We’re on the cusp of the 2021 NFL Season. Before we get there, it’s time to prepare by looking at each of these divisions and the prospects for the season. Next up is the AFC East, where the Patriots’ stranglehold on the division ended in 2020.
For the first time in two decades, the AFC East didn’t have Tom Brady to contend with. The former Patriots quarterback moved on to Tampa Bay, and the rest of the division took advantage. The Patriots slumped to third place but spent the off-season bulking up. Can they return to glory with a new rookie QB?
2020 Record: 13-3
Key Additions: Mitch Trubisky, QB, Matt Breida, RB, Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Gregory Rousseau, DE, Carlos Basham, Jr., DE
Key Departures: John Brown, WR, Tyler Kroft, TE, Josh Norman, CB
Key Question: Can Josh Allen do it again?
With the Patriots down, the Bills seized the day. Josh Allen exploded in year three with Stefon Diggs, finishing as the No. 1 QB in fantasy. The Bills rolled to a 13-3 record and grabbed the No. 2 seed, coming up just short in the AFC Championship Game. The team’s core returns and the Bills added veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, so the question is whether the team can do it again. Can the Bills dominate in the regular season and, perhaps, make the Super Bowl for the first time since the early 1990s?
2020 Record: 10-6
Key Additions: Will Fuller V, WR, Jaylen Waddle, WR, Jacoby Brissett, QB, Malcolm Brown, RB, Jason McCourty, CB, Jaelen Phillips, DE
Key Departures: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Matt Breida, RB, Kyle Van Noy, LB, Davon Godchaux, DE
Key Question: What can we expect from Tua Time?
The Dolphins made a big leap in 2020. The team started with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick under center but quickly shifted to Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick. The quarterbacks continued to trade off throughout the season, but the Dolphins finished 10-6 and just missed qualifying for the playoffs. This off-season, Fitzpatrick moved on while the team loaded up on weapons, adding free agent Will Fuller V and rookie Jaylen Waddle to the mix. The hope is Tua takes a leap forward in his first full year as a starter, and the Dolphins make the post-season. If not, rumors of a potential trade for Deshaun Watson continue to swirl.
New England Patriots
2020 Record: 7-9
Key Additions: Mac Jones, QB, Jonnu Smith, TE, Hunter Henry, TE, Nelson Agholor, WR, Kendrick Bourne, WR, Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Trent Brown, LT, Matthew Judon, LB, Kyle Van Noy, LB, Davon Godchaux, DE
Key Departures: Cam Newton, QB, Sony Michel, RB, Julian Edelman, WR, Jason McCourty, CB, Joe Thuney, G, Rex Burkhead, RB
Key Question: What can Mac Jones do in year one?
The Patriots fell hard in 2020. The team lost Tom Brady to the Buccaneers and finally snagged Cam Newton just before the season. Newton never looked settled, and the Patriots were missing so many veteran players that the season sputtered to a third-place finish in the division, missing the playoffs. The Patriots brought Newton back and went on a spending spree in the off-season. Then, in the draft, the team snagged Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with its First-Round selection. Jones threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2020 and looked good in the pre-season, so the Patriots released Newton this week, officially beginning the Jones era. Can the Patriots return to the playoffs? Jones has better weapons than Newton did in 2020, but there is likely work to be done. Can he manage the game and rely on a potentially improved defense to carry the Patriots back to the post-season?
New York Jets
2020 Record: 2-14
Key Additions: Zach Wilson, QB, Tevin Coleman, RB, Michael Carter, RB, Elijah Moore, WR, Corey Davis, WR, Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, Vinny Curry, DE, Sheldon Rankins, DT, Carl Lawson, DE, Jarrad Davis, LB
Key Departures: Sam Darnold, QB, Bradley McDougal, S, Chris Herndon, TE
Key Question: Can the Jets turn it around?
In 2020 the New York Jets were awful. Head Coach Adam Gase failed to gain traction as the team spiraled to two wins and the No. 2 overall pick. In the off-season, Gase was fired, and Robert Saleh was brought in to right the ship. The Jets shipped former franchise quarterback Sam Darnold off to the Carolina Panthers—where they’ll face him in Week 1—and used that No. 2 overall pick to snag BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. He was part of a haul of offensive-focused draft picks and free agents meant to turn around the flagging franchise. Doubtless, the Jets still need work to be a contender, but we’ll learn early in the season if Wilson and Saleh are the answer for the Jets.
AFC East Prediction:
I believe in the Bills. I think Josh Allen should have been the MVP in 2020 and might get there in 2021. I also like coach Sean McDermott and what he’s brought to the franchise. While the Bills remain the class of the AFC East, I’m excited for year two of Tua in Miami, and I think the Dolphins are poised to get into the playoffs in year three with Brian Flores. I like Jones, too, but I think the Patriots still have work to do before they’re contenders again.
New England Patriots—8-9
New York Jets—3-14
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.