2021 NFL Preview: AFC East

Matthew King

Fans are back and most players are back and ready to roll. We are just days away from what should be one of the most exciting seasons of football in a long time. The countdown is on.  Every day leading up to the NFL season I will post a preview of each division with records and breakdowns of each team. It will all culminate on opening day with my playoff predictions where I will give you my pick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season. Think of these as little appetizers to help pass the days.

 

First up is the AFC East. This is a division with many young quarterbacks. Josh Allen is the oldest of all of them and he is only 25 years old. The division had been dominated by the Patriots for two decades. But it’s a new era with lots of new faces. Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Zach Wilson are all ready to leave their mark. But are any of them ready dethrone the Buffalo Bills?

 

  1. Buffalo Bills (2021 Prediction, 13-4)

While there is a lot of talk about the teams in the AFC North, I think the biggest threat to the Chiefs AFC crown are the Buffalo Bills. This is a complete team with a great young quarterback in Josh Allen. He has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the league and is still just getting better.

 

The front office got him a legit top tier offensive weapon last offseason in the trade for Stefon Diggs and those two didn’t need much time to develop a dangerous connection. Diggs hauled in 127 catches for 1,535 yards which were league highs in both categories. Allen also accounted for 45 touchdowns with 38 through the air and 8 on the ground.

 

They also have Cole Beasley who is one of the shiftiest slot receivers in the game. They leave a little to be desired in the run game with the combination of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss but the elite air attack more than makes up for it.

 

On defense they are led by two young stars. Tremaine Edmunds at middle linebacker and Tre’Davious White at corner make things very difficult on opposing offenses. They had the 3rd most takeaways in the NFL last season and that was in main part due to the secondary. Micah Hyde is a playmaker and Matt Milano is a solid pass rusher.

 

They still seem to be just behind Kansas City however. The defense allowed Patrick Mahomes to throw for 325 yards and three touchdowns in last season’s AFC Championship game. They had no answer to the Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combination. There isn’t really a formula to stop Mahomes unless you have a pass rush like Tampa Bay. Defensive Coordinator Leslie Smith will need to figure out some way to at least slow down Kansas City if they want to reach the Super Bowl.

 

When it comes down to the division though, this team should have no problem repeating as champions. They added in Emmanuel Sanders on offense and other than that will have the same personnel as they did in 2020. As long as Josh Allen stays healthy and continues to improve, the AFC East will belong to Buffalo.

  1. Miami Dolphins (2021 Prediction, 8-9)

Miami had a good run last season that saw them just miss the playoffs. Brian Flores is one of the best coaches in the NFL and had the defense really firing on all cylinders in 2020. The star of that defense was of course Xavien Howard. He led the entire NFL with 10 interceptions in what was really a breakout season for him. As a team they had the most takeaways in the league with 29. The defense should continue to be the backbone of this team and keep them in games late. They don’t have any great pass rushers that are going to win at the line of scrimmage which can make getting pressure hard which makes life miserable in the secondary. Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer are very creative with blitzes which will allow Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips to create some havoc in the backfield.

 

Now to the part I’m concerned about. The offense has a lot of question marks. Tua Tagovailoa is a mystery when it comes to exactly what he can do. They really protected him last season and never really gave him the keys to the offense. Tua does have plenty of weapons however. Davante Parker and newcomer Will Fuller V should be great targets for the young quarterback. Myles Gaskin seems to be a hit or miss out of the backfield for Miami. To take the pressure off of Tua, Gaskin has to be a consistent threat on the ground. It never felt like the coaching staff ever really trusted Tua to go win games for them. Ryan Fitzpatrick would always find his way into the close games late trying to lead the late rally. He is gone now so the only option in Miami is Tagovailoa.

 

I just don’t have enough faith in Tua to get the job done in close games. He could very well come out and prove me wrong and win those close games. It is just too big of a question mark for me to put much faith in Miami. I think they play a lot of close games but just can’t seem to pull out the wins in many of them.

  1. New England Patriots (2021 Prediction, 5-12)

I absolutely had to rewrite this after New England stunned the football world and released Cam Newton in favor of the rookie out of Alabama, Mac Jones. Jones did just win a National Championship over Justin Fields and Ohio State but I don’t think many thought he would be the starter week 1 against Miami.

 

There is a lot of turnover with this Patriots offense though. Julian Edelman is gone after retiring in the offseason. The Patriots did go get some weapons at tight end, adding Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. They will go with Damien Harris in the backfield, although James White will get some touches as well. Bill Belichick has a quarterback that fits his system more so now than last season when they had Cam Newton. A young quarterback though normally means more turnovers which is something this offense can’t afford.

 

On defense they have some veteran leadership. They brought Kyle Van Noy back after the linebacker spent last season in Miami. They also get back Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty who should be solid pieces while they await the return of their real star. Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, took a small step back but was still playing at an elite level. He will miss the first six weeks at least after being put on the PUP list. That is a massive loss for this defense which will be the strength of the Patriots. They do get to play some young quarterbacks which this veteran defense can take advantage of.

 

I think Mac Jones could turn into a quality NFL quarterback. That will come with experience though. I expect him to make some rookie mistakes which will include turning the ball over and giving the opposing teams extra opportunities. I commend New England for finally focusing on the future. It is a marathon though, not a sprint.

  1. New York Jets (2021 Prediction, 2-15)

Once again the Jets had to take a quarterback in the first round and once again I believe that they whiffed. Zach Wilson had a fantastic year last season at BYU but it takes more than one good year to earn being the number 2 pick in the draft. Now don’t get me wrong. I hope Wilson proves me wrong. I always want to see young players succeed in the NFL. It’s good for the game.

 

Zach Wilson just doesn’t have much help on offense. Having a veteran like Jamison Crowder to throw the ball to will help. He will likely turn into Wilson’s safety blanket. Tevin Coleman will likely lead the backfield at least at the start of the season with some young guys sure to get some reps as well. The offensive line is better but is still towards the lower end of the spectrum. This is where I believe they should bring in a veteran quarterback while they build up the offensive weapons and o-line while their young quarterback learns from the sidelines.

 

On defense the Jets will also look to start building around a couple of young guys that have proven they can play at the NFL level. Quinnen Williams has the potential to be one of the top defensive tackles in the league. Williams is still only 23 years old and is coming off a much improved season following a disappointing rookie campaign. He did deal with an ankle injury that year but showed off what he could do when healthy in 2020. The sack total jumped from 2.5 to 7 to go along with 10 tackles for a loss despite missing three games.

 

Another guy some might have forgotten about is C.J. Mosley. Mosley opted out of the 2020 season which would have been his second as a member of the Jets after leaving Baltimore. The 29 year old linebacker has made the Pro Bowl in four of his six seasons and one of those seasons he wasn’t named a Pro Bowler was in his first season as a Jet. He only played two games during that season but now is looking to get back into form. Those two guys are going to carry the defense but the secondary is a major weakness.

 

It is not going to be a pretty year for the Jets. There will be a lot of growing pains throughout the year and C.J. Mosley could end up being traded before it’s all over. The Jets could sneak in a couple of wins but the ceiling for this team is low.

 

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