AFC East

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by jeff beyel

AFC EAST PREVIEW (In Predicted order of Finish)

 

The Buffalo Bills have the goods to become AFC champs this season and even win it all.  To do that, though, they must get by an equally talented New England Patriots team.  Coach Derril Richards has quietly assembled one of the best rosters in the league.  The real issue becomes how he uses QB Lemar Jackson.  LJ is extremely talented but has to be constrained with his throws to about 26-27 per game and that is a very limited number.  Of course, Richards does have the workhorse numbers of punishing RB Christian McCaffrey who is one of the deadliest players in the game today.  McCaffrey is not only an excellent runner but a monster out of the backfield where is nearly impossible to cover by any option.  WRs Christian Kirk and Robert Woods are a nice 1-2 punch along with rising TE Mark Andrews who rates in the elite category at his position. The offensive line is balanced and talented but a bit skewed more towards pass protection than run blocking.

   Of course, defense needs to be supreme if one wants to win a title and the Bills rank in the top tier as well here.  While the Dline might have some health issue bumps along the way, it is also one of the best pass rushing groups in football which means they will not need to blitz to get after the QB. Likely DTs Chris Jones and Shelby Harris can flat out rush the quarterback combining with Melvin Ingram and Everson Griffin to terrorize teams. OLBs Shaquill Barrett and Von Miller are as good as it gets for increased pass rush abilities as the front 7 should wreak havoc all season long.  The secondary is not tremendous but considering the heat being put on in front of them, they should be more than up to the task.

The Patriots have been the toast of the East for a bit now and can win it again this season as they really have almost as much talent as Buffalo.  QB Derek Carr had an amazing season last year for coach Don Merlenbach and might repeat that this year.  He has a stud back in Zeke Elliott to hand the ball to all the time but the Pats might be just a shade lite at wide receiver this year.  WR Tyler Boyd is the best of the lot but the skill drops off quickly after him.  TE Tyler Higbee is very good but might be asked to do too much.  Super G Joe Thuney heads a solid Oline that might have some injury concerns and is not quite elite outside Thuney.

   The Pats look geared towards a 3-4 base D.  That would have Fletcher Cox, Frank Clark, and Leonard Williams clogging the front with OLB Chandler Jones roaming around with a very solid line-backing foursome. CB Marcus Peters is elite and the entire unit is solid except maybe a small dropoff at safety.

Coach Stanley Milton has a team that can sneak into the playoffs if a few things fall his way.  The QB position seems a bit unsettled but it can be effective if Milton figures out how to utilize them all. RB Joe Mixon will need to carry the load this season and is just another top back one finds in the AFC East. WR Stefon Diggs is solid but the overall wide receiver grouping is average.  The offensive line can be effective but it is not over-powering although T Mitchell Schwartz and G David Decastro both are superior players.

   The Browns are another team that seems slanted towards using the 3-4 alignment.  The defensive line ranks among the best in football if for no other reason that Aaron Donald being there.  Donald, though, will also have Cameron Heyward and Brandon Graham alongside him making for one heckuva unit.  The line-backing is solid too led by all-world MLB Bobby Wagner.  The secondary also has some tremendous talent with Stephon Gilmore the best in the biz back there.  That gives Cleveland the best player at DT, MLB, and CB!

Coach Jeff Beyel returns to Florida for a second stint.  Beyel led the Fish to their lone playoff appearance a few seasons back but has spent much of his PAFL career in Green Bay. Many of the players he drafted for Miami are just beginning to develop now so the future looks pretty bright but, for now, this team is an also-ran group.  QB Jacoby Brissett is likely to get most of the snaps under center with Ryan Tannehill spelling him from time to time.  RB Derrick Henry brings the toughness Beyel loves in his backs and he will be the centerpiece of a very limited offensive arsenal.   TE George Kittle and WR Calvin Ridley, two earlier Beyel draft choices, will be the top targets.  The offensive line actually has some talent on one side but also has injury problems.

   The defense simply is not good enough particularly at line-backer. The Dline is solid and can get it done but Jon Bostic is the best they have at one of the weakest LB units in the league.  The secondary is well below average.

The Jags and coach Shawn Studebaker have been dealing away pieces to acquire picks.  Time will tell if his rebuild is successful.  In the interim, Kyle Allen will be the quarterback and Le’veon Bell will star at RB. The team lacks numbers at WR with Will Fuller the #1 target there. The line can pass protect a bit but is average run blocking.

   The defensive front seven is under-manned and the line lacks true pass rush or run stopping power.  LB Montez Sweat is solid. The team just dealt away its lone top CB to the Vikings in a last second trade that is sure to shake up the NFC Central a bit. The loss of Steve Nelson leaves the cupboard rather bare and exposes the Jags to offensive onslaught.

 

Final Analysis:  Buffalo has the slightly better team over the Patriots but both teams are playoff squads that could win the AFC.  Cleveland needs to have just a few things go its way but has a playoff level defense that should pave the way to a post-season run.  Miami is a year or two away from being considered more than a home-coming team.  The Jags have gone all in on a rebuild.