- New England Patriots
We keep waiting for the Patriots to have a down year, but that it is wishful thinking as long as they have Tom Brady at quarterback. It also helps that the Patriots have absolutely no competition for the AFC East every year as the Patriots have won the division every year since 2009. The Patriots lost quite a few key players this offseason, although they managed to replace most of those players effectively. The Patriots still have plenty of weapons on offense around QB Tom Brady as star receiver Julian Edelman returns from missing all of last season. Also, the Patriots upgraded at running back with the addition of Sony Michel in the draft. The only question mark for the Patriots on offense is their offensive line as they have a rather young and inexperienced group. Meanwhile, on defense the Patriots lost Malcolm Butler in free agency, but they drafted Duke Dawson in the 2nd round who should help to fill that void. The Patriots aren’t necessarily better than they were last season, but they really haven’t gotten any worse. That is why they in a prime position to win the AFC East once again barring anything unforeseen.
2. Buffalo Bills
There is a huge dropoff between the Patriots and the rest of the division as the other 3 teams have major question marks heading into 2018. The Bills defense appears to be very good heading into the 2018 season as they have a terrific defensive line led by Jerry Hughes, Star Lotulelei, and Shaq Lawson. The Bills also have a good secondary especially with Tre’Davious White proving that he could be an elite cornerback in the NFL. Buffalo still needs some help at linebacker, although they did get a big boost by selecting Tremaine Edmunds in the 1st round of the draft. Buffalo clearly has the defense to be a competitive team, which is why I have them being better than the Jets and Dolphins. Meanwhile, the offense for the Bills is a major concern heading into the 2018 season. The Bills have some hope for the future after they drafted talented quarterback Josh Allen in the 1st round this offseason. However, it is highly unlikely that he will be ready to be the Bills starting QB right away. That means the Bills’ playoff hopes in 2018 will basically rely on AJ McCarron who has been a backup for his entire career in Cincinnati. McCarron showed some potential when he got the opportunity to play, but it is still unknown whether he is worthy of being even a temporary starting QB in the NFL. McCarron isn’t the only question mark on Buffalo’s offense though as they have many other areas of concern. For example, the Bills have a bad wide receiver group as Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones are their top receivers. However, Benjamin is consistently injured and Jones didn’t have a good rookie year at all in 2017. The Bills need more from them to help out their unproven quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the offensive line is another major question mark after Richie Incognito and Eric Wood retired this offseason. Also, the team traded away starting left tackle Cordy Glenn which could create an issue at a key position. The only sure thing on the Bills offense is star running back LeSean McCoy, but even he has shown signs of regressing in recent years. Buffalo was a playoff team last year, but unless the Bills offense plays somewhat well then the Bills don’t have much hope for the playoffs in 2018.
3. New York Jets
The Jets were somewhat better than most people expected last year even though they only finished 5-11, but most of that was due to the surprisingly good play from QB Josh McCown. He is still likely the starter at least in the short-term, but the Jets do have much more competition at the position with former 1st round pick Teddy Bridgewater as well as this year’s 1st round pick Sam Darnold. It will be interesting to see who the starter is week 1 since all 3 of those quarterbacks are competing for the starting job. However, one thing is clear and that is Darnold will be given the chance soon to prove that he is the franchise quarterback. The issue for the Jets is that they don’t have much talent to surround the quarterback on offense. New York has plenty of depth at receiver with players like Quincy Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor, Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart, and Jermaine Kearse. However, none of those receivers give much hope for the Jets passing game in 2018 and it is unclear who the starters will be at that position. The Jets also don’t have a very inspiring running back group either. Bilal Powell is the clear starter and they brought in Thomas Rawls for depth, but both have been inconsistent throughout their careers. Also, the offensive line doesn’t appear to be very good and they certainly didn’t do much to improve that group this offseason. Meanwhile, it appears the defense will be what carry the Jets this year as they have plenty of tremendous young talent on defense. For example, defensive end Leonard Williams, safety Jamal Adams, and linebacker Darron Lee could be a solid young core of players on defense for many years. However, the Jets made their defense even better by signing shutdown cornerback Trumaine Johnson and adding rising star linebacker Avery Williamson in free agency. The Jets could have a very good defense in 2018, but it is the poor offense that will likely hold this team back from being competitive.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are an example of a team that is heading in the wrong direction as they arguably got worse this offseason. The main reason is that they lost star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, star center Mike Pouncey, and star wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Miami was a team that was already severely lacking star players, but now they really have no proven playmakers on their roster. They have a few receivers with some potential like Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, but they aren’t exactly the ideal top two targets in any offense. The Dolphins possibly have a good young running back with Kenyan Drake, but he isn’t the type of player that can carry the offense on his own. Once again the Dolphins offensive line is a question mark despite the solid addition of guard Josh Sitton this offseason. However, the major concern for the Dolphins is at the quarterback position as starter Ryan Tannehill is coming off a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of last season. It is unknown how well he will perform coming off that injury, but he was just an average starting quarterback at best even when he was healthy. The Dolphins need him to perform if this team even wants to be competitive, but the issue is that he probably won’t have much help around him on offense. Meanwhile, on defense, the Dolphins didn’t really improve in that area this offseason. I do like their secondary with quality safety Reshad Jones, cornerback Reshad Jones, and young playmaker Minkah Fitzpatrick who was their 1st round pick this year. However, the linebacker group is rather weak and it is unknown how well they will perform. The Dolphins did acquire Robert Quinn which should improve their poor pass rush from last year. However, the Dolphins did let go of Ndamukong Suh which will weaken their defensive line in a major way. Miami doesn’t have much potential on offense or defense, which is why it is likely that they could be the worst team in the AFC East.