It’s time for Regular Season Predictions! For this article I’ll be predicting the 2018 AFC East teams, predicting the worst record they could have (Floor) and the best (Ceiling). Let’s not waste any time and dive right in.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots winning the AFC East is nothing close to resembling anything that is thought of as new, since they’ve only failed to claim the division twice in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, and only once when Brady played a full season.
That we’re still having high expectations for Tom Brady at the age of 41 is a testament to his skill set standing strong against the test of time. The reigning MVP’s sharp, quick passing style has allowed him to constantly play one step ahead of the opposite side of the ball, and his play under pressure seems to get better with age.
As long as Brady and Belichick are on the field, we can always expect the Patriots to clinch the AFC East, homefield advantage, and an AFC Championship appearance. Brady’s quick passing makes his protection look better, but he should still have a solid offensive line in 2018.
By no means, however, is this a perfect offense. Belichick usually gets the most out of his players, but outside of Rob Gronkowski, the receiving corps is extremely weak. Julian Edelman, 32, is coming off an ACL tear and will miss the first four games of the season via suspension, so I have low expectations for him. Outside of possibly Chris Hogan, there isn’t another receiver on the roster that I fear. If Kenny Britt ever emerges from his 2017 slumber, he’d be a nice option for Brady.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of talent and depth in the backfield. James White has been a proven receiving back in the Belichick system, and first round pick Sony Michel promises to be the versatile back you don’t expect in a Patriot offense. Rex Burkhead remains a solid third down option, while Jeremy Hill can offer some quality in a red zone role.
On defense, the Patriots have made some effort to improve a unit that lacked much talent last year. Danny Shelton was a solid defensive tackle for the Browns who is especially good against the run. I’m not crazy about Adrian Clayborn at defensive end, but two years and $12 million doesn’t really hurt either. The addition of Jason McCourty alongside his brother Devin should help boost the secondary, and the team also drafted corner Duke Dawson in the second round (though he’s reportedly had a bad camp). It’s not an impressive side of the ball by any means, but Belichick’s coaching should make it work to an extent.
It’s a top heavy but flawed team, but the top parts should once again guarantee a 12 win season for New England at the very least.
2. Miami Dolphins
How much you like or dislike Ryan Tannehill will affect how you feel about the 2018 Miami Dolphins.
To me, Ryan Tannehill has been one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league. Despite Miami constantly handing him incompetent situations (bad receiving corps, offensive lines, and coaching), Tannehill has been able to make these offenses look competent by providing great pocket movement, strong play under pressure and refined downfield accuracy. His best supporting cast came in 2016, when Adam Gase was able to give Tannehill more intermediate and vertical throwing lanes, better suiting his skill set.
I was never a Jarvis Landry fan, so freeing him up will allow the Dolphins to run a faster offense that isn’t held back by force feeding one receiver. Kenny Stills is a well rounded receiver, Danny Amendola should have another quality year as slot receiver in a new home, and Albert Wilson is both a very good screen and vertical threat. It’s a make or break year for Devante Parker, who hasn’t been able to put together consistent stretches of quality play despite flashes of his talent.
Mike Gesicki is a talented rookie tight end with a great catch radius. While he develops, MarQueis Gray and A.J. Derby (who flashed potential in Denver) remain in front of him. Josh Sitton should prove to be a massive upgrade at left guard, and combined with left tackle Laremy Tunsil and new center Daniel Kilgore, the Dolphins will have a greatly improved (though not great) offensive line.
Kenyan Drake should be starting over Frank Gore. While he had a limited sample size after the Jay Ajayi trade, Drake was excellent between the tackles in that sample size. Gore’s skill set has put him one step ahead of father time, but his snaps should go to the rookie Kalen Ballage.
On the other side of the ball, Miami’s secondary should surprise a lot of people. Rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick should be an impact player right away, corner Xavien Howard greatly improved as the 2017 season went on, Reshad Jones has remained a high quality strong safety, and T.J. McDonald and Bobby McCain are also solid.
