2018 NFL Preview - AFC East

by Ryan McCarthy, BBM Staff Writer

New England Patriots - The more things change, the more they stay the same in the AFC East. For the 15th time in the last 17 seasons, the New England Patriots were division champions.  As long as the Patriots have Tom Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as head coach, the AFC East will likely remain theirs to lose. They will definitely win the division again, but for the second time in three seasons, the Patriots will be missing an impact player on offense in the first four games. This time, WR Julian Edelman will be suspended after violating the league’s PED policy. One player who will be depended upon to fill the void as he is gone is WR Chris Hogan, who played only nine games last season. The Patriots might stumble out of the gate, but they will run the table again for another division title.  Rookie RB Sony Michel could be a huge difference maker for the Patriots this season. For as much player turnover as they have, the Patriots know how to reload. The Pats lost RB Dion Lewis over the offseason but got a gem in the draft in Sony Michel. Michel had a breakout senior season for Georgia: 1,227 yards and 16 TDs. His efforts helped Georgia to reach the National Championship game. Though he won’t be the feature RB in New England, Michel does have the ability to break a game open with his speed.

New York Jets - Mike Maccagnan made the riskiest move of his short career as GM when he swapped draft positions and sent two second round picks to the Colts in order to draft Sam Darnold as the third overall pick. Although he had a less than exceptional year (13 INT, nine in his first six games), he still had over 4,000 yards passing and lead USC to a Pac-12 championship. Darnold was named the starting quarterback after their preseason finale and there will be a lot of hopeful Jet fans looking to see what he does. Young and hungry defense? Check. Future Franchise Quarterback (FFQB)? Check. Favorable schedule? Kinda, but they will host NFC North powerhouses Green Bay and Minnesota and have games against Cleveland and Indianapolis. They’ll have a new offensive coordinator in Jeremy Bates, who was the QB coach last season, and he will help groom QB Sam Darnold. If the Jets can figure out the offense and their pass rush, they might be surprising.

Buffalo Bills - The Bills snapped the longest playoff appearance drought last season when they finished 9-7. They would lose to Jacksonville in the wild card round, but their season was considered a pleasant surprise. This season, though, the road back to the playoffs will be much, much tougher. Their schedule is brutal: games in Minnesota and Green Bay in consecutive weeks and improved AFC teams such as Baltimore and Houston, as well as improved divisional opponents Miami and New York. Head coach Sean McDermott will be determined to make sure that the Bills don’t slip, though. A rookie to watch for the Bills is OLB Tremaine Edmunds. You expected Josh Allen, didn’t you? No, the rookie to watch this season in Western New York will be the 16th overall pick in the 2018 draft. The Bills swapped draft positions with Baltimore to pick up Edmunds, who fills in the void left by LB Preston Brown, who signed with Cincinnati. Edmonds had 105 tackles and 5.5 sacks for Virginia Tech in 2017 and was a Butkus Award nominee. One of the more amazing facts about Edmunds is that he’s only 20 years old, so he’ll be in the league for a long time.

Miami Dolphins - After finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs in 2016, the Dolphins took a step back in 2017. QB Ryan Tannehill missed the entire season after tearing an ACL in the preseason and they were forced to rely on Jay Cutler to lead the offense. They started 4-2 but dropped eight of their final 10 games. Tannehill returns this season with some new weapons, like WR Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson and rookie TE Mike Gesicki. Like the Bills, though, they’ll have a tough schedule, but if the Dolphins can get it right on defense, they could be a surprise. After the Dolphins jettisoned DL Ndamukong Suh in the offseason, they made the decision to build their defense around the secondary by selecting FS Minkah Fitzpatrick 11th overall in the draft. Fitzpatrick adds stability to a pass defense that finished in the middle of the pack of NFL teams in 2017. Fitzpatrick comes with a lot of credentials: he elected to enter the draft after his junior season as a two-time National Championship winner, two-time All-American, and last season’s Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe Award winner. The success of the Dolphins’ defense now depends on Fitzpatrick.

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