Before the season began, the AFC East was considered a weak division and a division the Buffalo Bills should win running away. That’s why they play the game. The Bills have won the division two years in a row and are considered the favorites to go to the Super Bowl and win it. The rest of the division was clumped together with the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, considering the teams vying for second place in the division. The New York Jets were considered an afterthought because they won 4 games last year and had a lot of young players in their rebuilding process. That’s why they play the game.
At the midway point of the season, the division is separated by two games, with the Bills leading the way at 6-2, the Jets & Dolphins tied at 6-3, and the Patriots at 5-4. That is not bad for a division considered by some to be weak with no competition to the Bills.
The Bills are the favorites to win the division as they should, but their two losses this year have come in the division. If there is one thing you don’t want to do is, give the rest of the division hope. The Bills, on paper, are clearly the best team in the division with the best roster on paper, but it’s how you produce on the field. The Bills have shown this year that they are one of the best teams in the NFL. They beat the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and opening night in blowout fashion. They also have impressive road wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. The problem is the last two years, the Bills have had a record of 11-1 in the division, and the expectation was they would continue that domination, but the Bills have had two division games and lost both of them to the Dolphins and Jets. They have four more games in the division, and 3 of them are at home, so they can easily ride the ship, but the rest of the division is taking notice they have a chance as they go into the 2nd half of the season.
The Jets aren’t going to wow you on offense. The Jets have won 6 games so far this year, and that’s more than a year ago. They have a good defense that keeps them in games and an offense that manages the game to make enough plays to win. Unfortunately, they lost their best playmaker in rookie running back Breece Hall for the season, and they have other injuries on their offensive line, but the Jets have been tough despite the injuries and have a chance. They also have a 2-1 record in the division, and you can make the case it would be 3-0 if they didn’t have a costly penalty on a pick-six against the Patriots, which would have put them up by two scores before halftime. The Jets have a young quarterback in Zach Wilson, who hasn’t lit the world on fire, but he makes enough plays to win after missing the first four games of the season. He also had three costly interceptions in the loss to the Patriots. If he can cut down on his mistakes and make enough plays, the Jets will have a chance, especially with their defense. One other issue is they have 3 division games left, and all of them are on the road, so they have to be up to the challenge, but so far, they seem fearless and ready to contend for the division.
The Dolphins are also 6-3, but the Jets have the tiebreaker over them since they beat them. The Dolphins won their first three games, then lost 3 in a row, and have now won 3 in a row, so hopefully, this doesn’t mean the Dolphins will lose 3 in a row. The Dolphins came in with significant question marks with a first-time head coach in Mike McDaniel, and whether Tua Tagovailoa can be the quarterback moving forward; so far, it’s been a perfect marriage between the two. Tagovailoa has played the best football of his 3-year career, with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle forming the best duo of receivers in the NFL. McDaniel has provided the Tagovailoa with a structure on offense that has helped him and put his playmakers in the best position to make a play. Tagovailoa has answered the bell with questions about his strength, but durability is still a concern, as he missed two and a half games with a concussion, and the Dolphins lost all of those games. The offense has a better spark and rhythm with Tagovailoa at quarterback. Injuries will be a concern if Tagovailoa gets hurt or Terron Armstead, their free agent, left tackle. The Dolphins’ defense has regressed as well. The secondary has had injuries, with safety Brandon Jones having a season-ending ACL injury. Brandon Jones is still on the physically-unable-to-perform list after off-season surgery. Now the question is, will Jones even play this year? His absence has tested the depth of the secondary and has forced defensive coordinator Josh Boyer not to blitz as much with the inexperience. The Dolphins aren’t winning one-on-one battles and not forcing turnovers or pressuring the quarterback as much as last year. The Dolphins have to get better on defense, or they could have issues during the stretch run, but the offense has come to life, something we haven’t been able to say for years.
The Patriots are 4-4, but they are a tough team to figure out because you don’t know what team will show up. One week, they look bad against the Dolphins, then have a bounce-back game in ugly fashion to win. On top of that, their young quarterback Mac Jones hasn’t played well, and many felt he would be better than Tagovailoa, but that hasn’t been the case. Just like Tagovailoa, Jones missed a couple of games, but their backup quarterback showed some promise. Then when Jones came back, coach Bill Belichick rotated both quarterbacks in an odd sequence in an embarrassing Monday Night loss at home to the Chicago Bears. He has since gone back to Jones, but the Patriots are winning slugfest games, and you wonder if that can continue. Just like the Bills, the Patriots have lost their first two divisional games but have four more the rest of the year and 3 out of 4 at home. They are the least talented of the teams in the division, but with Belichick coaching, you never count them out, especially with their defense.
This division will sort itself out in the final two months of the season. The Bills are the favorites to take the division, but the rest of the division is right behind, so it might not be as easy as predicted before the season began.