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Fans of the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets collectively are the most optimistic they have been entering a season since 2002. Sure, the Dolphins won the AFC East in 2008, but that was the only season a team other than the New England Patriots won the division in the last 17 years. That was also the only season in that span that Tom Brady did not play the majority of games for New England.
Now that Brady is in Tampa Bay, the other three teams have reason to stake the claim that this is their year. Can the Bills return to the dominant franchise of the division that they were in the early 90s? Will the Dolphins carry their late-season momentum from a year ago into 2020-21? Can the Jets make a push for their first division title since 2002? Or will the genius head coach Bill Belichick figure out how to keep the Patriots playing at a dominant level without the most accomplished quarterback of all-time?
Any way you look at it, the AFC East figures to be “up for grabs” for the first time in a long time. We take a look at the odds from FanDuel Sportsbook and give our best bet to win the 2020-21 AFC East divisional title. You can also find our consensus odds for the 2020 AFC winner here.
On paper, the Patriots appear to have many holes in their roster. Are they really going into Week 1 with Jarrett Stidham as their quarterback? Will they instead go with the trusted veteran Brian Hoyer, or perhaps sign a high-profile free agent like Cam Newton?
Even though there is much uncertainty surrounding New England entering 2020-21, they still have Bill Belichick roaming the sidelines. Thus, oddsmakers have declared that until someone knocks off the Patriots, the AFC East is still theirs to lose.
However, just as big of a question as who will play quarterback is who will that quarterback have to throw to? New England’s wide receivers are suspect at best, led by an aging Julian Edelman. Perhaps N’Keal Harry will emerge as the star that the Patriots hoped he would be when they drafted him or Mohamed Sanu resorts back to the level of play of his best days in Atlanta.
The fact is New England’s offense barely finished in the top half of the league last year, and that was with Tom Brady under center. Without him, the Patriots are likely going to have to rely on their top-ranked defense from a year ago to win games.
The Patriots will not resort back to mediocrity without Brady, but this roster does not deserve to be the favorites to win the division on reputation alone.
While there are many question marks on New England’s roster, the Buffalo Bills enter 2020-21 with as few question marks as you will find around the league. Buffalo added playmakers to support Josh Allen’s progress, most notably trading for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. They also drafted Utah running back Zack Moss in the third round. His young fresh legs should prove to be an upgrade over the aging Frank Gore while serving as a nice complement to Devin Singletary.
Buffalo’s defense was rock solid in 2019, finishing third overall in the league. They surrendered the fourth-fewest passing yards in the league and added depth in the secondary in Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines. Perhaps the biggest criticism of the Bills defense is their lack of a consistent pass rusher. However, as a whole, the defense finished 12th overall in sacks last year. The Bills hope second-round draft pick AJ Epenesa develops into a consistent pass rusher off the edge.
If one were picking a division winner purely based on talent, Buffalo would be the clear favorite. The Bills have managed to end their playoff drought with Wild Card berths in two of the last three seasons. Now it is time for them to take the next step, winning the AFC East and advancing past the first round of the playoffs.
The Jets finished with a 7-9 record last season, despite going 0-3 in the games that quarterback Sam Darnold missed due to mononucleosis. For the Jets to seriously contend for an AFC East division title, they will need to improve their record against divisional opponents.
The Jets went 2-4 against the division last year, but one of the weeks came in Week 17 when the Bills rested their starters. New York has not finished with a .500 or better record against the division since 2015.
Sam Darnold made decent strides in his second year as starting quarterback. He won three more games than his rookie year, and his completion percentage, yardage, and touchdown-to-interception ratio were all better. New York’s offensive line figures to be improved after drafting Mekhi Becton and signing George Fant. The bad news is that Darnold’s wide receiving corps is not that intimidating even after drafting Denzel Mims out of Baylor.
If the Jets defense can continue to play at a top-ten level like they were last year, then a push for the division title is not out of the question. Oddsmakers seem down on the Jets chances pegging them at +750 odds. However, if Darnold did not miss three games last year and the Jets finished one game better at 8-8, would the Jets outlook be viewed more positively?
The Miami Dolphins had a ton of draft capital entering the draft this year, and used it to make a number of splashes. The Dolphins got their quarterback of the future in Tua Tagovailoa. In addition, they added starters at offensive tackle in USC’s Austin Jackson and at cornerback in Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene. Igbinoghene joins what figures to be one of the league’s best secondaries that already features Xavien Howard and Byron Jones.
However, the Dolphins still finished 30th in total defense last year. While their pass defense figures to be better, the Dolphins will not win the division if their 27th-ranked run defense from a year ago does not improve.
Miami could have easily folded last year after starting 0-7. However, they played hard under coach Brian Flores and finished the last nine games with a 5-4 record.
The scary thing about betting the Dolphins to win the AFC East is the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick is clearly not their future, but at what point if at all do the Dolphins turn to Tua? If they do early, do not expect the rookie to be able to lead them to a division title over the formidable competition.