Can the Patriots still control the AFC East? The sudden exile, and the shock of Brady leaving would probably say no, but I wouldn’t count out the Patriots just yet.
The New England Patriots are entering a transition year. Tom Brady has left for sunny Tampa Bay Florida, but he’s not the only Patriot to jump ship and find a new home. Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Ted Karras all joined Brian Flores and signed with the Miami Dolphins. The Detroit Lions general manager and the Patriots former director of player personnel had already stolen Matt Patricia, Trey Flowers, and Danny Amendola. This year he signed Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and traded for Duron Harmon. So yes, Brady is no longer a Patriot, but Bill Belichick lost more than just his quarterback, and the Patriots have a lot of holes to fill.
That leaves me in a position where I have to ask, can the Patriots still control the AFC East? The sudden exile, and the shock of Brady leaving would probably say no, but I wouldn’t count out the Patriots just yet.
When you look at the entire AFC East the Buffalo Bills seem to be the only threat to the Patriots division championship. The Bills obviously improved their offense by trading for Stefon Diggs, and they have been building a very solid defense.
The Bills took full advantage of New England’s weakened grasp on the division by acquiring a wide receiver capable of speeding Josh Allen’s development. Diggs wasn’t a cheap addition; Buffalo shipped first-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks for the Pro Bowl wideout and a seventh-rounder. But he’s coming off the best season of his career, is 26 years old, and is under contract for the next four seasons as a reasonable average salary of just under $12 million. He fills an immediate need and will assume the essential role of “guy who chases down Allen’s sorta-accurate bombs.” Whether or not the Bills can roll that momentum into a division title may hinge on whether Allen can continue his growth as a quarterback. This is still shaping up to be the best team Buffalo’s had since Jim Kelly was taking snaps. - Christian D’Andrea, SB Nation
The Miami Dolphins will be an interesting team to watch this season. They completely blew up their roster last season, and because of Fitzmagic and Brian Flores being an outstanding coach, they weren’t able to completely tank, but they are set up for the future. The Dolphins bolstered their defense with a handful of Patriots and Bills players, but whether or not they are ready to take the next step is still a wait and see. The Dolphins have a ton of draft capital and salary cap. They will be able to bring in a lot of draft picks, and they are expected to sign quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins are set up to make some trades at the draft, and get younger, but who the Dolphins will be this year, is still yet to be seen.
The Dolphins are still likely a year away from contention, but it’s not difficult to see the improvements they have made. We haven’t even gotten to the draft, where they will have three first-round picks, five of the first 56 selections, and 14 picks total. Miami still has plenty of room to add playmakers and the salary cap space to flip one or more of those picks for veteran help. - Christian D’Andrea, SB Nation
People are going to say a lot of nice things about the New York Jets, but as long as Adam Gase is there to make sure they never reach their potential, I just can’t take the Jets seriously as contenders. Gase has been able to scheme Le’Veon Bell out of the game, and his game plan has kept Sam Darnold seeing ghosts. There is a lot of unrest in the Jets locker room, the fan base, and amongst analysts. The Jets are unachieving and they don’t look good. I know that New York fans are optimistic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets end up at the bottom of the division.
“New York’s current lineup of free agent help are all useful, if unspectacular additions. There’s nothing here that suggests it will be enough to spark a turnaround. The Jets were worse than their 7-9 record would lead you to believe, losing games to then-winless teams in the Dolphins and Bengals in 2019. Head coach Adam Gase has done nothing to earn the team’s trust, especially after his former charges in Miami have often soared after escaping his influence (Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenyan Drake, and, most of all, Ryan Tannehill). New York has the talent to make a run. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the Gase experience so far has been creating a product that’s less than the sum of its parts.” - Christian D’Andrea, SB Nation
That leaves with us the New England Patriots. I know that a lot of Pats Nation is concerned, and some are also hoping for the worst so that the Patriots could get their hands on Trevor Lawrence. The Patriots are actually in a very win/win situation. If the Patriots do suck this year, it sets them up for a high draft pick and a very quick turn around. The Patriots could also exceed people’s expectations and they could end up being a lot better and a lot more competitive than maybe people think they could. I actually have a lot of faith in Jarrett Stidham, he’s not going to be Tom Brady, but I think he’s going to look closer to a starting quarterback than he will to a back up.
“The Patriots have most of the parts of a championship defense under contract — like Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. Last year proved they could win 12 games (albeit against a relatively soft schedule) with a quarterback who ranked 18th among qualified starters in passer rating. All Belichick may need to win the AFC East for the 13th season in a row is a competent QB — even if the rest of the division is gunning for him harder than ever.” - Christian D’Andrea, SB Nation
We obviously don’t know what the Patriots are going to be this season, and as uncertain as we feel, it’s also kind of a cool feeling to not know what’s going to happen. But for those Patriots fans who are already writing off the Patriots this season, I’d maybe not get down on the team so quickly, Belichick may just surprise you.