Last year, the AFC East was expected to be the most-competitive division in football. This was partly the case, as the New England Patriots (12-4) and New York Jets (10-6) both turned in good seasons.
But only New England, which reached the AFC Championship, made it to the postseason.
The Buffalo Bills (8-8) and Miami Dolphins (6-10) didn’t have as much success, but they do have reason for optimism since both teams have talent.
How is the AFC East shaping up this season? Find out as we preview the division’s betting odds and take a closer look at each team.
AFC East Betting Odds to Win Division (from GTBets)
New England -200
New York Jets +550
1. New England Patriots: Projected Record 11-5
This isn’t exactly going out on a limb because New England has won the AFC East in 12 out of the past 13 seasons. But it’s hard to pick anybody else winning the division this year – especially with the Patriots opening at -200 odds.
But there’s also reason to question New England since Tom Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the season after a court upheld the Deflate-gate decision. This thrusts backup Jimmy Garoppolo into what will be the first start of his career. And the four-game lineup of Arizona, Miami, Houston, and Buffalo aren’t friendly defenses to start against.
Luckily, Garoppolo has plenty of weapons to help him, including Rob Gronkowski and new acquisition Martellus Bennett at tight end. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will also be catching passes at wide receiver. Add in five veteran running backs, and this looks to be yet another unstoppable Patriots offense.
The defense doesn’t include many big names, but that never stops Bill Belichik’s teams from succeeding. Expect another strong defense, coupled with plenty of offensive pieces, to managed a 2-2 split over the first four contests.
After this, the schedule gets easier and Brady will be back to guide the team again.
2. Buffalo Bills: Projected Record 9-7
The Bills were expected to improve last season after adding coach Rex Ryan, along with high-profile additions like LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and Percy Harvin. Unfortunately, the team failed to take the next step amid another mediocre year in western New York.
Injuries are part of the reason why the Bills finished 8-8, four games behind New England’s mark. But with a healthy team, there’s reason to believe that Buffalo will be the most-serious challenger to the Patriots this season.
Buffalo made a commitment to Tyrod Taylor, who had an outstanding season with 20 touchdown passes, just six interceptions, and over 3,500 total yards. Taylor also guided the Bills to an 8-6 record when he started, while they lost both games when he was injured.
He won’t have to be a one-man show since he’ll be throwing to Sammy Watkins, who finished with over 1,000 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Watkins was especially hot over the last half of the season. Add in McCoy, who missed time with hamstring issues last year, and this is an explosive offense.
The key will be the defense, which went from fourth-best in 2014, to 21st-best last year. Rex Ryan is a defensive-minded coach, and he’ll have to use these skills to push Buffalo to their potential in 2016.
3. Miami Dolphins: Projected Record 8-8
Miami had a disastrous start to last year’s campaign, going 1-3 and seeing head coach Joe Philbin fired. Former Bears and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is the new man in charge, and he’ll be tasked with unlocking QB Ryan Tannehill’s full potential.
Tannehill had a solid year, throwing for 4,208 yards and 24 touchdowns. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker will be the beneficiaries of his passes again this season.
Running back is a question mark for this team, with Arian Foster hoping to avoid another injury plagued season. If he can’t stay healthy, Jay Ajayi and rookie Kenyan Drake will be in line for more carries.
The defense is where this team’s true strengths are, especially the defensive line. DT Ndadamukong Suh disappointed last year, but has the potential to be a game-changer. Cameron Wake and free-agent pickup Mario Williams will form one of the most-feared defensive end combos in the league.
Miami has the pieces to make the postseason. But with a new coach, new system, and lack of depth, we don’t see the Dolphins improving much.
4. New York Jets: Projected Record 7-9
The biggest surprise in the AFC East last year was New York, which narrowly missed the playoffs at 10-6. Ryan Fitzpatrick was one reason for the surprise season, as he threw for 3,905 yards, 31 TDs and 15 INTs. Following a long contract holdout, Fitzpatrick finally signed a $12 million deal.
While the Jets have stars on offense, the defense will anchor the team. The ageless Darrelle Revis leads the secondary, David Harris will head the linebacking corp, and defensive ends Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson will terrorize quarterbacks.
New York looks to have a good team once again. But the key problem is their schedule, which will be brutal over the first half.
Cincinnati, @Buffalo, @Kansas City, Seattle, @Pittsburgh, and @Arizona make up the first six contests.
Playing Miami twice, New England twice, and Buffalo once more over the second half won’t be any picnic either. We like the Jets, but they’ll have to be exceptional to overcome this tough schedule.