Kicking off our NFL divisional previews, we will be taking a look at the AFC East. The recent signing of Cam Newton to the New England Patriots has the Patriots looking like Super Bowl contenders to some. However, the former Buffalo doormats of the continuous Patriots playoff runs the past 20 years are now looking improved. With quarterback stability and, at least for the Bills and Dolphins, confidence in their head coaches, this division appears to be ready to make life a bit tougher for Bill Belichick and the Brady-less Patriots.
Buffalo Bills: O/U 9 (juiced to the over), +140 to win AFC East, +1200 AFC Championship, +2500 Super Bowl Champs
Under Sean McDermott, the Bills took major strides, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. They managed to go 10-6 and make the playoffs, losing to the Texans in the fourth quarter despite controlling much of the game. Their schedule takes a much bigger step up in difficulty this year with home games against the Chiefs and Steelers and a road battle with the 49ers. I do have a little skepticism with this team due to the fact that they may be primed for turnover regression, and they only beat two teams with records over .500. However, the Bills are currently listed as favorites in 10 of their games, with lines not available for their matchups with the Patriots.
When discussing the Bills offense, Josh Allen’s value as a quarterback has many people split on his true value. Personally, Josh Allen’s ability to extend plays and make things happen with his legs do enough to cover up for his less than inspiring accuracy. It is important to point out Josh Allen’s improvement in his short to intermediate passing last year. That being said, Josh Allen still throws an abysmal deep ball, which he and Sean McDermott have focused on this offseason. With Stefon Diggs joining an improved receiving core, Josh Allen has weapons all over the field to help him take that next step in his third year as a starting quarterback. On the offensive line, Buffalo saw solid improvement last year with Josh Allen facing pressure 7 percent less on his dropbacks than the year before.
Last year, the Bills had an elite defense that seemingly gets better this year, adding Vernon Butler and Mario Addison to a solid defensive line. Former first round pick and Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Michael Miliano did a solid job last year at linebacker, but the real elite talent on this defense is in the secondary. Tre White was an All-Pro corner and Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde make up one of the best safety tandems in the league. He might be washed, but the Bills also added Josh Norman this offseason. Norman reunites with McDermott, who was the Panthers defensive coordinator when Norman was at his peak. If there is a coach who can get the most out of Norman this year, I would say it is McDermott. As the NFL is a passing league now, having a deep, high level secondary is more important than ever, and will dictate the success a defense will have.
I see the Bills winning the division behind their defense, much like the Patriots did last year. All of the pieces are in place for a 10-12 win team. If Josh Allen further improves as I expect him to, the Bills will be ready for those important games in January. Shop around and try and find the best possible price, but I do like an over bet on their win total. Also right now is the time to buy on their divisional odds with all of the Cam Newton hype. Finally, Tre White, who did not allow a touchdown last season will be a DPOY contender, and at 30/1 is worth a small bet.
Bills to win division +150
Tre’Davious White DPOY +3000
Miami Dolphins: O/U 6.5 (Juiced over), +800/+3500/+7000
Brian Flores looks to carry the positive momentum from the end of the 2019-2020 season into this year with a seemingly improved roster thanks to three first round picks, including Tua Tagovailoa, and free agent signings Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy. It will be a very interesting year of development with the amount of young talent.
The real story of the Dolphins will be the playing time of Tua, and when he does begin to start games, how he acclimates to the speed and difficulty of the NFL. I think Tua has the arm to be an upper-echelon talent in the league, but his ability to make smart decisions with the ball to protect his health will largely determine if he reaches that goal. Because of the lack of OTAs, I would imagine Fitzmagic will be starting games early in the season. Devante Parker was one of the most underrated weapons in football last year, and I expect him to continue to perform at a high level this year.
Good news for Dolphins fans. The defense probably can’t get worse from last year. More good news for Dolphins fans. Xavien Howard will be healthy and will form an excellent cornerback trio with Byron Jones and first round pick Noah Igbinoghene. While I do not expect this defense as a whole to dominate teams, I think a potentially league average defense is in reach.
While certainly trending in the right direction, this roster does not have the pieces for a playoff run. I need to see a lot more improvement defensively before I can fully back them. While I am staying away from the number, I lean under the total.
