Key: DVOA = Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, EPA= Expected Points Added
- Buffalo Bills
Bills Mafia has a lot to be excited about headed into this season. Josh Allen broke out last season helped by his great weaponry and offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, and they look like a real Super Bowl contender. A year ago the Bills offense was 3rd in points per drive at 2.80, 4th in EPA/play at 0.151, and PFF graded their offense 3rd. All the core pieces of last season are back, a list that includes Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah McKenzie. They lost John Brown but actually got an upgrade when they signed Emmanuel Sanders to replace him. Brian Daboll returning is also huge. Expect this unit to perform similarly or even improve.
A closer look at just how good Allen was last season shows he’s on the verge of elite territory. Allen was 3rd in FO’s DVOA, 5th in EPA/play at 0.256, 3rd in EPA+CPOE (Comp.% Over Expectation) at 0.173, and had PFF’s 5th highest offensive grade. With all of his pieces back with an upgrade and Daboll back to call plays this team has real Super Bowl potential. On defense they were more middle of the pack receiving 17th highest graded defense, and 12th ranked DVOA. A full offseason with players Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Jerry Hughes, and Tremaine Edmunds should lead to improvement to compliment the offense. The AFC is loaded but this team should at least make it to the divisional round.
Projected win total: 12 plus wins
2. New England Patriots
Without Brady last season the Pats went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Headed into the offseason we knew the Pats had a miserable group of pass catchers and they needed to find a long-term quarterback in the draft. In free agency, Belichick spent money by signing tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to go with wide receiver Nelson Agholor to upgrade their weaponry. We’ll see just what these three do for this offense, especially with the quarterback situation.
Cam Newton is back and healthy but is being pushed by first round pick Mac Jones. Even if Newton starts at the beginning of the year it likely won’t be long before Mac Jones steps in. Jones likely fits what Belichick wants better and that’s get the ball out quick, make good decisions and don’t turn the ball over. Bringing in Trent Brown but losing Joe Thuney and Marcus Cannon on the offensive line likely hurts them and could hurt the offense. Last season’s unit graded 15th in pass blocking so we’ll see what happens. If Hunter Henry gets injured this offense could quickly fall apart and Henry is no stranger to injuries.
On defense, they brought in Matt Judon to aid their pass rush and drafted Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins to join him on the defensive line. The Patriots should be in the playoffs and take 2nd in the division but Miami is getting better and could be ready to push the Pats.
Projected win total: 9 to 11 wins
3. Miami Dolphins
Brian Flores has done a great job with this team in two seasons. In year one they went 5-11 with a team that most thought could go 0-16 at the beginning of the year. Last season the Dolphins had some more talent in and managed a 10-6 record. Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa struggled but didn’t have much around him as his pass blocking received a PFF grade of 21st and his receivers graded 17th.
The Dolphins drafted three offensive linemen two drafts ago and with a full offseason, they should develop and lead to an average pass blocking group at least. As far as receivers they signed Will Fuller and drafted Tua’s former teammate Jaylen Waddle who both have blazing speed. Tagovailoa is going to be able to push the ball down the field more easily which will create more big plays.
Defensively PFF graded them 15th and they added rookie defensive end Jaelen Phillips in the first round to boost the pass rush. They also bring in cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Jason McCourty to go with linebacker Benardrick McKinney. For this team, it’s as simple as they’ll be as good as the offense allows them to be. The Dolphins will be in the playoff hunt again but whether or not they are ready remains to be seen. The Dolphins ceiling is a playoff appearance and 2nd place finish in the division.
Projected win total: 9 to 11 wins
4. New York Jets
The Robert Saleh era begins and there are a lot of reasons to be excited as a Jets fan this offseason. With the 2nd overall pick they got their quarterback of the future in Zach Wilson and at 14th overall selected Alijah Vera-Tucker a great offensive guard prospect. The Jets will also have Mike LaFleur as offensive coordinator and play caller. He’s the younger brother of Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur and the next young offensive mind to run his own version of the Shanahan/McVay system. Wilson played in a similar system in college and the Jets now have solid weaponry.
They signed Corey Davis and drafted Elijah Moore, the elite wide receiver from Ole Miss. Denzel Mims should have more success being freed from Adam Gase as well. Coaching changes with the personnel upgrades can help to a degree but this division and conference will be tough and they likely need more pieces before thinking about the playoffs. PFF graded the Jets pass protection in 2020 31st, their run blocking 20th, and the defense graded 24th. FO ranked the Jets 32nd in team DVOA last season as well so again don’t expect much in the win column this year but do expect a better-looking team.
Projected win total: 4 to 6 wins