In the run up to the 2018 NFL season, we’re previewing each division. Have a read of our other previews here. Next up: AFC East.
Heading into the 2018, the New England Patriots remain favorites to lift a sixth Lombardi trophy according to most bookmakers. While the Patriots are favorites, their divisional rivals find themselves occupying the bottom three spots with the Miami Dolphins 30th, New York Jets 31st and Buffalo Bills 32nd. This is indicative of the state of purgatory these three franchises have faced themselves for the better part of a decade bar a few exceptional Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez years for the Jets.
Despite breaking the longest playoff drought across America’s four major sports league, the Buffalo Bills hit the reset button this past off season after shipping off QB Tyrod Taylor and trading up to seventh overall to take Josh Allen. Later in the first round the Bills traded up again for another extremely raw prospect with massive upside, 19-year old VT LB Tremaine Edmunds.
This past offseason the Bills lost both LG Richie Incognito and Center Eric Woods sparking a rejig along their offensive line which looks shaky at best. While Buffalo will continue to rely on a strong run game with LeSean McCoy, the Bills might not be as effective running the football as they were last year. Pair that with 2nd year QB Nathan Peterman starting week 1 and a not ready rookie Josh Allen waiting in the wings, it looks set to be grim viewing on offense in Buffalo this season. The Bills are also devoid of talent at the wide receiver spot, desperately hoping Kelvin Benjamin can re-find his early form in Carolina.
Head Coach Sean McDermott is a former defensive coordinator and will need to maximize the potential of his defense if the Bills hope to compete in the AFC this year. A strong front seven is complimented by a secondary that should be better in 2018 as CB Tre’Davious White continues his development and newly signed Vontae Davis helps lock down the smaller receivers in the division. Are the Bills strong enough on defense to carry a below average offense into the playoffs or can Josh Allen prove doubters wrong and force his way up the depth chart early?
What on earth should we expect from the Dolphins in 2018? Adam Gase finally has Ryan Tannehill back and healthy, the pair combined for an impressive succesion performances all the way back in 2016 when the roster was stacked with big names such as Jarvis Landry, Jay Ajayi, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert – all who have now moved on. It is difficult to tell whether this team can repeat the 10-6 record of 2016 and challenge for a playoff spot or are destined to repeat last years 6-10 performance.
The Dolphins roster is full of young playmakers with plenty of potential but much to prove. Kenyan Drake looks to be an intriguing RB with big play potential who exploded onto the season late last season after predominantly making a name for himself as a 3rd down back and special teamer. Kenyan Drake is complimented by veteran Frank Gore and will run behind a rejigged O-Line with Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James at tackles but with upgrades in the interior led by Josh Sitton at LG. The receiver group looks to be a collection of slot guys with a few burners and DeVante Parker who is the only potential X-receiver.
The defense is intriguing, however, I remain sceptical as to whether the Dolphins have solved their decade long battle to stop the run. If you’ve read my previous work you know I highlight the same fact every time – Miami has not been a good run defense since switching to a 4-3 front in 2012. The Dolphins look to have a good collection of pass rushers but are relying on three young guys to be productive at DT, a position previously taken for granted with the presence of Ndamukong Suh. Miami is hoping to be faster at linebacker with Raekwon McMillan returning and rookie Jerome Baker looking to complete the trio along with Kiko Alonso. The Dolphins are young at corner but Xavien Howard could be a breakout start this year and Minkah Fitzpatrick is a swiss-army knife who compliments Reshad Jones and TJ McDonald as three safeties who can play both run and pass. The Dolphins are one of the largest unknowns heading into 2018, they could either go 6-10 or find themselves 11-5 and attempting a playoff run in a mediocre AFC.
New York Jets
For the first time in a long time, the New York Jets appear to have a saviour at the quarterback position. This weekend QB Sam Darnold will make history as the youngest starting QB but Jets fans already appear poised to anoint him as the second coming of Joe Namath. Outside of Darnold, there is little to like on the offence besides Robby Anderson who had a breakout season last year and LT Kelvin Beachum who the organisation hope finds his earlier form in Jacksonville. One of the league’s worst O-Lines and devoid of talent at the skill positions – let’s hope the Jets aren’t throwing Darnold into the deep end too early in his career?!
On defense the Jets look frisky with a re-tooled back end. Cornerback duo Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne are solid while second year safety tandem Jamal Adams and Marcus Male have plenty of upside. The front seven looks questionable but Leonard Williams looks like a star in the making and the Jets will hope he can make up for a lack of talent elsewhere along the line.
This could likely be Todd Bowles’ last year to prove himself as the Jets head coach. While the offence looks below-par on paper, the organisation will be hoping Darnold can repeat the previous feats of Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson in lifting an entire organisation and getting the Jets above .500.
New England Patriots
Despite being the best team in the AFC, I believe there are 3-4 better teams in the NFL. 2018 looks to be the same-old story as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady look to make up for a lack of quality elsewhere on the roster.
The Patriots have a solid interior O-Line but question marks at tackle. As usual they will deploy a stable of running backs with five (YES FIVE!) on the depth chart. New England look thin at WR and will hope that after his suspension, Julian Edelman and star TE Rob Gronkowski will attract enough attention to allow others to get open. This is a significantly weaker offense (on paper) than we have previously seen fielded in New England.
The defense as usual does not blow you away with star power but they are well coached and will look to bend but not break. It will be interesting to see how this unit performs with the loss of DC Matt Patricia. The Patriots have historically been slow starters and it will be intriguing to see if they have the same usual four game lull before they kick into high gear. As it always does, the division goes through Foxborough and the rest are all left playing catch up.
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