Saturday, August 26, 2023

2023 NFL Division Predictions: AFC East

Before the start of the season, I will post my division-by-division predictions for the 2023 NFL regular season and postseason.

Instead of projecting an outright winner and loser in all 272 regular-season games, I've assigned a win probability to each team in every game and totalled them up.

Check out our 2023 NFL Predictions page for other divisions.

With that said, here are our early AFC East projections for each team including their win total.

1. Buffalo Bills - Projected Wins: 10.32

The Bills have clinched three consecutive AFC East titles while finishing with four consecutive 10-win seasons. Since taking over as head coach, Sean McDermott has led the Bills to the postseason in five of six seasons. While they are the team to beat, this division is arguably the strongest from top to bottom in the NFL.

It all starts with Josh Allen, who has a 17-game average over the past three seasons of 4,591 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions to go along with 675 rushing yards and seven more touchdowns. The dual-threat talent has flourished since the team traded for Stefon Diggs, who has 338/4,189/29 receiving during that three-year span. The addition of Dalton Kincaid, their first-round pick, to join Dawson Knox, James Cook, and Gabe Davis round out a talented group of pass catchers. Diggs recently talked up Davis, saying he's "damn near WR1 in my eyes." Ranking second in the NFL in total offense and scoring offense last season, the Bills will once again have one of the league's most explosive offenses.

The defense lost Terrell Edmunds, who signed a free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears, but the team has finished first or second in scoring defense in three of the past four seasons. They have finished top six in total defense in four of the past five seasons. Because of their strength of both sides of the ball, it's not surprising that they have led the NFL in scoring differential in back-to-back seasons.

Despite the challenge the Bills will face from the rest of the division, our expectation is that they will win their fourth consecutive division title. Given the expectations of the team and fan base, what will really matter is how deep into the postseason they will go. (It's been 30 years — the 1993 season — since the Bills have made it to the Super Bowl.)

MORE: Buffalo Bills 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

2. Miami Dolphins - Projected Wins: 9.23

First-year head coach Mike McDaniel led the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2022. Although they lost to the Bills by a field goal in the Wild Card round, it was their first playoff appearance since the 2016 season and only their third trip to the postseason in two decades.

The Dolphins started the season 8-3, losing only in the three games that Tua Tagovailoa either left early or missed. Tagovailoa was outstanding through Week 12 — 69.7% completion rate, 9.03 Y/A, 19-to-three TD-INT ratio and 115.7 passer rating. He wasn't as good in December (0-4 in four starts before missing the final three games including their playoff loss), but the offense was generally firing on all cylinders as he led the NFL in TD% (6.3), Y/A (8.9), and passer rating (105.5) in 2022.

The duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are as talented as any duo in the league, and Hill averaged more than 100 yards per game for the first time in his career last season. The Dolphins have a lot of speed at the skill positions, and a deep rotation of running backs, when healthy, with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Devon Achane. As long Tagovailoa stays healthy, McDaniel & Co. will operate one of the NFL's top offenses.

Vic Fangio will take over Miami's defense, and he'll be reunited with Bradley Chubb from his time in Denver. Meanwhile, former first-rounder Jaelan Phillips has had two strong seasons (15.5 career sacks) already, and he finished as PFF's sixth-graded edge in 2022. As an ascending prospect now coached by one of the league's best defensive minds, Phillips is a player that will appear on many breakout lists heading into 2023. While the defense should apply plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they have a talented secondary led by Xavien Howard, Jalen Ramsey (when he returns) and Jevon Holland, among others.

MORE: Miami Dolphins 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

3. New York Jets - Projected Wins: 8.92

Maybe it's too early to call Zach Wilson a "bust," but it would be an understatement to say that he has struggled early in his young career. Through two seasons (22 games), Wilson has thrown more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15) and has completed only 55.2% of his pass attempts. Both Mike White and Joe Flacco each started four games in 2022, but the Jets will bank on Aaron Rodgers being that missing piece on an otherwise talented roster.

Rodgers is coming off a down year himself, but he's a four-time NFL MVP. While Breece Hall is rehabbing a torn ACL, he was coming into his own before the injury and could provide a boost to the offense as the season progresses. That said, signing Dalvin Cook means that Jets won't need to put too much on Hall's plate before he's ready. Meanwhile, Garrett Wilson won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (83/1,103/4) despite the team's poor quarterback play last season. Rodgers will find comfort and familiar faces in Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb.

Not only did the Jets have the Offensive ROY, but they had the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as well. In fact, Sauce Gardner was first-team AP All-Pro in 2022 as a rookie. With a defense anchored by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and Gardner, the Jets ranked top four in the NFL in both scoring and total defense in 2022. Only the Eagles (4.78) allowed fewer yards per play than the Jets (4.84) last season

Obviously, Jets' fans are hoping for major improvements on offense by trading for Rodgers. But even if they offense is middle of the road, they have a chance to challenge for a division title in one of the league's most competitive divisions. And if they make the postseason, they will end the NFL's longest active playoff drought (12 seasons).

MORE: New York Jets 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

4. New England Patriots - Projected Wins: 7.71

February 3, 2019: The last time that the Patriots have won a playoff game. While they have made the playoffs in two of the past four seasons, they have exited in the Wild Card round in both of those seasons (2019 and 2021).

During the Tom Brady era (2001-2019), the Patriots were top 12 in scoring offense every single season. From 2004-2019, they finished outside the top 12 in total offense only once (15th, 2019). Since then, they have finished 27th, 15th and 26th in total offense, respectively. With Bill O'Brien returning to run the offense, it should be better than it was last season and Rhamondre Stevenson is a versatile and talented young running back. That said, they would rank fourth in the division if we were to power rank quarterback situations, and their receiving corps won't scare any opposing secondaries. This could potentially be a make-or-break season for Mac Jones.

The strength of New England's team is its defense. Matt Judon is one of the league's better edge rushers, and Christian Barmore is a talented young player. Although he tends to zig when others zag, Bill Belichick hit it straight down the fairway and got a steal with Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez in the first round. New England's defense ranked fourth in fewest yards per play allowed, and only the Dallas Cowboys (33) had more takeaways than the Patriots (30), who tied for second with the San Francisco 49ers. They ranked second behind the 49ers (25.7%) in the NFL in percentage of drives ending in a score (30.5%).

With matchups against the Eagles, Dolphins, Jets and Cowboys to open the season, the Patriots have a brutal start to their season and will likely enter each of their first four games as underdogs against teams with outstanding defenses.

MORE: New England Patriots 2023 Fantasy Football Projections

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