New England Patriots O/U 9 (Juiced to the over) +100/+1000/+2000
This is Bill Belicheck’s league, and no one can seem to take it from him. With Cam Newton coming in for pennies on the dollar, the Patriots have a former MVP to play quarterback. Without a doubt, the Patriots will be the most hot-takey team this year. It seems as if you either love Cam and the Patriots are ready for a deep playoff run, or you hate him and his signing makes no difference to the team. Looking at the schedule, this is one of the Patriots’ hardest schedules in years, mostly in part to the improvement within the division. Despite this, the Patriots do get some nice scheduling breaks, in terms of when they play the good teams on their schedule.
The Patriots offense was always going to be successful post Brady-era because of the play-calling ability of Josh McDaniels. I did not expect the offense to take a super big step back mostly due to Brady’s less than stellar play last year. A lot hinges on the ability of Cam Newton and Jarred Stidham (if Newton does not work out). Since his MVP season, Newton’s play has significantly deteriorated, mostly in part due to injury. However, there is optimism surrounding Newton, as he has looked healthy with workout videos on social media and sources within the locker room. He also seems to have a refreshed focus on getting back to the elite level at which he played. Looking at the surrounding talent, the Patriots expect Damien Harris to step up and handle more ball carrying duties with Sony Michel not progressing as hoped, and James White resuming his role as the main pass-catching back.
Moving onto the defense, the high number of opt-outs and free agent departures has left the defense looking much different from the previous season that watched the Patriots completely dominate the first half of the season. With the help of Stephon Gilmore locking down a side of the field, Belicheck will have a true test this year to live up to last year’s defensive success. While it is unlikely that they can replicate the same on field production, the preparation that Belicheck instills in his defense has them always prepared. This could be especially important in a COVID effected season, where travel and positive tests could be changed at a moments notice.
Very confused on this team heading into the season, but I would lean under the wins total if forced to make a pick. In terms of playoff success, I think it is very reasonable of the Patriots making the playoffs, but I do not see a high enough ceiling for the Patriots to compete with the likes of the Chiefs and Ravens in the AFC.
New York Jets O/U 6.5 (Juiced to the under) +850/+5000/+12500
In all honesty, I didn’t even want to write about the Jets. Do Jets fans even care about the Jets? Anyways, they finally traded Jamal Adams, in what looks like a very good deal for their future. Under Adam Gase, the Jets have seemed to struggle, although I personally would not put it all on him. He seems to get stuck with coaches and personnel that he didn’t really want in the first place, the prime example being Le’veon Bell. I still think he can put something together, and Darnold has shown flashes of being a good NFL quarterback. That being said, it is probably not this year, and I do not think Gase lasts the season.
Looking at the offense, aside from center, the offensive line was a weak spot for the team. Through free agency and drafting Mekhi Becton out of Louisville in the first round, the Jets have looked to address these issues. Becton’s early season progress is very important with the Jets facing good pass rushes in their first four games of the season. Darnold not facing pressure as much as he did last year will be important for the Jets to put any points up. The Darnold that was “seeing ghosts” last year was not good enough to lead a team to a playoff spot.
On the defensive side of the ball, of course losing your best player and one of the best safeties in the league, Adams, hurts tremendously. He is an elite run stopper and looks to inflict as much pain on every hit. That is a huge blow to a defense that needed help as it was. Safety Marcus Maye was also good last year, but the rest of the secondary is a major question mark. The loss of linebacker CJ Mosley also stings, as he opted out for the coming season. There are holes all over this defense, and if Quinnen Williams continues to disappoint, then the defense could be very very bad.
Betting Outlook: The Jets will probably finish last in this division. Their schedule is very difficult the first half of the season. For that reason, I see value in Adam Gase as the first coach fired prop. I also think that the Jets to finish last in the division is worth a bet too.
Jets in 4th +125
Adam Gase 1st Coach Fired +800
Official Bets (In order of confidence)
- Bills to win division 1u to win 1.5u
- Jets to finish 4th 1u to win 1.25u
- Adam Gase 1st Coach Fired .2u to win 1.6u
- Tre White DPOY .1u to win 3u