The AFC East has been the most predictable division in the NFL over the last decade.
New England have remarkably taken home 10 straight divisional crowns and finished on top in 15 of the last 16 years. The Patriots and star quarterback Tom Brady are not focusing on their previous accomplishments, though.
“If [there’s] anything the Patriots have taught me, it is being in the present and not resting on what has happened in the past and certainly not worrying what is happening in the future,” Brady said during a radio interview last month.
“I am excited to get out there and play this year and do what I hope to do for this team.”
— NFL (@NFL) August 23, 2019
The Patriots are clearly the front-runners to capture an 11th straight AFC East title entering the season. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are expected to be afterthoughts, but both are led by young, developing quarterbacks while the Miami Dolphins are rebuilding. Here is your 2019 AFC East preview.
Player to watch
Josh Allen, Bills quarterback
Allen will be one of the most intriguing players in the entire NFL this season. The Bills selected him out of Wyoming with the No. 7 pick in the 2018 draft. Overall, he struggled as a rookie, completing just 52.8% of his passes while throwing 10 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. But the team went 5-6 in his starts and he showed flashes of promise, including a five-score performance against the Dolphins in Week 17.
“Being in the same system for a year … it’s been a huge help,” Allen said during training camp in May. “It’s a complete 180 feeling from last year to this year. Obviously, having the year of experience under my belt now and being around the guys in the locker room and having such good relationships in here. At the same time, we are just trying to make each other better and trying to win football games for the Bills.”
Allen’s development will be fascinating to watch and a major key for the Bills, who hope to return to the playoffs in the near future.
Chase Winovich, Patriots defensive end
The Michigan product slipped to the third round of the 2019 draft, where the Patriots scooped him up with the No. 77 overall pick. He appears to be a steal — so far, at least. Winovich recorded 11 tackles, along with 2 1/2 sacks, in the preseason and has already impressed his teammates.
“He’s definitely got a high motor, that’s for sure,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower told reporters. “He’s one of the guys who works really hard. He’s always asking questions and he obviously wants to do the right things all of the time. You really couldn’t ask much more from a guy that’s willing to do whatever and then with the way he does it. He acts like he’s done it for a while.”
Winovich has a chance to take New England’s pass rush to the next level.
Coach under pressure
Sean McDermott, Bills
McDermott isn’t necessarily entering the season under pressure, but he’s the closest coach to it in the AFC East. Adam Gase (Jets) and Brian Flores (Dolphins) are entering their first years in their respective jobs, so they will likely have some time to try to turn those franchises around. And — this goes without saying — Bill Belichick obviously isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless he chooses to.
Coming off a 6-10 record from last season, McDermott’s seat could get warmer in 2019 if the Bills once again struggle and Allen either regresses or fails to take a step forward.
Jets at Patriots, Sept. 22:
The Jets have a long, long way to go to challenge the Patriots. Everything will have to break just right in order for them to win, but with quarterback Sam Darnold and the addition of running back Le’Veon Bell, New York appears like the team in the division best positioned to do so. The Jets likely will need a win in New England if they want to have any shot at dethroning the Patriots in the AFC East.
This isn’t a tough call. Despite the Patriots losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement after last season, the defending champions still bring back Brady, receiver Julian Edelman and a host of other offensive weapons. Their defense isn’t too shabby, either, and they’re certainly a favorite to represent the AFC in a fourth straight Super Bowl.
The Jets and Bills should fight for the second spot in the division behind New England, though neither is expected to finish the season in playoff contention. The Dolphins, on the other hand, may have a tough time picking up wins.