2020 NFL AFC East Preview

September 9, 2020

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) steps on the field for an NFL football training camp practice, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool)

For the overall 2020 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the divisional previews.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

Overview Playoffs | Awards

Patriots 9-7

Even when the Patriots lose, they win.

Tom Brady is gone, but Cam Newton comes to New England to make the Pats the first team in NFL history to replace a departed MVP with a former MVP. Yes, Cam is five years removed from his MVP season but Kurt Warner thinks Cam can be, well, the next Kurt Warner.

Cam will need to reclaim his 2015 form for a Patriots offense devoid of any real weapons beyond a 34-year-old slot receiver (Julian Edelman) and a third-down running back (James White). While both are former Super Bowl heroes, that won’t mean much in a weird 2020 season.

The Patriots defense was the top-ranked unit last season, but free agency and coronavirus opt-outs have decimated the 2020 squad. If losing a Hall of Fame quarterback isn’t enough, the quarterback of the defense (Dont’a Hightower) and a key contributor (Patrick Chung) were among the eight opt-outs, leaving the Pats vulnerable to a big setback — even with Bill Belichick pulling the strings.

That said, I don’t see Belichick and a healthy Newton letting New England fall from the division penthouse — I’ve picked them to edge Buffalo in a tiebreaker — but it will likely be the closest AFC East race we’ve seen in years.

Bills 9-7

Buffalo believes Tom Brady’s departure means the AFC East is theirs to win.

Not so fast.

The Bills have plenty of reasons to be confident: They have a top-three defense, Stefon Diggs should be a nice target for Josh Allen, and Devin Singletary promises to be strong in the run game. I just question how good the offensive line will be and how Buffalo gets around a lackluster tight end group.

The Bills defense lost the leadership of Lorenzo Alexander but should remain among the league’s top units. Tre’Davious White, one of the most underrated corners in the NFL, headlines a strong secondary (yes, even with Josh Norman) and Buffalo’s D-line is capable of controlling the line of scrimmage.

Thus, Buffalo’s hopes of winning its first division title in 25 years is on Allen’s shoulders. If he takes a big step forward, the Bills are a contender. If he’s not ready for prime-time, Buffalo will remain second-fiddle to New England — or worse.

Dolphins 6-10

Miami hasn’t had a Pro Bowl QB since Dan Marino in 1995. They think they have one now in Tua Tagovailoa.

Although the fifth overall pick did “miraculously well” in recovery from a hip injury that probably cost him a couple draft slots, he’ll start the season as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who actually led an awful Dolphins offense in rushing last season. I’m not sure pulling a 68-year-old Chan Gailey out of retirement to run a 5-year-old offense will help matters out, but Jordan Howard and Matt Breida were signed to at least give Miami some better options on the ground. But, behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, the Fins again figure to struggle to score consistently.

The Dolphins D was the worst scoring defense in the league in 2019 but should improve significantly thanks to free agent acquisitions Bryon Jones and Kyle Van Noy, in addition to improved play from youngsters Raekwon McMillan and Christian Wilkins. Even if this unit is middle-of-the-road this season, that’s a strong step up.

Much like Washington, the Dolphins are laying the foundation for being good in the future but won’t necessarily be anything more than competitive in 2020. Thus, Tua should start soon, so Miami receivers can get used to catching passes from the league’s lone lefty quarterback.

Jets 3-13

I way overrated the Jets last year, and there’s a chance I’m underrating them here. But suffice it to say, this is the worst team in the AFC East.

I’m still scratching my head over the Adam Gase hiring (and what exactly he was looking at during his introductory press conference last year), and the lack of results with Sam Darnold are stunning given Gase’s reputation for being so good with quarterbacks. It’s a good thing Frank Gore is turning back the hands of time because Le’Veon Bell is one more disappointing season away from another (and less-desirable) crack at free agency.

Trading away Jamal Adams was a bad look for Gregg Williams’ defense, which will again be without C.J. Mosley (opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns) and really needs Quinnen Williams to take a big step up in Year 2. Gang Green won’t be good enough to avoid the division basement, and there’s a strong chance Gase won’t be around to use the picks from the Adams trade.

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