For the first time in nearly two decades, the AFC East feels wide open. It’s also the first time since the early 2000s that the New England Patriots aren’t significant favorites to take home the division crown. Do the Bills, Dolphins, or Jets have what it takes to knock off the Patriots and clinch a home playoff game? Are there any 2020 future bets worth wagering on in the division?
2020 AFC East breakdown and future bets
Can the New England Patriots continue their AFC East dominance?
New England Patriots (+110)
For the first time since 2000, the New England Patriots will not have Tom Brady on their roster. For the rest of the teams in the AFC East, it finally feels like they have a chance to steal the division. But after the Patriots signed former NFL MVP Cam Newton this offseason, many are wondering if the Patriots still aren’t the team to beat in the division.
Without a doubt, the Patriots will still be one of the best-coached teams in the NFL. The defense should still be among the league’s best despite losing the likes of Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy this offseason. New England drafted several intriguing defenders, including uber athletes like Josh Uche and Kyle Dugger, who can play multiple positions in Bill Belichick’s defense.
The Patriots are also excited about a few younger players on their defense, including Chase Winovich and J.C. Jackson, who played prominent roles for the team last season. Each player is expected to have a more significant role in 2020, giving the team even more depth this year.
The defense is still intact, but what about the Patriots offense?
But the biggest question mark for the Patriots this season is on the offensive side of the ball. With Brady under center, what is the ceiling of this offense? If Newton ends up being the starter and can stay healthy, there is a chance the offense could be even better than it was in 2019. But considering the lack of guaranteed money that Newton received from the Patriots, it’s fair to wonder if he will even be the team’s Week 1 starter.
Given their coaching staff, the defensive depth, and the division as a whole, it’s not unrealistic to expect this team to win eight or more games in 2020. However, it’s tough to make the argument they should be the favorites considering the uncertainly surrounding the quarterback position. At their current odds of +110, avoid picking the Patriots to capture the AFC East for the 12th season in a row.
Can Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills do enough to usurp New England?
Buffalo Bills (+150)
Under head coach Sean McDermott, the Buffalo Bills have had a winning season in two of the last three seasons. Before 2017, the team had just one winning season (2014) since 2005. Heading into the 2020 season, the expectations are high for the Bills as they look to overthrow the Patriots inside the division.
There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic, too. Quarterback Josh Allen made significant strides in his second year, improving his passing numbers across the board. The Bills also added a few weapons this season to help their young quarterback, none of which was bigger than the decision to trade for star wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
With a true number one receiver now on the roster, veterans John Brown and Cole Beasley can slide into complementary roles, giving Allen a complete wide receiver corps for the first time in his career. The team also added rookies Zack Moss and Gabriel Davis to help bring more youth to the offense.
Will their defense be enough?
But make no mistake about it, the Bills’ identity is their defense. Last season, the team ranked No. 2 in points per allowed and No. 3 in yards per game. Buffalo made sure to add even more talent to their defense this offseason, signing veterans such as Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, A.J. Klein, and Josh Norman. They also drafted former Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who was named a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2018 after recording 11.5 sacks.
You can make a strong case that the Bills have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL with incredible depth on both sides of the ball. But as always, their 2020 season will boil down to the quarterback situation. If Allen continues to progress at the rate that he did from the 2018 to 2019 season, the Bills will have no problem winning this division. If not, they could be in for another dogfight that lasts until the final week of the season. Either way, the Bills are the best bet on the board to come out of the AFC East this season.
Will a new-look Miami Dolphins team be in the running for the AFC East?
Miami Dolphins (+800)
If you are thinking about making a long-shot bet within the division, consider the Miami Dolphins. After starting the season 0-7, the Dolphins won five of their final nine games and narrowly lost a few others.
In the offseason, the Dolphins dramatically improved their team and it started with free agency. Miami signed arguably the best free agent on the market, locking up Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones to a long-term deal. Together, Xavien Howard and Jones are arguably the league’s best cornerback combination and both players are just now starting to hit the primes of their career.
But Jones wasn’t the only big-name free agent the Dolphins signed. They were able to agree to deals with proven linebackers Van Noy and Elandon Roberts and brought in veteran edge rusher Shaq Lawson.
Will all of Miami’s rookies make an immediate impact?
In the draft, Miami used the fifth pick in the draft on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to be the team’s franchise quarterback in the near future. The team was also able to address several other positions in the draft as they made a total of 11 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.
If the Dolphins can get even adequate quarterback play this season out of either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa, the defense should be good enough to keep them in a bunch of games. While betting on the Dolphins to win the division may prove to be a year too early, this is a significantly more talented team than at this time last season.
Will the Jets and Sam Darnold take a step forward?
New York Jets (+800)
Finally, there is the New York Jets, whose odds to win the division are tied with the Miami Dolphins. Like the Dolphins, the Jets had a similar 2019 season as they started the year at 1-7, but managed to win six of their final eight games. The Jets offense was still one of the worst in the league, averaging just over 17 points per game. But the defense turned it on in the second half of the season, allowing more than 22 points just twice.
The Jets made some big moves this offseason, but the biggest of which came on the offensive line. New York signed veteran offensive linemen Connor McGovern and George Fant and then used the 11th pick on Lousiville’s Mekhi Becton. While the unit still has its holes, the hope is that their new tackles will help keep Sam Darnold upright in 2020.
Is it make-or-break time for Darnold, Gase, and the Jets?
Speaking of Darnold, the Jets are hoping that the third-year quarterback can continue to make strides despite a less-than-stellar receiving corps. In 2019, Darnold improved his completion percentage, raised his passer rating, and was more aggressive down the field. However, the former USC star still takes too many chances and can be reckless with the football.
The Jets have a better-than-average defense and assuming they figure out the Jamal Adams saga, it could be an even better unit if players like C.J. Mosley and Jordan Jenkins can stay healthy. Like every team in this division, the quarterback play will almost assuredly seal the Jets’ fate one way or another. If Darnold can make a significant jump in his third year, it’s not unreasonable that the Jets could easily surpass their projected win total of 6.5. But expecting this team to reach ten or more wins and pass the Bills and Patriots seems a bit optimistic.