With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, the attention has now turned to the offseason. As coaches slowly return to their offices, every team will have a storyline that could make or break the new season. Our first article will focus on a division that has a very different look in 2020, the AFC East.
All four AFC East teams will be eyeing an opportunity in 2020 to become the next great powerhouse of the division. After 20 long seasons of Tom Brady running the show, the G.O.A.T. is now down in Florida, hoping to stir up trouble with Bruce Arians’ squad. Now with a somewhat even playing field, Buffalo, New York, and Miami will all look to jump from the cellar towards the top. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick could be in for his chance to prove that it was always the system in Foxborough that led the Patriots to postseason play.
In our new series for PFN, lead NFL writer Cole Thompson and NFL columnist Tommy Call III will be breaking down each team’s top offseason storyline. Here is what fans of the AFC East should be looking towards in the coming months.
AFC East storylines heading into 2020
Josh Allen’s breakout year
The Buffalo Bills will look to become “top dogs” in the AFC East to kick off the new decade. Following up on a 10-win season and postseason berth, the attention will turn to Josh Allen as he enters his third season with the franchise.
Allen’s bruising running style is well documented, and now is the time to show off the arm strength. Allen improved in his second year under center, completing 58.8 percent of his passes, but that’s not enough to say he’s earned the right to be the face of the offense. Both Allen and Lamar Jackson have relied on their running style since entering the league, but the 2019 MVP rapidly grew into a well-rounded gunslinger on his way to a 14-win season.
One big hit due to a run could cost the Bills a season should Allen miss extended time with an injury. Plus, the team has built its offense around him to be the first long-term answer since Jim Kelly. An improved offensive line and new lead target in Stefon Diggs should only help the former Wyoming product stay in the pocket and score with his arm.
The pressure is on for Allen to become the complete starter in 2020. If he can manage it, then expect the Bills to see their odds for a Lombardi Trophy skyrocket to somewhere near the top.
Will the Dolphins’ offensive line be enough to protect Tua?
The Dolphins played it smart by taking Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall instead of waiting to see if he would fall back in April. When healthy, the former Alabama Crimson Tide star and Heisman finalist might be the most polished quarterback prospect the league has seen this century.
There is no rush to start Tagovailoa immediately, with veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick set to stay in control this September. Tagovailoa suffered a severe hip injury last November, and while he is expected to make a full recovery, there’s no set due date for his return. Miami cannot afford to see their future head south due to playing Tagovailoa too early and watching him become a liability for the remainder of his career.
The attention will turn on Tagovailoa’s progression as he continues to rehabilitate before starting the new year. Should he fully recover and look competent with Brian Flores’ playbook, then the Dolphins can hand him the keys without hesitation. However, rookie quarterbacks often tend to struggle to make the jump early, so there will be no need to rush.
While the Dolphins’ offensive line should be better, one missed block could send the Hawaiian sensation back to the injured reserved list. The future in South Beach belongs to Tagovailoa, but only time will provide insight on when his reign will truly begin.
New England Patriots
Life without Tom Brady
Brady is gone from Foxborough. No, it’s not a dream and no, he’s not coming back. Thanks for the memories and all the Lombardis, but it’s time to move on.
Belichick will now turn to Jarrett Stidham under center as he continues to attempt to be the team to beat in the AFC. The former Auburn product showed potential with the Tigers, throwing for 48 career touchdowns and over 7,000 yards. Plus, the offensive line should only help with the second-year quarterback’s progression in his first full season.
The reality is, there’s no telling what New England will be like come September. Even with a top-ranked defense, Stidham will have a plethora of underwhelming weapons as Brady did for the past 20 seasons. Even with horrendous receivers, the six-time Super Bowl winner managed to shine and keep his team among the best in the conference.
Can Stidham do the same?
Everything New England does will be brought back to life without Brady. That puts pressure on both the coach and quarterback to succeed early and still contend. Unfortunately, the noise might be too much, thus leading to a rebuilding season at Gillette Stadium.
New York Jets
Can Adam Gase avoid last place?
Sam Darnold is going to have to improve and the team will need to stay healthy. For now, the pressure is on for Adam Gase to prove he’s the right man to lead New York back to the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
Gase was hired thanks to his “quarterback guru” status. Outside of working with an established Peyton Manning, there’s been little to prove that the former Dolphins coach can get the most out of his man under center. Granted, Darnold missed three games due to illness last season, but he also had 18 turnovers and cost the team several wins.
The offensive line should be better as Mekhi Becton will likely thrive at left tackle. Breshad Perriman is a quality third target, while second-round pick Denzel Mims has top receiver potential due to his speed. If Le’Veon Bell can prove last season was just a down year, the Jets offense should emerge from the cellar and slowly become a contender.
Keep a thermometer on Gase’s hot seat this season. Right now, it’s lukewarm, but every loss should have that pot boiling a little more before the 2021 offseason.
Cole Thompson and Tommy Call III serve as the Lead NFL writer and NFL columnist, respectively, for Pro Football Network. Follow them on Twitter at @MrColeThompson, @Tommy_III and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.