Can anyone dethrone the Patriots? Scouts break down the defending champs as well as the Bills, Dolphins and Jets
Thanks to an epic comeback in Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady enters the 2017 season with an entire hand's worth of Super Bowl rings, breaking a tie with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most championships by a quarterback. With Brady back for a full season and showing no signs of slowing down, New England is primed for another run at an AFC crown. Miami will be a formidable opponent coming off its first playoff berth since 2008, with the teams squaring off twice in three weeks likely for the upper hand in the division. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has said the Patriots are "definitely beatable," which won't sit too well with many in Foxboro.
Buffalo and New York will look to aid in the effort of dismantling the Patriots from their perch atop the division, but poor records in 2017 appear ready to continue this coming season. With the reigning Super Bowl champions still riding that wave of momentum, though, it is hard to imagine much in the way of success for the other three AFC East teams.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2017 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“Rex Ryan’s public proclamations and outward confidence did not carry over to winning results, and while the players enjoyed him, the lack of discipline and overall direction plagued this team over the past two seasons."
"Sean McDermott, an Andy Reid/Jim Johnson disciple who reinvented himself in Carolina under Ron Rivera, will be expected to establish a culture of accountability, and he gained significant power with the firing of GM Doug Whaley the day after the draft."
"Tyrod Taylor is good enough to play but not good enough to win. And yet, the Bills are stuck with him for 2017."
"[LeSean] Shady McCoy bounced back last year but is another season older and always a hamstring pull away from being on the shelf."
"The line is capable on the left side with Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito, but the Bills allowed 46 sacks despite a mobile quarterback."
"Sammy Watkins has been a major disappointment due to injuries, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was not exercised."
"The defense took a huge step back in 2016 but could potentially surprise with a healthy return of defensive end Shaq Lawson and linebacker Reggie Ragland."
"Marcell Dareus needs to become a more consistent force in the middle, and maybe McDermott can bring it out of him."
"Ronald Darby has established himself as a bona fide corner, but Stephon Gilmore walked in free agency, so they dropped down in the first round to choose LSU’s Tre’Davious White."
"With more attention to detail, the Bills should be better, but not sure how this team gets to the playoffs.”
“Adam Gase proved to be more than ready to handle the head coaching position as he did a masterful job with a mixed bag of players.”
“Now that the head coach is in place, the next long-term question surrounds Ryan Tannehill*, who played well for much of the year only to suffer a knee injury at the end of the season. No surgery was required, and reports indicate that his rehab should have him ready to go by training camp.”
[*Editor's note: Tannehill suffered a non-contact injury to the same knee early in training camp and could possibly need season-ending surgery. Former Bears QB Jay Cutler signed a one-year deal on Sunday with the Dolphins.]
“Their trio of young receivers, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, all have different roles and made exciting strides in 2016.”
“Laremy Tunsil should make a seamless move to left tackle, and the rest of the offensive line is more than adequate.”
“Jay Ajayi had a breakout campaign and is clearly their go-to runner.”
“Ndamukong Suh was better than expected in 2016 but is always a wild-card performer.”
Miami was thrilled to add Missouri defensive end Charles Harris to its pass rush as a first-round pick.”
“The linebackers are a work in progress with Kiko Alonso getting an extension and Lawrence Timmons coming in as a free agent from the Steelers.”
“Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) was their second-round pick, but some question his ability as a point-of-attack defender.”
“The secondary is the weakest part of their roster and may prove to be their undoing against the Patriots.”
“Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard and rookie Cordrea Tankersley are all bigger corners with a lack of short-area quickness and coverage skills.”
“Can this team make the playoffs? Maybe. Major run in playoffs? Doubtful.”
“While Bill Belichick and Tom Brady get 99 percent of the credit for the Patriots’ success, you cannot overlook offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who unretired last year and helped solidify a group that is underwhelming when evaluated individually. It’s amazing what Scarnecchia did with just an average set of guys up front.”
“If Brady gets protection, they win, period.”
“The wide receivers are interchangeable and each has his own flaws, but with Brady, they all play well above their means. Brandin Cooks should be sensational in this offense.”
“The Pats moved on from LeGarrette Blount and signed Mike Gillislee away from Buffalo as a restricted free agent.”
“Gillislee will be the physical hammer, while Rex Burkhead, formerly of the Bengals, is an exceptionally versatile player.”
“Defensively, Dont’a Hightower tested the market but returned, while New England threw huge dollars at Bills’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Belichick sees him as a matchup hybrid to defend taller receivers and tight ends.”
“While they flirted with trading Malcolm Butler and even allowed him to negotiate with the Saints, it appears he will be back.”
“Defensive end Trey Flowers was a revelation in 2016 with seven sacks, and they expect Kony Ealy (Panthers) to increase his pressure production after they traded for him in March.”
“New England did most of its personnel work in free agency and opted to keep Jimmy Garoppolo in the fold rather than trading him. The reality here is that while Brady will be 40 years old in August, the Pats continue to be the team to beat in the entire NFL, because the sum of their parts is always greater than the whole, that’s the Belichick way.”
“The Jets took a big step backward last offseason, and it was not unexpected that they struggled in 2016. And it appears that more of the same is in store for 2017 because of their lack of playmaking talent at all of the offensive skill positions. They simply don’t have a single player that must be game-planned for by the defense, and the offensive line is not much better.”
“Josh McCown was signed as this year’s bridge after Ryan Fitzpatrick flopped in his encore performance.”
“But who is he ‘bridging’ to? It’s Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty for now. Hackenberg gets crushed by internal leaks that say he is not committed and is in no position to be successful as a pro quarterback.”
“Defensively, the line still has top-flight talent, but the game has changed, so without a dominant edge pass rusher, their linebackers and defensive backs were exposed all season long.”
“Darron Lee showed signs of becoming an accomplished three-down linebacker as a rookie.”
“Darrelle Revis was released in March after his play sank to an embarrassing low.”
“Once again, as was the story in 2015 with the selection of Leonard Williams at pick No. 6, arguably the best defensive player in the draft fell in their laps in the form of LSU safety Jamal Adams. Surprisingly, the Jets went safety again in the second round with the selection of Florida’s Marcus Maye.”
“I don’t know how they survive at cornerback with no outside pass rush.”
“Even kicker Nick Folk was cut in this roster reset.”
“The Jets were [tied for] 31st in turnover margin at minus-20 last year, so to compete at all, that number must be cut in half.
“Regardless, this team will be in the quarterback market for 2018 and could be at the top of the draft.”