On the other hand, I’m not wild about the talent up front. The trade for Robert Quinn might pan out, but it depends on if he’s ever at 100 percent again. Cameron Wake has become a household name in Miami, but he’s 36, so we’ll see if he has anything left in the tank. The defensive tackle spot looks like it’ll be a hole, and while the linebacker group is better, the team should move on from Kiko Alonso after the season.
All things considered, Ryan Tannehill is a lot better than 2017 Jay Cutler. Combine him with a promising run game, a good receiving corps, improved offensive line and exciting secondary, and the Dolphins could be a surprise playoff contender in 2018, especially with a somewhat favorable schedule.
3. New York Jets
I’d probably be a little higher on the Jets if they didn’t fire offensive coordinator John Morton. Morton was excellent in his lone year in New York (or New Jersey if you want to be geographically correct), offering diverse route combinations and quick passing plays for quarterback Josh McCown. Because McCown is awful, however, the Jets put the blame on Morton and fired him. Hopefully Jeremy Bates offers some quality as the new OC.
The Jets’ offensive line looks bad, but the skill players are extremely intriguing. Robby Anderson was an outstanding vertical threat in 2017, and Jermaine Kearse provided a quality #2 option as well. The talented Quincy Enunwa will return from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2017 season, and Terrelle Pryor, who saw his time in Washington come to a disappointing end due to similar circumstances, could be a contributor too, giving the Jets a surprising amount of wide receiver depth.
In the run game, Bilal Powell is a high quality receiving back, and Thomas Rawls and Isaiah Crowell give the Jets proven talent in the backfield, and once Elijah McGuire comes back the team has a lot of options with this unit. At tight end, Clive Walford is talented but never panned out in Oakland, and the rest of the group is unproven.
Much like Miami, I’m underwhelmed by the defensive front (Hopefully rookie DE Nathan Shepard can develop into a quality player), but the secondary is on the rise. Trumaine Johnson was a huge get at corner, and combined with Morris Clariborne (coming off a nice 2017 season), the Jets have a quality cornerback tandem. The 2017 draft selections of safeties of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were home runs, and the two are one of the best young safety duos in the NFL.
If Josh McCown starts, the Jets are going to be brutal. If Sam Darnold starts, the Jets are going to be a fun team that will win a few more games, albeit a team that still has many needs before it can compete in the AFC East.
4. Buffalo Bills
The Bills were the last major North American sports team to make the playoffs in both this century and this millennium. I’m really happy that fans finally got to see a playoff game after many years of suffering and waiting, because honestly, it was long overdue.
Having said that, like everyone else I expect Buffalo to experience massive regression.
Tyrod Taylor’s reward for carrying an abysmal offensive supporting cast to a 9-7 record was getting traded to the Cleveland Browns. Now, the Bills’ quarterback room consists of A.J. McCarron (who was ok in CIN but has a far worse offense to operate), Nathan “I threw five first half interceptions in my first career start” Peterman, and rookie Josh Allen, who I did not like in college at all.
Regardless of who starts, the supporting cast will give them zero favors. We can expect quality out of LeSean McCoy (that is if he’ll be able to avoid suspension), and Chris Ivory was a solid signing, but it’s a barren wasteland elsewhere. Kelvin Benjamin is a big receiver that plays like a midget, giving his quarterback a ridiculously low margin of error. Zay Jones dropped way too many passes in his rookie season, and Charles Clay wasn’t much better as a receiver. Corey Coleman should be the best receiver on this team, providing that he stays healthy.
The offensive line will be without left tackle Cordy Glenn, left guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood. Expect this unit to be one of the worst of its kind in 2017. The hope is that new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will be a step up from the limited play calling of Rick Dennison. Daboll had some failed stints in Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City, and like with this group he wasn’t given a lot to work with.
The defensive should be less of a disaster than the offense, though. Star Lotueleli should be a nice free agent signing at defensive tackle, and rookie linebacker Tremaine Edwards is raw but has upside. The secondary should be the best part about the team. Tre’Davious White is coming off a really good rookie season, Micah Hyde had an excellent 2017, and safety Jordan Poyer offers quality as well.
Somehow, this team went 9-7 in 2017. I don’t expect that to continue in 2018, and Buffalo’s front office should be given another year to help rebuild this team.