Predicting the AFC East

The Footballguys staff looks at how the AFC East will end up in 2021

Links to discussions of other divisions:


Let's dig a little into the NFC East. Who takes this division? How many wins do you predict for each team?

NFC East Team
Vegas Win
Totals
Staff Predictions
Avg Place
1st-Place Votes
2nd-Place Votes
3rd-Place Votes
4th-Place Votes
Buffalo Bills
10.5
1.0
11
0
0
0
Miami Dolphins
9.0
2.4
0
7
4
0
New England Patriots
9.0
2.6
0
4
7
0
New York Jets
6.5
4.0
0
0
0
11

Note: Vegas Win Totals are taken from VegasInsider.com.

Anthony Amico

This division managed to be fairly competitive in 2020 before the Patriots petered out towards the end of the year. It should be even better in 2021. Buffalo crushed last season behind more improved play from Josh Allen and the arrival of Stefon Diggs. They are still the favorites here.

It is difficult to not love what Miami is building under Brian Flores and a smart front office that has accumulated massive amounts of draft capital. The mission for 2021 is clear: set up Tua Tagovailoa for success in his second season. They brought in Will Fuller V, Jaylen Waddle, Hunter Long, and offensive line help. If Tua breaks out, Miami could content for not only the division, but a Super Bowl.

The Patriots went against typical convention and spent a ton of money in free agency. They have a championship-caliber defense, but simply need to score more points in 2021. If Cam Newton can't get it done, then perhaps first-round pick Mac Jones can. New England is a bit of a sleeper for the division.

The only team not expected to compete in 2021 is the Jets, but they should still be worlds better than 2020. The Robert Saleh era is beginning, as is that for Zach Wilson. New York did a great job of surrounding him with talent both on the offensive line and pass-catcher groups. They should be more competitive week-to-week, even if it doesn't lead to a ton of wins.

  • Buffalo Bills -- 11
  • Miami Dolphins -- 11
  • New England Patriots -- 11
  • New York Jets -- 6

Jason Wood

I usually start with the quarterback, and because of that, no one is touching the Bills this year. They'll win the division by at least two games as long as Josh Allen is healthy. The Dolphins are at a major crossroads. They've built a quality roster up and down the depth chart, have youth on their side, and should be a contender, but only if Tua Tagavailoa is legitimate. I'm not sure he is, but I'm not convinced he's fraudulent, either. As Tua goes, so goes the Dolphins. The Jets are a total wild card. The coaching staff is unproven in their new roles and they have a rookie quarterback that many weren't sure deserved to go 1.02 in the draft. The Patriots will be solid. Between the veterans returning from COVID-19, a massive free agency push to bolster the lineup, and renewed vigor after an embarrassing 2020, I think they'll be the team most likely to earn a Wild Card spot in the division.

  • Buffalo -- 12-5
  • New England -- 10-7
  • Miami -- 9-8
  • New York -- 6-11

Andy Hicks

The predictions for this division were wildly off for 2020 and funnily enough the predictions this year are eerily similar to what was expected last year. I expect a similar result with fluctuations varying wildly.

The Jets are the only team here with a new head coach and a clear new starter at quarterback. Tua Tagavailoa was drafted with expectations to be the starter last year for the Dolphins.

Buffalo may come back to the pack this year, but why should they? They are an ascendant team that is well-coached and has maybe the biggest rushing threat at quarterback in the history of the league. Lamar Jackson may have more yards, but Josh Allen exceeds Jacksons' touchdown totals significantly.

New England will have expectations of a return to their 10 plus win seasons, but the absence of one key member is more significant than Bill Belichick would like. Will the many additions and returns all gel as a cohesive unit?

Miami is the true wildcard here. If Tagavailoa is a genuinely good quarterback they should attain 10 plus wins, but there are plenty of warning signs that he could be an anchor to the direction the Dolphins are heading otherwise. This team has been developed and coached well, but it all falls apart if we see Jacoby Brissett starting.

The poor Jets try once again to rebuild. Maybe they get the mix right this time, but we will only see foundations in 2021. If they are competitive that will be a good start. I cannot see a feasible running game here, and how ready is Zach Wilson?

  • Buffalo 8-15 wins, prediction 11-6
  • Miami 4-14 wins, prediction 11-6
  • New England 6-15 wins, prediction 7-10
  • NY Jets 2-8 wins, prediction 5-12

Chad Parsons

The Patriots won seven games last year with not much on offense. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Nelson Agholor add viability. I am bullish on Mac Jones with Bill Belichek and if Cam Newton does not show passing improvement from last year, expect to see Mac Jones by midseason. I have zero faith in the Jets to challenge for a playoff spot with a rookie quarterback and plenty of depth chart question marks across the board.

With the Dolphins, everything hinges on Tua Tagovailoa's progression. They can push for the playoffs and possibly the division if he takes a pronounced step forward. However, the back-and-forth nature of starting Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick last season bothers me in projecting high confidence, as well as a very controlled approach to the offense with Tagovailoa under center. I am bullish on the weapons in Miami, but the quarterback keeps me from a major projection for Will Fuller V most notably.

