No division in professional football is as intriguing as the AFC East in 2023. The AFC North has an abundance of talent, and the NFC East boasts four potential playoff teams as well.
But the AFC East was already exciting a season ago, and the teams in it have done nothing but improve on paper over the course of the offseason. It shouldn’t surprise a single soul to see any of these four teams playing meaningful postseason football in January.
AFC East Power Rankings
Losing Jalen Ramsey for a significant portion of the season was a gut punch to a Miami Dolphins secondary that couldn’t remain healthy a season ago. However, the addition of Vic Fangio and the development of young talent should help Miami improve.
The New York Jets’ defense was already fantastic, and they went out and did a lot to improve their putrid offensive output from a season ago.
Bill Belichick made a few massive coaching mistakes a season ago but has righted those wrongs during the offseason.
The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, didn’t do much, but when you’ve won double-digit games in four consecutive seasons, why would you?
1) Buffalo Bills
The Bills are interesting because, from a week-to-week perspective, they have seemingly been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But over the past four seasons, only Buffalo and San Francisco boast top-five rankings in both offensive and defensive EPA.
Despite a seemingly lackluster rushing attack year in and year out, Buffalo’s offense has remained dangerous. Their QB is a constant threat on the ground (even if he needs to take fewer unnecessary hits), and they have a stable of outstanding weapons on the outside.
The addition of Dalton Kincaid should help the Bills live in 12 personnel, something that NFL defenses are becoming less and less used to dealing with.
And although they lost their defensive play-caller, that’s only partially true. Sean McDermott is a defensive head coach who has always played a huge part in the defensive game plan and who, on occasion, called plays alongside Leslie Frazier.
2) Miami Dolphins
There is a very vivid asterisk associated with the Dolphins in 2023. Tua Tagovailoa must remain healthy if they want to see any legitimate success, and head injuries only become easier to sustain after that Pandora’s Box is cracked open. But the team is still incredibly talented.
Only Patrick Mahomes posted a higher CPOE+EPA composite than Tua in 2023, and only Marcus Mariota attempted farther passes downfield on average. Miami’s offense lived and thrived in the intermediate middle of the field, and that won’t change as long as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are on the field simultaneously.
3) New York Jets
The Jets very well may be the best team in the division. In fact, it may not be particularly close. But until we see the offensive product on the field in the regular season, we must lean toward cautious optimism.
The Jets had one of the best defenses in the NFL a season ago, and while defensive production is largely a product of the quarterbacks you face, New York has as much talent as any unit in the league because they receive such ferocious CB play.
4) New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have been left for dead. Even Las Vegas lacks faith, as evidenced by the team’s paltry 7.5-win total. But why?
The Patriots were a model for dysfunction last year. Their quarterback was at odds with their “offensive coordinator” and “quarterbacks coach.” Although many, including Belichick, would consider those two men great coaches, the profession is often incredibly specific for a reason.
Righting that wrong alone should provide a marked improvement on the offensive side of the ball. And despite the fault in his appointments a season ago, Belichick still wakes up in the morning with the ability to cultivate a top-five defense no matter what pieces are in place on the roster.
This DISASTER won eight games last season. And while their strength of schedule seems daunting, New England didn’t have a cakewalk a season ago, either. Their opponents won the 10th most games in the league.
Although it may take some unfortunate circumstances around a talented AFC for the Patriots to sneak into the playoff picture, they should provide a better product on the field than they offered last year.
Don’t let anyone tell you the Patriots are done.