New England Patriots (12-4, lost to Tennessee in Wild Card round)
What happened last year
You may be under the impression that New England lost a step last year. You may also be under the impression that Brady didn’t have a good year. I can assure you neither are true. While it wasn’t the best we’ve seen from Brady, a final stat line of 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and an 88.0 passer rating was comparable to other notable QB performances in 2019 such as those of Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill. Something just didn’t quite click between the Patriots and Brady and yet the team still managed to finish 12-4.
New England also boasted the top scoring defense for the first half of the season; unfortunately for them, they couldn’t stay consistent. The Pats seemed to lack the chemistry to do anything in the playoffs, faltering to the Titans who proved to be a legit contender.
S Adrian Phillips, DT Beau Allen, QB Cam Newton, S Cody Davis, S Kyle Dugger, LB Josh Uche, TE Dalton Keene, TE Devin Asiasi
QB Tom Brady, C Ted Karras, EDGE Kyle Van Noy, LB Jamie Collins, DT Danny Shelton, FB James Develin, S Duron Harmon, WR Phillip Dorsett, S Nate Ebner, LB Elandon Roberts
Week 2: Patriots at Seahawks
Week 4: Patriots at Chiefs
Week 7: 49ers at Patriots
The Pats have a tough schedule for what seems like the first time in a long time, but as we all know their own division is going to play them tough every time they face off. They finish the season with their division and depending on what things look like Week 15, those games could be crucial.
We’ll get the first real look at the new-New England Week 2 against the Seahawks in prime time on Sunday night. The true tests will be Weeks 4 and 7 when the Patriots face last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Niners and Chiefs.
X Factor: The ability to adapt to anything
Of course, the difference maker is going to be the ability of Bill Belichick to adapt to change, which he has done in the past. New England will also rely on Cam Newton’s health, as well as the team’s overall health, with a lack of depth already, due to COVID-19.
If everything goes as planned, the Patriots are still in contention to win their 12th straight division title. If things go better than planned, the Pats could be in contention for the AFC. If there’s one thing we know, Belichick has won with less talent.
Buffalo Bills (10-6, lost to Houston in Wild Card round)
What happened last year
The 2019 Bills had one of their more promising seasons in years, aside from the 2017 run that ended similarly. We saw flashes of young talent and Josh Allen took a step forward. However, the 10-6 record can be a little misleading.
Despite being top 5 in total passing offense and total scoring, the Bills failed to score against any reputable team. They only scored more than 30 points twice (both against the Dolphins) and didn’t score more than 20 in any of their losses. Basically, they played bad teams (under .500) very well, but struggled against better teams. Buffalo did play the Texans well in their wild card matchup. They still struggled to score, kicking four field goals and only scoring once, but they did force overtime where they lost on a 28-yard Texans field goal.
Currently the Bills are the favorite to win the division this season, but the Patriots are likely to change that by week three or four.
WR Stefon Diggs, EDGE Mario Addison, DT Vernon Butler, EDGE AJ Epenesa, RB Zack Moss, OG Daryl Williams, CB Josh Norman
RB Frank Gore, EDGE Shaq Lawson, DT Jordan Phillips, CB Kevin Johnson, G Jeremiah Siries
Week 3: Rams at Bills
Week 6: Chiefs at Bills
Week 16: Bills at Patriots
If the Bills want to win the division, they’re going to need to beat New England in at least one of their matchups. Their Week 16 matchup could very well decide the division, depending on the landscape of the league at that time. Buffalo is going to get tested long before Week 16, though. Their Week 3 matchup with the Rams should give us a good idea of what the 2020 Bills are going to do this year. Of course, the toughest matchup is going to be Week 6 against the champion Chiefs. It is highly unlikely the Bills can beat the Chiefs, but it will be a great test for their defense.
X Factor- Health and the continued development of Josh Allen
Team health is a crucial component every year, and with COVID-19 being a factor this year, teams are going to be even more reliant on depth help than any other season. The Bills can only be as good as they are deep, and that is especially in the case of Josh Allen.
If Sean McDermott can continue to implement Allen’s legs into the game plan, it opens an entirely different dynamic to the Bills offense. If the Bills are able to build their offense around the speed and talent they already have in place, they should be a tougher test for good defenses this year.
Hopes are high for the Bills. They have a real chance to win the division, something they haven’t done since 1995. It isn’t going to be easy, they will face a tough schedule, but with the speed at WR between Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley, Josh Allen will have plenty of opportunities to show off his arm. The Bills had one of the top defenses last year in every category and they were consistent against the good teams. The offense is going to be the difference maker for the Bills in 2020 and a lot of that rests on Josh Allen’s shoulders.
Miami Dolphins (5-11, Did not make playoffs)
What happened last year
The Dolphins knew they were in rebuild mode last year. 5-11 may not sound like a good record, but for a team that was expected to be the worst in the league, it seems like a miracle they were able to win 5 games. Going into the season without a set starting QB, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick eventually won the starting job over Josh Rosen. It was at that point the Phins knew they were looking to get a QB in the draft.