  • Buffalo 11 wins
  • New England 10 wins
  • Miami 7 wins
  • NY Jets 5 wins

Jeff Haseley

The AFC East should be won by Buffalo with 11-13 wins, however, the Dolphins and Patriots are not far behind. If all goes right, they could both be in the thick of things at the end of the season with a showdown game in Miami against the Patriots in Week 18 where the loser could be out of a playoff berth. Buffalo is the team to beat with one of the best passing offenses in the league with a stout defense that can win on its own. The Bills have the ability to be the best team in the AFC at the end of the season.

Jason hit the nail on the head saying the Dolphins will go as far as Tua Tagovailoa takes them. A large portion of their success in 2021 hinges on Tua's ability to rise to the occasion in his second year in the league. Will we see him unleashed to make accurate throws downfield like we saw at Alabama? Will he be able to run when necessary? How much does he trust his now-healed hip? Miami has one of the better defenses in the AFC. Can they put it all together on both sides of the ball, consistently and be a surprise team knocking off Buffalo? If Tua plays to his potential, it's possible.

New England is one year removed from having the best defense in the league in 2019. If they can return to form, or close to it, they will be a tough out in the AFC East. Which Cam Newton will we see in 2021? Will he improve his game as a passer and not just as a touchdown-scoring rushing quarterback? Can he hold onto the starting job all year or will he give way to rookie Mac Jones at some point in the season? We'll know the answers to those questions soon enough and the results will dictate how far New England goes this season.

  • Buffalo 12-5
  • Miami 11-6
  • New England 11-6
  • NY Jets 6-11

Victoria Geary

If Josh Allen stays healthy, the Buffalo Bills will win the AFC East for the second consecutive year. Though the team should have a more balanced offense in 2021, they certainly will not be reverting back to the days of a run-first approach. In 2020, the combination of Daboll's air-raid offense, the addition of Stefon Diggs, and Allen's unprecedented Year 3 leap took the Bills to their first AFC Championship game since the early 1990s. If their defense can play closer to head coach Sean McDermott's top-five squad from a few years back, the Bills may have everything they need on paper to make it to the Super Bowl.

The Miami Dolphins have the fifth-easiest overall strength of schedule in 2021 and I expect them to be the biggest threat to the Buffalo Bills. The speed of their upgraded receiving corps in Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle could burn just about any team's best cornerbacks, but the Fins will only win as many games as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa allows. Most people are writing Tua off a bit too early for my liking, and rather unfairly - especially knowing he played with three rookie offensive line pieces and had no training camp, no preseason, and less-than-stellar receivers in 2020. If Tua can take the next step, the Dolphins will surprise everyone.

Being a lifelong Bills fan, I know better than to count the Patriots out - ever. The team somehow managed to squeak out seven wins in 2020, even with an anemic offense and Cam Newton throwing for a total of eight touchdowns on the season (three of those coming against the Jets in Week 17). The Pats uncharacteristically made a massive monetary investment in free agency with a focus on upgrading their receiving corps, signing talented players like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Couple that with a more-than-likely sentiment that Mac Jones is at the helm by mid-season, and we should expect the Patriots to put up a much tougher fight in 2021.

I won't spend much time on the Jets, as they simply have too many new pieces in all phases for us to expect them to make an immediate impact in the AFC East this year.

Predictions

  • Buffalo 13-4
  • Miami 10-7
  • New England 9-8
  • New York 4-13

Jordan McNamara

I, like Victoria, am a Bills fan, so I usually like to set expectations low and hope the Bills overperform. That said, I struggle to see how any team closed a significant gap on the Bills for the 2021 season. In fact, I think the Bills closed the gap on the Chiefs for AFC supremacy more than anyone in this division closed the gap on the Bills this offseason. The continued addition and development of pass rushers for the Bills while the Chiefs lost the bookends of their offensive line, could tip the scales in the AFC.

We will see long-term how the quarterback investments by the Patriots (Mac Jones) and Jets (Zach Wilson) shape the future of the division, but I don't think either change the arc of the division in 2021. As I wrote above, I expect the Dolphins to regress, because they've run lucky the past two years.

The return of several key opt-outs for the Patriots is a big watch, as they could have an elite defense, but I question the ceiling with Cam Newton or Mac Jones at quarterback.

I'll echo Anthony on loving what Miami is doing as an organization, but I think they were a mirage in 2020. They were +9 in turnover margin while ranking 21st in offensive yards per play and 23rd in defensive yards per play allowed. Add their stats up, their +66 point differential is a big-time regression candidate. From a team-building perspective, they are a fascinating watch this season.

  • Buffalo Bills -- 13
  • Miami Dolphins -- 7
  • New England Patriots -- 10
  • New York Jets -- 6

Ryan Weisse

Buffalo should run away with the AFC East again in 2021. Their offense is only getting better and there should be an improvement on defense as well. The rest of the division is improving too, but none of them are on Buffalo’s level heading into this season. The Bills will be battling Kansas City for the AFC bye week.

