The 2021 NFL Draft concluded a week ago, and most teams are done with most of their off-season work reshaping their rosters. Teams will make some other roster moves to clear salary-cap space or release a player because of a too crowded position after teams drafted players that they weren’t expecting to fall to them. There will be some free agent movement, but don’t expect a whole lot of that unless an injury pops up. The AFC East looks like a much stronger division right now than it did when the season ended. Today I’m going to examine all of the teams in the AFC East and how things could shape up going into the 2021 season.

The Buffalo Bills are the defending division champions last year and came one win away from the Super Bowl. They had a 13-3 record, and their 3-year quarterback took another big step as a quarterback throwing for over 4,000yds and 37tds. He was given a legitimate number one receiver, Stefon Diggs, and helped make the offense dynamic. Allen’s ability has never been questioned; it’s just a question if he could take the next step as a quarterback, and right now, he is clearly the best quarterback in the division. The Bills have most of their team returning and looked prime for another division title and more. I’ve always said the team that won the division the year before is always the team to beat the next year, which is no different. The Bills didn’t have a lot of salary cap space, but they could keep most of their free agents, especially along the offensive line and on defense LB Matt Milano. The Bills weren’t a perfect football team; like all teams, they had their weaknesses. The running game couldn’t get going and was towards the bottom of the league. An argument can be made that they were a passing team and not a running team. The Bills didn’t really add a lot to their backfield, and if teams can contain the Bills passing offense, it’s going to be critical for them to run the football. The Bills defense is a solid group, but they also weren’t the same last year. Sure, they had some injuries to Milano and fellow linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, but the group missed something last year. Their pass rush was pretty nonexistent for the most part, and at times they got exposed for not having a number two cornerback opposite of Tre’Davious White.

The Bills in the draft with their top picks brought in help on the defensive line to upgrade their pass rush. They drafted Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Both guys are talented, but like all of the edge rushers in this draft, there are questions about them. Both players have the ability but need to be coached up and if they develop, watch out. The Bills have Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison returning, but both guys are in their mid 30’s, and you have to wonder how many more years of high-level play they can get from them. The Bills need their top picks to step up as the season goes along. The Bills didn’t really address the secondary, and most of their team is intact, so the hope is the units of strength stay strong, and their deficiencies improve.

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The New England Patriots enter year two in the post-Tom Brady era. Last year the season crashed and burned for the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots last year had the most players opt-out for the season due to covid, and they had no money to spend with the team tight against the salary cap. Combine all of that with the team’s poor drafts in recent years; it was a disaster even though the team finished 7-9. The Patriots have quarterback Cam Newton returning, and he had mixed results last year. He started the season well but then missed time on the covid list, and on top of that, his skills looked severely diminished by the season’s end. However, the Patriots resigned him to a one-year deal, hoping a full off-season will help him out, considering he signed just weeks before training camp last year. The Patriots this off-season was Un patriot as they spent a lot of money on free agents to upgrade their football team. The Patriots aren’t known for spending big money on many free agents, but this year was different. They signed the top tight ends on the market in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The Patriots have had no production from the tight end position the last few years after Rob Gronkowski left. The Patriots also signed multiple receivers in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. The Patriots for years have gotten away with average talent at the skill position, and last year without Brady under center, it came back to bite them big time.

The Patriots drafted a quarterback in Mac Jones’s first round to be the potential franchise quarterback time will tell if he is the answer. The Patriots also made moves in the trenches and on defense. They brought back Trent Brown to strengthen their offensive line. The team added many players on defense in Matt Judon, Henry Anderson, Davon Godchaux and brought back Kyle Van Knoy. This is a big year for coach Belichick because if this team doesn’t make the playoffs, let alone start winning, people will start to question the Patriots’ success due to Brady. In his 25 years as a head coach, Belichick has only had 2 winning seasons without a quarterback named Tom Brady. He may have 6 Super Bowl wins, but he hasn’t won without Brady. It doesn’t help that Brady just won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and seems poised to win another one this year.

The New York Jets had a pathetic 2-14 season and fired their head coach Adam Gase, who has proven to be not fit to be a head coach after disastrous stints with the Jets and the Miami Dolphins. Instead, the Jets hired Robert Saleh, and he seems to be a guy who knows what he is doing and brings a lot of passion and energy to the Jets that clearly Gase didn’t have if he has any. The Jets are starting over, and, in the draft, they selected Zach Wilson with the number two overall pick after trading incumbent Sam Darnold.  The Jets had a 2nd first-round pick and traded up to get Alijah Vera-Tucker to shore up their offensive line lacking in talent. The Jets were clearly lacking talent on their football team and made some free agent moves not as big money-wise as the Patriots, but adding more guys at lower price tags. They brought in running back Tevin Coleman, wide receivers Keelan Cole and Corey Davis, and tight end Tyler Kroft. On defense, they brought in Vinny Curry, Carl Lawson, and Sheldon Rankins. These guys aren’t household names, but they are better players than they had before. On top of that, the future looks bright for the Jets in terms of their salary cap looking better, and they have lots of draft capital in the next few years to really add more talent. If Saleh can coach these guys up and Wilson becomes the real deal, watch out for the Jets.

The Dolphins are coming off a 10-win season which was a 5-win improvement from a year ago, and just missing the playoffs even with an extra team in the playoffs. The Dolphins desperately needed to add more playmakers on offense, and they added wide receiver, Will Fuller. Fuller is a big play receiver that can stretch the defense. The biggest knock on him is his durability because he has had many nagging injuries, and on top of that, he will miss the first game of the season, finishing his 6-game suspension carried over from last year for PEDs. But, if anything, his presence alone should make the offense better. The Dolphins also made a trade to upgrade their linebacker with Benardrick McKinney. The Dolphins did most of their work in the draft and got a lot of good value with their picks. They drafted wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, safety Jevon Holland, offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg, and tight end Hunter Long. All of these players have a chance to make some significant contributions this year and beyond. The Dolphins’ goal this off-season was to add more playmakers, and they did that. They got strong on defense especially edge rusher with Phillips. On offense, they added more play-making ability than they had last year and got stronger on the offensive line. At the end of the day, the Dolphins’ success will come down to how well their 2nd-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa performs. If he develops and plays well, this team has a chance to be good.

The AFC East has a chance to be a good division to follow. The Bills are the team to beat, but I don’t expect them to go 13-3 and sweep the whole division like last year. The rest of the division has improved with the talent on each of the rosters. At the end of the day, it will come down to the quarterback play. If the Patriots and Dolphins get better quarterback play from a year ago, both teams may have a chance to give the Bills a run for their money. Some people like the Patriots over the Dolphins because of coach Belichick, but as I said earlier, his success has been tied to Brady, and he hasn’t done anything without him. On top of that, I feel Dolphins coach Brian Flores has done a great job of developing his young team, and they get better as the season goes. The Jets are a wild card team to me. I don’t think they will be in the division race, but I really think they will be better than what people think and could sneak out some wins over any of their rivals. The Bills might be the favorites, and rightfully so, but I don’t think they are as invincible as some experts feel. Yes, they got to the AFC Championship game last year, but they were fortunate to win their first playoff game when the Indianapolis Colts were the better team and should have won if they had cashed in on their red-zone trips. The Dolphins have to prove they can beat the Bills because they haven’t beaten them in 2-3 years, and as a fan, I really believe they can beat them, but they have to prove it, and talk is cheap. Time will tell once the season starts how the division unfolds, but I think this will be a better race than a year ago.