Why the AFC East may be more competitive this season
Buffalo Bills division rivals signing essential free agents and making huge trades
CC: Draftkings, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sports Illustrated
BUFFALO, N.Y, (April, 4, 2022) - In their week 18 game against the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills secured the AFC East division title for the second year in a row and finished 5-1 against their division rivals.
However, in the past few weeks, the Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots made significant off-season moves to help their young quarterbacks and build a strong, competitive roster to dethrone the Bills.
The New England Patriots, who previously dominated the AFC East, found Tom Brady's successor in quarterback Mac Jones. The team finished 10-7 and even defeated the Bills on Monday Night Football in week 13. This got them the top seed in the AFC East, but losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Bills set them back to second seed.
The Patriots clinched a wild-card game against the Bills, but the latter trampled the former in the NFL's first ever perfect game, 47-17. Despite this, Jones finished his rookie season with 3,801 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 67.7 completion percentage. This cumulated in Jones finishing second in offensive rookie of the year voting behind Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
The Patriots placed a decent supporting cast around Jones, including tight end Hunter Henry and wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Henry had 603 receiving yards, 50 receptions and nine touchdowns, while Agholor had 473 receiving yards, 37 receptions and three touchdowns.
The team's biggest move saw them adding wide receiver DeVante Parker from the Miami Dolphins for a third round pick on April 2. Parker missed most of the 2021 season due to injury. Two seasons ago, he recorded 1,202 receiving yards, 72 receptions and nine touchdowns.
Parker also had the most receiving yards against the Bills in the Sean McDermott era with 682 yards. Despite his injury concern, Parker showed he could be an effective weapon against the Bills secondary.
The defense finished third in points allowed per game and seventh in yards allowed per game. This resulted from efforts by defensive end Matt Judon, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bently and cornerback J.C. Jackson. Judon led the team with 12.5 sacks, Benlty led with 108 tackles and Jackson led with eight interceptions.
Jackson signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, which really was a bad blow to the Patriots secondary. However, the team brought back cornerback Malcolm Butler who missed the 2021 season due to personal reasons.
Butler became famous after picking off former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson in Super Bowl 49 at the one-yard line to cement the Patriots victory. After his rookie deal ended, he joined the Tennessee Titans.
Butler had his best season with the Titans in 2020 with 100 tackles, and four interceptions. The Patriots also added New York Giants safety Jabrill Peppers who suffered a season - ending ACL tear in week seven.
Adding Parker can give Jones someone who's considered a number one receiver in the NFL and the reunion with Butler can fill a hole left by Jackson. However, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaving New England for a head-coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders, head coach Bill Belichick may need to find someone that can help provide stability on the offense.
The Miami Dolphins, shocked the NFL after trading for Kansas City Chiefs wide reciever Tyreek Hill on March 23, in exchange for a 2022 first-round pick, a second-round pick, two fourth-round picks and a sixth-round pick. After the trade, Hill signed a four-year, $120 million extension, including $72.2 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.
Hill established himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL, being named to the 2010s all-decade team, frist-team all pro three times and helping the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers. Hill recorded 1239 receiving yards, 111 receptions and nine touchdowns in 2021, including 150 yards, seven receptions and one touchdown in the Chiefs divisional-round game against the Bills.
In addition to Hill, the Dolphins added running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. The latter missed the season after being diagnosed with significant cartilage damage in his knee in week one.
Mostert recorded the second most rushing yards in a postseason game with 220 in the 2019 NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers, falling only behind Erick Dickerson's 248.
The Dolphins finished third in the division with second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa making improvements with 2653 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and a 67.8 completion percentage. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, the team's first round pick from 2021, had 1015 receiving yards, 104 receptions and six touchdowns. Tight end Mike Gesicki, who has the second most yards against the Bills in the McDermott era with 343, recorded 780 yards, 78 receptions and two touchdowns.
The Dolphins hired a new head coach in Mike McDaniel to help increase production from Tagovailoa as the Dolphins future rides on whether he's a stud or a dud. Adding Hill, Mostert and Edmonds to a supporting cast that could help get the Dolphins past the Bills secondary.
As for the Jets, they also tried to provide a better supporting cast for their quarterback Zach Wilson who recorded 2334 passing yards, nine touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 55.6 completion percentage.
The Jets finished 2021 with a 4-13 record and received the fourth-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The team signed Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah on a three-year deal. Uzomah had 493 receiving yards, 49 receptions and five touchdowns. The team also resigned running back Tevin Coleman and wide receiver Braxto Berrios.
In 2021, Coleman had 356 running yards and zero touchdowns, while Berrios had 431 receiving yards, 46 receptions and four touchdowns.
The Jets haven't made big name signings like the Dolphins or Patriots which could put them behind the race for the AFC East. However, other head coaches, like Seahawks Pete Carroll, praised second-year head coach Robert Saleh work ethic.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas also praised Saleh and finding the right rhythm between head coach and general manager is a huge step forward in a team's development.
The Bills AFC East rivals showed how they plan to compete for the division title. However, it all depends on the development of their quarterbacks and coaching.
The NFL Draft is scheduled to take place April 28-30, in Las Vegas, Nevada. If the Bills and their AFC East rivals draft the right guys, the division winner might not be as certain as it was the past two seasons.