The Dolphins are getting better on both sides of the ball but the schedule is not quite in their favor from a home/away standpoint. If Tua takes a big step forward, they could win a few games that they shouldn’t have and steal one of the AFC Wild Card spots.

The Patriots will again live or die on the arm, and legs, of Cam Newton. Last year, his arm let them down, plain and simple. They added firepower at tight end, landing both of the top free-agents at the position, but still need an alpha WR. Their defense will improve just based on getting back the players that opted out last year but it probably won’t be enough to take 2nd place from a rising Miami team.

The Jets are far and away the worst team in the division. They landed their hopeful franchise QB in the draft but the talent around him is largely unproven. The defense is not ready to put this team on a new level but that can be addressed with their high draft pick in 2022.

  • BUF 13-4
  • MIA 10-7
  • NE 8-9
  • NYJ 3-14

Sigmund Bloom

The AFC East gets the AFC and NFC South in addition to their divisional games. This is a favorable draw if only because it gets Houston, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Carolina on the schedule, four of the worst 8 teams in 2020. The non-shared games for each team:

  • BUF- WAS @KC PIT
  • MIA- @LV BAL NYG
  • NE- DAL @LAC CLE
  • NYJ- PHI @DEN CIN

Buffalo has an incredible amount of continuity, surpassed only by Tampa Bay, so we shouldn't expect much change from 2020. Miami should be improved if Tua Tagovailoa is improved. New England should have a much better offense this year. The Jets should be better, but there was nowhere to go but up. I've got it:

  • BUF: 13-4
  • MIA: 11-6
  • NE: 10-7
  • NYJ: 3-14

This division will likely send one Wild Card and a third team should be in the mix if the quarterback play is solid in Miami and New England.

Ryan Hester

Buffalo is the favorite here, but New England is the most intriguing story. Bill Belichick as an underdog is not a role we're used to seeing, and the team's free agency spending spree suggests they don't want to wait on a rebuild but would rather climb back to the top immediately. Between those additions and the returns from the COVID-19 opt-outs, New England is much stronger on paper than they were in 2019.

The problem for the Patriots, though, is that Buffalo is too. And with Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and a defense that made a late-season leap last year, they're the favorite for a reason. Miami is a team that won't be an easy out either. They are strong at nearly every position. However, the fact that their weakness is at the game's most important position will hold them back from competing for the division. The Jets will continue to bring up the rear due to a lack of talent (relative to the other teams in the division) and an unproven coaching staff.

Predictions

  • Buffalo - 13-4
  • New England - 11-6
  • Miami - 10-7
  • N.Y. Jets - 5-12

Aaron Rudnicki

The Bills remain the class of this division after somehow managing to retain all of their key free agents at reasonable deals while also replacing John Brown with Emmanuel Sanders and upgrading their backup quarterback. Given the progression we saw from Josh Allen last year as well as the continuity with the coaching staff and offensive line, there's no reason to expect much of a dropoff in the passing game. The one potential flaw in this offense is the lack of an effective running game, but healthy years from both starting guards should help in that regard. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills did not address a clear need at cornerback and have little behind TreDavious White, but the zone-heavy scheme and excellent safety tandem will help mask it. The pass rush will improve with the addition of three high draft picks over the past two drafts, and the expected return of Star Lotulelei should help strengthen their run defense. This team is built to win and should easily repeat as division champs.

Miami looks like a team on the rise, but they are likely a Wild Card team at best this year. As others have said, they will only go as far as their young quarterback will take them. They have built a strong young roster capable of winning 10+ games, but they relied heavily on Ryan Fitzpatrick at times last year. Tua as well as their new co-offensive coordinator plan remains unproven. Their outside cornerback play is a strength on defense, but I'm not convinced the pass rush will be good enough in most weeks. They surprisingly released Kyle Van Noy after just one season and may have to rely heavily on a rookie in Jaelan Phillips as well as hope for a repeat of the career year Emmanuel Ogbah just had.

The Patriots will be a very interesting team to watch and should bounce back from a very rare losing season in 2020 following their offseason spending spree. They upgraded their talent on offense to give Cam Newton more weapons but probably will remain league-average at best. Where they should see a big leap, however, is from their defense. The signing of Matt Judon and the return of Kyle Van Noy at outside linebacker will give the coaching staff two versatile chess pieces to deploy each week. Their run defense was a weakness last year and could still struggle if Dont'a Hightower doesn’t return as expected.

The Jets will once again trail the rest of the division but they have made clear improvements that should allow them to be more competitive this year. It’s not clear if they upgraded at quarterback yet, but we should expect better coaching at a minimum and the receiver group certainly has some exciting potential. On defense, the cornerbacks remain among the weakest in the league but the expected return of C.J. Mosley in the middle should provide a huge boost and they added some help for Quinnen Williams up front.

  • Buffalo Bills: 13-4
  • Miami Dolphins: 10-7
  • New England Patriots: 9-8
  • New York Jets: 5-12

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