AFC East NFL Division Preview, Predictions, Picks: Buffalo To Pay Bills?

Josh AllenThere are some divisions that on paper, just look better than the rest. Two of those divisions are the NFC East, the only group that had all four of their teams with a .500 or better record last year, and the AFC North, which had the second-best record among all of their teams. We end with the AFC East, which certainly looks like they can make the case to be the best division this year based on the sheer level of talent that exists largely among all four teams.

The AFC East is home to the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets. Last year, all of its teams recorded at least seven wins, though only the Bills had victories in the double digits. Buffalo paced the division with 13 wins en route to winning their third straight AFC East title. Buffalo’s recent streak ended a 10-year run by the Patriots, that saw New England win all but one division title from 2003 – 2019.

The Bills emergence in the division was certainly timely as their ascent happened as Tom Brady left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Well, there may no longer be a Brady in the AFC East, but there is now an Aaron Rodgers. We are yet to see just how much Rodgers has left in the tank, but it is certain he is an upgrade over what the Jets had. That makes New York potentially a threat to Buffalo’s dominance.

What about the Dolphins? They have been on the verge of upsetting the proverbial apple cart, only to see injuries derail promising seasons. With health on their side, Miami could make a surprising run at the title. About those Patriots, you can never truly count out a Bill Belichick coached team.

Here goes with our AFC East preview and predictions for each of this division’s teams. All odds quoted are from the recommended Bovada Sportsbook.

Buffalo Bills (+135 to Win AFC East; +550 AFC; +950 Super Bowl)

Ever since Sean McDermott came to town and Josh Allen began to blossom into a star-caliber quarterback, the Bills have been one of the best teams in the entire AFC. Only the Kansas City Chiefs won more games in the AFC than the Bills last year, as Buffalo finished with 13 wins and just three losses. Their record could well have been 14-3 if not for one of their final games of the season being canceled as a result of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest.

Hamlin is back in fighting form now though and so are the Bills, as they look finally to claim their spot at the top of the conference. Because as good as the Bills have been the last few seasons, they have been unable to reach the Super Bowl and only once have they even reached the conference championship (back in 2020).

The story of the Bills has been much like that of the Baltimore Ravens. During the regular season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better, more consistent team this side of the Chiefs. Buffalo looked every bit the part of a Super Bowl contender in that time but come the playoffs, they have just fallen a little short, missing out on that statement win in heartbreaking fashion. That just shows how good the Bills are. If any number of bounces or overtime rules changed just a fraction, we could be talking about a different outcome. The Bills have to rebound and try to get the championship monkey off their back that has plagued them ever since the great Jim Kelly-led teams lost four consecutive Super Bowls in a row.

Josh Allen is a stud, Stefon Diggs is one of the best wide receivers in the game, and Buffalo’s defense has excelled under McDermott. They have a strong special teams’ unit to go with an explosive offense. You would be hard-pressed to find a real weakness among this group.

This is a team that once again has Super Bowl aspirations. But first, they will have to get through a tough AFC East. While the Bills stayed relatively pat in the offseason, content to run it back with a core that has come oh so close, the rest of the AFC took notice. It won’t be as easy for the Bills in 2023, that’s for certain. At the end of the day, there is a reason Buffalo is third favorite to win the Super Bowl, even if they don’t have as overwhelming odds to win the East as they have in past years.

Miami Dolphins (+280 AFC East; +800 AFC Championship; +1600 Super Bowl)

The Miami Dolphins were somewhat of a revelation last year. After going all in on former Chiefs’ receiver Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins saw marked improvement from Tua Tagovailoa, when healthy. Sadly, you can’t discount the ‘when healthy’ when it comes to Tua, because a history of concussions has some, including the QB himself, doubting his football longevity.

Tua suffered two, maybe three concussions, last season and found himself contemplating – but ultimately deciding against – retirement at just 25 years old. It was a solemn reminder of just how much this game can take and how quickly it can take it. Tua is sticking it out and that means the Dolphins’ season very much rides on every hit, every breath. It won’t be easy for fans to watch Tua take a hit and wonder if another concussion was the result.

For a moment though, let’s assume Tua plays a healthy 2023 campaign. In 2022, the Dolphins were 8-3 when he started. To his own credit, after two years of mediocrity, it looked like Tua had finally arrived as a franchise QB, something the Dolphins desperately needed. Mike McDaniel looked solid in his first year as head coach and Hill showed that a change of scenery didn’t affect his explosive play at all.

In the offseason, the Dolphins opted to improve their defense, bringing in top cornerback Jalen Ramsey. They have stars on all sides of the ball. That is the making of a Super Bowl contending team. So long as their quarterback can stay healthy, that could make all the difference between another AFC East crown for the Bills or a changing of the guard.

New York Jets (+250 AFC East; +850 AFC; +1200 Super Bowl)

Speaking of that changing of the guard, it’s a rare case when you see a team have better odds to win the Super Bowl and division than to win the conference compared to another team. In everything but the AFC Championship odds, the New York Jets edge out the Dolphins. For the Jets, climbing out of the horrid state they have been in for the better part of the last decade will largely be the result of one man. New York finally threw in the towel on former second overall pick Zach Wilson, opting to enter – and eventually win – the offseason Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes.

No team has a longer postseason drought than the Jets, who are sitting on 2010 as the last year they made the playoffs. Twelve years is a long time and the Jets brought in Rodgers to ensure that drought didn’t hit 13. Rodgers, for all of his legendary status, hasn’t exactly been the playoff star he was destined to be. Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers only won one Super Bowl and one NFC Championship during his decade-long tenure there. It won’t take much to be better than Wilson, who tracked as the NFL’s worst starting QB last year. Super Bowl expectations should be tempered. Tempered, but certainly not quelled.

The Jets claimed both the NFL’s Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards, quite an accomplishment for a team that suffered last season. There is a culture of young, hungry players building in New York. Yes, Rodgers is entering his year-40 season and yes, there may have been signs of regression last year. Those could have also been signs of a player who gave all he could to one team and one city for as long as he did. Changes of scenery can be good. After all, Tom Brady won a Super Bowl when he was in his 40s and left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New England Patriots (+750 AFC East; +3000 AFC; +5000 Super Bowl)

Time is a funny thing. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that the Patriots were winning titles, finishing off a dynasty for the ages. In reality, that time was nearly a decade ago and, in that time, a lot has changed, not just in the NFL, not just in the AFC East, but with New England as a whole.

The biggest change is of course the absence of Brady, who has been replaced by Mac Jones. Jones is very much a jury-still-out kind of guy right now. The shoes he was asked to fill were massive and, in a division, where he previously had Wilson as a punching bag, Jones may be the worst QB in the East now. That is not even to say he’s bad. He’s serviceable at worst and has shown flashes of being above average at best. But he’s no Allen, no Rodgers, and no Tua.

It’s worth noting that the Patriots haven’t finished in last in the division however, since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first season coaching the team. For those two decades, New England dominated all of their foes, winning 11 consecutive AFC East titles as well as a handful of AFC and Super Bowl Championship rings.

Those days are gone however, and the Patriots now languish in the NFL’s roughest state, mediocrity. Not good enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to decide to blow it all up. A mediocre Patriots team could probably tread water in some of the NFL’s weaker divisions but not the AFC East.