Is New England's dominance in the AFC East coming to an end? Scouts break down the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets
New England may have come up short in Super Bowl LII against Philadelphia but the Patriots have dominated the AFC East for nearly two decades. The Patriots have won nine division titles in a row and 14 of the last 15. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady certainly aren't getting any younger and the offseason saw plenty of changes with the coaching staff and the roster but does that mean New England is vulnerable?
Buffalo went 9-7 in 2017, good enough to snap the franchise's 18-year playoff drought yet the Bills still finished four games behind the Patriots. Buffalo will have a new quarterback running the offense after trading Tyrod Taylor. Miami parted ways with several veterans in the offseason while Ryan Tannehill is ready to return from a torn ACL that cost him all of last season. And for New York, much of the focus will be on how soon Sam Darnold, the third pick in this year's draft, takes over at quarterback or will veteran Josh McCown or free-agent acquisition Teddy Bridgewater keep the rookie on the sidelines.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2018 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.
"After moving on from Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus, Reggie Ragland and Ronald Darby, to think the Bills would make the playoffs is a tribute to the buy-in new head coach Sean McDermott got from the rest of the team. He and GM Brandon Beane are in the midst of a roster makeover, yet broke the seal on the playoffs, so the future looks bright."
"AJ McCarron has the height, enough arm strength, confidence and motivation to be serviceable, while [Josh] Allen transitions to the NFL."
"Shady McCoy continues to be a dynamic player with his ability to run and catch, but the Bills also signed Chris Ivory to bring more of a hammer to their inside run game."
"Last year’s second-round pick, Dion Dawkins, was a big hit when he stepped in at left tackle, which allowed them to trade Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati. Center Eric Wood and left guard Richie Incognito both retired, so they are rebuilding the offensive line."
"Defensively, their decision makers with Panthers roots brought in Star Lotulelei from Carolina to help bolster the front, and Kyle Williams returns for a 13th season. Jerry Hughes enjoyed a productive year, and they added Tremaine Edmunds to their front seven at linebacker as their second first-round pick."
"The strength of the team might be the underrated secondary as [2017 No. 1 pick] Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde all meshed well together. Vontae Davis is being added to the mix this season."
"If McCarron can play at all, this team should be very competitive while they point to the future as an overall organization.”
"It’s difficult to figure out how this mixed bag of players actually fits the offensive and defensive schemes."
"Adam Gase’s biggest challenge in 2016 was becoming a believable leader to this group, and that was achieved. But they got derailed last year when Ryan Tannehill got hurt, a September hurricane postponed a game and an assistant coach went off the rails mid-year."
"They traded Jarvis Landry and released Ndamukong Suh in hopes of building a better 'team.'"
"Tannehill will try to make a return, but he not only needs to stay healthy but also must play better than good for them to have any chance."
"With Landry in Cleveland, DeVante Parker is under big-time pressure to produce, while they know what Kenny Stills brings to the position. They will have fingers crossed that Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson can fill the role of a reliable third-down target."
"While tackle Laremy Tunsil has the most talent, his production has not matched his potential."
"They traded for Robert Quinn from the Rams with the hopes that he, Cameron Wake and Charles Harris can get their pass rush going from the outside, but the run defense could be their most critical problem."
"Your linebacking corps is substandard when Kiko Alonso is your best player."
"Reshad Jones restructured his deal in the offseason and continues to be Miami’s best overall player on the defense, but look for first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick to make an impact as their slot corner."
"Maybe they get to 8–8 if Tannehill stays upright."
"After coming up short against Philadelphia, Bill Belichick once again opted to reshape his roster, especially on the defensive side of things."
"Adrian Clayborn was signed from Atlanta to increase their pass rush and improve the overall rotation, while Danny Shelton was traded for to bolster their interior run defense. They have been pleased with the play of Trey Flowers and have high hopes for Derek Rivers, who missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL."
"A healthy return of Dont’a Hightower will help a nondescript set of linebackers who were overmatched against the Eagles’ run-pass option offense."
"The Malcolm Butler saga ended with him signing in Tennessee, so again, another trade with Cleveland for Jason McCourty should shore up the position. Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon form one of the better safety trios in the league."
"Tom Brady seems ageless, but the real key is the play of their offensive line. Nate Solder is a significant loss at left tackle, and I would worry about guard-sized rookie Isaiah Wynn filling his shoes. David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney play above their ability levels because of coach Dante Scarnecchia, who does more with less than anybody in the NFL."
"They never really replaced LeGarrette Blount last season and now have signed Jeremy Hill from Cincinnati to try to fill his role."
"You look at this team, and it’s composed of 'garage sale' pieces and parts, but with Belichick and Brady conducting the orchestra, it really doesn’t seem to matter who is playing the instruments. The music sounds the same."
"Expected to be the worst team in the NFL during the 2017 season, they pieced together five wins, and GM Mike Maccagnan attacked the offseason with a wish list that was almost completed. After bringing back Josh McCown and signing Teddy Bridgewater, they moved from No. 6 to No. 3 in the draft and never dreamed Sam Darnold would be there. He was the 'safest' of the top four quarterbacks because of his demeanor and work ethic, maybe more than his throwing talent."
"Every area of their offense needed improvement, so they signed Spencer Long at center from Washington and added Isaiah Crowell at running back from Cleveland, but they did not address the wide receiver position in the draft. Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse will top the group."
"The defense carried the load in 2017 and will be expected to do the same this year."
"Steve McLendon and Leonard Williams were the ringleaders upfront, and they signed Avery Williamson from Tennessee and allowed Demario Davis to walk. Former first-round pick Darron Lee must play better."
"The Jets invested big money into corner Trumaine Johnson and re-signed Mo Claiborne, who has found new life."
"You can definitely see the plan now after their teardown a year ago post-draft. There is clearly more ability on this roster, so the pressure will increase on head coach Todd Bowles, who elevated Jeremy Bates to offensive coordinator to replace John Morton."
"This is a six-, maybe eight-win team, knowing that if Darnold is the real deal, they could be a yearly contender beginning in 2019 and beyond."