With training camps and the preseason now underway, we are this close to the start of the 2021 NFL regular season.
For other divisions, visit our home for our NFL Predictions 2021.
With that said, here are our early AFC East projections for each team including their win total:
[Note: We assign a win probability to each team in all 272 regular-season games. Of course, no team will win fractional games.]
1. Buffalo Bills - Projected Wins: 11
Bills quarterback Josh Allen has improved by leaps and bounds each season and has emerged as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Outside of Patrick Mahomes (+500) and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers (+800), no other player has shorter odds to win the 2021/22 MVP than Allen (+1000), per Bovada.lv. And now he's paid like it, as the Bills locked up their franchise quarterback with a massive contract extension that keeps him under contract through his age-32 season (2028).
Allen's next-level ascension coincided with Tom Brady leaving the division in 2020 and it was only the third time since 2001 that the Patriots didn't win the division and have the best quarterback in the division. It's clear that Allen is head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacks in the division, but future seasons could be very interesting with the other three teams rostering a high first-round quarterback entering either his first or second season. Helping Josh Allen take such a massive step forward was Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) despite the absence of a traditional offseason. Beyond Diggs, Allen has a talented group of receivers at his disposal with Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis.
Even though the Bills ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing, the Bills ranked second in the NFL in total offense (behind Kansas City) and scoring offense (behind Green Bay). NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund predicts that Zack Moss will be Buffalo's most-improved player in 2021. If true, it would help take some pressure off of Allen. While the Bills added depth to their offensive line via the NFL Draft, their offensive line is solid, but not spectacular, and is better as a unit in pass protection than run blocking.
Given their elite offense, their defense doesn't need to be elite and it's not. The Bills defense ranked middle of the pack -- 14th in YPG allowed and 16th in PPG allowed. The team used its first two draft picks this year on bolstering its pass rush by selecting Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham.
Buffalo's first six games before their Week 7 bye are the most difficult part of their schedule. Four of their first six games are against AFC opponents that won double-digit games in 2020 including an AFC Championship Game rematch on the road. That Week 5 matchup against the Chiefs could later be significant for seeding and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
2. Miami Dolphins - Projected Wins: 9.45
The Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, so it wasn't terribly surprising to see the quarterback switch even though Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing well. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that the Dolphins benched Tua multiple times. Heading into 2021, however, things look different for the second-year quarterback.
Tua Tagovailoa just exhibited off-balance, late-developing play arm whip on a laser to Hunter Long. Different dude out there right now than what we saw as a rookie.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) August 4, 2021
With Ryan Fitzpatrick now in Washington, Tagovailoa won't have to look over his shoulder, but when he looks to his left and right, he will see an improved supporting cast. Wide receivers Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle and tight end Hunter Long join DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. Meanwhile, they drafted Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg to join a young offensive line.
In a bend-don't-break fashion, the Dolphins ranked 20th in total defense, but they allowed the sixth-fewest points (21.1 PPG) last season. With one of the best outside corner tandems (Xavien Howard and Byron Jones), the Dolphins tied for the league lead in passes intercepted (18). They were also tied with the Packers for 10th in sacks (41) last season. Emmanuel Ogbah had a career-high and team-high nine sacks in his first season in Miami. By drafting Jaelen Phillips, arguably the most talented edge rusher in this year's draft class, their pass rush should be even better in 2021.
Aaron Schatz of ESPN/Football Outsiders ranked NFL teams based on roster talent under age 25, which took contracts into consideration, and the Dolphins topped his list. There's been a changing of the guard in the AFC East and the Dolphins appear to be the team most likely to give the Bills a run for their money.
3. New England Patriots - Projected Wins: 8.75
In Year 1 of the post-Tom Brady era, the Patriots failed to win the division or make the playoffs. In fact, they had their first losing season (7-9) since 2000, the year they drafted Brady with the 199th pick.
It's unclear whether Cam Newton, former NFL MVP, or Mac Jones, first-round rookie, will be the starter by season's end even if Newton is expected to enter the season as the starter. As ESPN's Mike Reiss notes, "it sometimes looks like the team is running separate attacks" given the quarterbacks' differing styles. One positive for either Newton or Jones is that the team has upgraded its group of weapons at both wide receiver and tight end and former first-rounder N'Keal Harry has been making strides in camp.
One year after leading the NFL in both total and scoring defense, the defense was good (seventh in scoring defense) but not as dominant in 2020. Atypical for the Patriots, they were very active in NFL free agency on both sides of the ball. Some newcomers/returners to the defense include Matt Judon, Jalen Mills, Davon Godchaux, Kyle Van Noy, etc.
The concern with the Patriots heading into 2021 won't be the defensive side of the ball. But if the offense is able to score more points (27th in scoring offense in 2020), they will have a chance to push for one of the AFC Wild Card spots.
4. New York Jets - Projected Wins: 6.55
The Jets seemed to be in the driver's seat for Trevor Lawrence for much of the season until they won two games and lost the right to pick first. Even so, they begin a new era with Zach Wilson, who has all of the tools to develop into a franchise quarterback. But their 2021 NFL Draft class should net them four starters on offense including Wilson. The left side of the offensive line has a chance to be really good with Alijah Vera-Tucker joining last year's first-rounder Mekhi Becton and Elijah Moore has been as advertised in camp thus far.
I think the craziest thing about Elijah Moore is every day I come here saying I’m going to focus on someone else. Then he makes that impossible #Jets— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) August 4, 2021
Joe Douglas has been doing a terrific job in stringing together value-add personnel moves since taking over, but his job isn't done. The front-seven is the defense's strength and Quinnen Williams is on the verge of becoming a dominant interior defender. The defensive scheme may not rely on elite cornerback play, but the Jets have one of the weakest secondaries in the NFL. The Jets ranked bottom five in passing yards allowed (275.6), passing touchdowns allowed (34), passes intercepted (10) and passer rating allowed (103.2) in 2020.
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