second-year man Shaq Lawson looks to come in and be the main pass rusher off the edge. The hope is that new head coach Sean McDermott can carry his defensive excellence over to the Bills. Getting the defensive line to improve would be doing something Rex Ryan couldn’t do during his tenure in Buffalo. The hope for Buffalo this year is the run game and defense.
Weaknesses: Wide Receiver
Yes Bill’s fans, you do have Sammy Watkins. Yes, he has all the potential in the world. However, Buffalo chose not to pick up his fifth-year option. That shows that they do not trust him as their number one. Watkins also had major injury problems last year. Then behind him, you have rookie Zay Jones already being predicted to be the second fiddle in the offense. Behind that, the depth is filled with old veterans that never hit and special team players. As mentioned above, the running game could help Tyrod Taylor and these wide receivers if it can be a dominant force in 2017. Even still, in today’s NFL teams have to pass. The Bill’s will hope they can stay healthy and hit on their rookie draft picks.
New York Jets: 4th Place
Best positions in the Division: None
What is there to say? This is the worst 2017 NFL roster. The veteran cuts and projected quarterback have made it clear the Jets have decided to begin rebuilding after the Ryan Fitzpatrick days. The Browns may be in danger of losing their title of worst team. While New York can boast some about their defense, the offense is going to be so bad it will not matter in the end. Jamal Adams is the most exciting prospect out of New York but he can’t do it all. Below, I have New York’s record prediction. Warning: It’s not pretty.
Alright, some positives then. The front seven has a lot of talent but that talent has not really fully transferred into on-field results. Still, no one can deny the playmaking ability in Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Muhammad Wilkerson. This defense could be above average if they hit on their rookie safety duo and if the offense can stay on the field for more than three downs.
Weaknesses: Quarterback and Wide Receivers
As mentioned. the potential starter for this team at Quarterback is Josh McCown. While no one can deny McCown’s fountain of youth type career, He’s not who you want. If for some reason McCown is not on the top of the depth chart, either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg get to be number one. Yikes. Neither are close to proven players and Hackenberg already has the New York media taking stabs at him after he hit a few reporters on the sideline. When the quarterback is decided, his number one target is Quincy Enunwa who moves up from third on the depth chart last season. It’s been proven that these positions are pretty important to a competitive NFL team. If you are a Jets fan, 2017 may be the year to take naps on Sunday instead of turning on the T.V.
Final Division Prediction:
New England Patriots: 14-2
Miami Dolphins: 9-7
Buffalo Bills: 7-9
New York Jets: 2-14