The story in the AFC East for much of the last 20-plus years has been the New England Patriots run things, everyone else is trying to play catch-up, and ultimately, they come up short while the Patriots make a run at a Super Bowl. That’s no longer the case — yes, three teams are still playing catch-up, but now, the Buffalo Bills appear to be the clear-cut best team in the division, and have legitimate hopes of bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Western New York for the first time in history.
Still, each team in the division is interesting to one extent or another. Today, we’re going to look at the AFC East and try to answer the biggest question that face each of them as we prepare for the 2022 NFL season.
Buffalo Bills: Can they actually win a Super Bowl?
“The Buffalo Bills are the favorites to win the Super Bowl” is a very weird sentence that is also 100 percent accurate. After losing in the AFC Championship Game two seasons ago and the AFC Divisional Round last year — both times traveling to Kansas City and falling to the Chiefs — Buffalo went out and appeared to address a number of the biggest issues that existed on their already loaded roster. Most prominently, the Bills’ defensive line got an overhaul, as Von Miller brings a pass rushing threat they did not have and a trio of battle-tested defensive tackles (DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle) should add some heft up the middle. Their skill position players around Josh Allen were bolstered, both in free agency (Jamison Crowder, O.J. Howard, Duke Johnson) and in the draft (James Cook), while Rodger Saffold brings Pro Bowl pedigree to the offensive line. Basically all the pieces are here for the Bills to make a serious run at the Super Bowl, especially if Allen can take another step forward. Perhaps the biggest hurdle they’ll need to clear is the decades of bad luck that is synonymous with the franchise.
New England Patriots: How will the offensive play-calling work?
No seriously, the Patriots don’t have offensive or defensive coordinators. That might not be a huge concern on the defensive side of the ball — the team hasn’t had a recognized defensive coordinator since 2017, which is probably something you can get away with when Bill Belichick is your head coach — but in the aftermath of Josh McDaniels leaving to become the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, the team does not have a coordinator on the offensive side, either. Belichick was recently quoted as saying, “We’re not really big on titles and all that. It’s important that we all work together and create a good final product. That’s what we’re going to try to do. That’s what we’ve always done.” It seems like some combination of offensive line coach Matt Patricia (whose background is as a defensive coach), QB coach Joe Judge (whose background is as a special teams coach), Belichick, and second-year QB Mac Jones will have input on how the offense works. It seems risky, but maybe it’ll work — the Patriots are masters of figuring things out.
Miami Dolphins: Can a new head coach unlock Tua?
Tua Tagovailoa is on the short list of the best college quarterbacks to ever live. Despite that, things just haven’t really worked in the NFL. It hasn’t all been on him — offensive line issues and a less-than-stellar group of skill position players have hampered things considerably — but compared to the guy who tore defenses apart as the signal caller in a high-flying Alabama offense, Tagovailoa has looked tentative and unsure of himself.
Now, former San Francisco 49ers run game coordinator and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel is here and will presumably bring an offense heavily influenced by the years he’s spent around the Shanahan family. McDaniel and OC Frank Smith are tasked with figuring out how to best take advantage of Tagovailoa’s accuracy and ability to make anticipatory throws, and with a pass catching duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle that should be able to burn opposing corners, perhaps they’ll be able to figure that out. If not, Miami might be in for a rough year with major questions that need answering heading into 2023.
New York Jets: Can they take any serious steps forward in year two of Robert Saleh?
The Jets were bad last year, going 4-13 and generally looking like a team that had a first-time head coach and a rookie quarterback. Progress doesn’t happen overnight — or, more accurately, in one offseason — so New York probably shouldn’t make plans for a ticker-tape parade to celebrate a Jets Super Bowl or anything like that. Having said that, the team is going to look for just about anything it can get in 2022 as it looks to build something. Can Zach Wilson go from a rookie who struggled mightily to a guy who shows glimpses of being a franchise signal caller? Can the team’s highly-regarded 2022 NFL Draft class — led by first-round picks Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Jermaine Johnson — be part of a foundation that brings better days to East Rutherford?
Can the free agent signings they brought in on both side of the ball with their copious amounts of cap space prove to be smart investments that immediately raise the team’s floor? This is a big rebuilding job, and this is a year to show that the team is building towards something other than what the status quo has been in New York.