Miami showed flashes of young talent, and did their best to stay in every game. They lost by only one point to the Washington Football Team and the Jets. However, they did get absolutely demolished by the Ravens, Patriots, and Cowboys. There is no measurable statistic that would suggest hope for the Dolphins (they were just too inconsistent) but Head Coach Brian Flores has shown us that this team can compete when firing on all cylinders. He has also shown that he is not afraid to take risks; that’s likely to change if his team is actually competing for something, but given the choice to win or tie Flores has picked win every time.
QB Tua Tagovailoa, CB Byron Jones, EDGE Shaq Lawson, EDGE Kyle Van Noy, EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah, OT Austin Jackson, OG Solomon Kindley, C Ted Karras, OG Ereck Flowers, RB Jordan Howard
C Evan Boehm, OLB Charles Harris, DE Taco Charlton, C Daniel Kilgore, DE John Jenkins
Week 1: Dolphins at Patriots
Week 2: Bills at Dolphins
Week 14: Chiefs at Dolphins
The Phins enter this season with low expectations yet again. The most important games for Miami this season are going to be early in the season as they evaluate talent. Miami faces division rivals New England and Buffalo Week 1 and 2, respectively. We should know by Week 3 if there is any spark to ignite the Dolphins this year, but as Miami looks to learn losses are expected. They face the Chiefs Week 14. By then the game shouldn’t mean much, but comparing yourself to the champ is always a great measure of what you have as a team.
X Factor- DeVante Parker
The key on offense is going to be DeVante Parker. That’s a heavy load to put on a receiver, but last year Parker finally lived up to the potential we’ve been hearing about for years. Assuming Tua takes the reigns at some point, the Dolphins offense will rely heavily on their WR1.
Flores will have the most talented team he’s had so far in Miami. While the playoffs are still a pipe dream, the Phins look to be a team that is not taken lightly, and they will continue to try and compete every game.
A lot of uncertainty surrounds the Dolphins this season. As it stands right now, there is a three-way competition for who starts the season at quarterback in Miami. When the Phins start really competing will depend on how early in the season Tua wins that starting role. Should they get off to a slow start, expect the Dolphins to be playing for draft position.
New York Jets (7-9, did not make playoffs)
What happened last year
The Jets got off to a slow start last year, finding themselves 0-3 at their early Week 4 bye. After losing another matchup to the Eagles, the Jets finally got their first win in Week 6 over the Cowboys. They did live up to their expectations; not many predicted them to make a real run for the playoffs, but they had some noteworthy wins over the Cowboys and Raiders. Sam Darnold struggled to stay on the field, and when he was on the field he struggled to get the ball in the endzone. Darnold has missed at least three games in each of his first two seasons. Aside from injury, the offense never functioned to full potential.
Jamal Adams’ request for trade definitely raises some questions about the faith players have in head coach Adam Gase. Gase is 30-35 as a head coach, but does have a playoff game under his belt. Gase will look to get another playoff notch this season, but it’ll be tough with the NFC West on the schedule.
OT Mekhi Becton, S Bradley McDougald, LB Patrick Onwuasor, WR Denzel Mims, OT George Fant, WR Breshad Perriman, C Connor McGovern, RB Frank Gore, OG Greg Van Roten, CB Pierre Desir
S Jamal Adams, OT Brandon Shell, WR Robby Anderson, OLB Brandon Copeland, CB Darryl Roberts, OT Kelvin Beachum
Week 2: 49ers at Jets
Week 10: Jets at Dolphins
Week 12: Dolphins at Jets
The Jets get their wake-up call week two against the Super bowl runner-up Niners. Whether they’re ready or not, the Niners defense will show up. It might take more than two weeks for the offense to get some chemistry, but it will be a good early indicator of what they’ve got against the top projected defense this season. They will also need to win against their division rivals if they want any chance at playoffs. With the Dolphins week 10 and week 12, and their bye week in between, they’ll need to win at least one of those games.
X Factor- Le’Veon Bell
The Jets need Le’Veon Bell to return to his 2016/2017 self. Bell is their biggest weapon on offense, and with a legitimate run game Darnold could expand his game. Before Bell decided not to play for the Steelers any longer, he had mastered the art of patient running (an art that Mike Tomlin played a big part in teaching him). He had a different flow to his run style, and we haven’t seen that Le’Veon Bell on the Jets yet.
It’s going to be Gase’s responsibility to implement Bell properly and make sure Darnold has an opportunity to show off his arm. Gase still has a lot to prove as a coach, but the Jets are no worse off than they were last year. They are still early into a rebuild, but in an AFC East that is open for the first time in 11 years they could make a run if all the puzzle pieces fit.
(Cover Photo: Design by Ryan Waldis, photos via Getty Images, USA Today Sports, and AP)