In the second installment of my 2020 NFL Record Prediction series which will span 9 parts, I’ll be scrutinizing the Tom Brady-less AFC East, a division that went from formidable to futile. Click HERE to read my prognostications for the AFC North.
Note: These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.
Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!
Week 1: New York Jets (W, 1-0)
Week 2: at Miami Dolphins (L, 1-1)
Week 3: Los Angeles Rams (W, 2-1)
Week 4: at Las Vegas Raiders (W, 3-1)
Week 5: at Tennessee Titans (L, 3-2)
Week 6: Kansas City Chiefs (L, 3-3)
Week 7: at New York Jets (W, 4-3)
Week 8: New England Patriots (W, 5-3)
Week 9: Seattle Seahawks (W, 6-3)
Week 10: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 6-4)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: Los Angeles Chargers (W, 7-4)
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 7-5)
Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers (W, 8-5)
Week 15: at Denver Broncos (L, 8-6)
Week 16: at New England Patriots (W, 9-6)
Week 17: Miami Dolphins (W, 10-6)
Even though the Bills would end with a record identical to their 2019 mark in this hypothetical, their overall team would be much more balanced.
Something which is paramount for Buffalo is for Josh Allen to take a prototypical “next step” in his third year; Allen has been close to average as a passer in his first two seasons, though that may change after GM Brandon Beane brought in former disgrunted Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs.
Allen and Diggs are certainly a viable duo. Allen was tied for fifth with an average of 9.3 intended air yards per pass attempt, per Pro Football Reference; likewise, Diggs was fifth in the league in yards before catch per reception with 13.1 yards. In simpler terms, Diggs generally runs deeper routes, and Allen has both the tendency and ability to get the ball to him down field.
At the same time, the Bills already had a stellar receiving option for Allen in speedster John Brown. It should also be noted that Diggs and Allen may not click considering Allen ranked 33rd in the league with a 25% deep ball completion percentage, according to Player Profiler.
The good news for Sean McDermott’s team is that the offense does not nearly have to carry the bulk of the weight, as Buffalo’s defense is one of the best in the league.
The Bills play a plethora of contenders this year, but their Week 15 win in Heinz Field last year is a definite indication that they are not fazed by tough opponents or atmospheres.
Such spartan mentality should allow the Bills to win the AFC East—the first time they would do so since 1995—and earn the 4th seed in the AFC.
Week 1: at New England Patriots (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Buffalo Bills (W, 2-0)
Week 3: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 3-0)
Week 4: Seattle Seahawks (W, 4-0)
Week 5: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 4-1)
Week 6: at Denver Broncos (L, 4-2)
Week 7: Los Angeles Chargers (L, 4-3)
Week 8: Los Angeles Rams (W, 5-3)
Week 9: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 5-4)
Week 10: New York Jets (W, 6-4)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at New York Jets (L, 6-5)
Week 13: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 7-5)
Week 14: Kansas City Chiefs (L, 7-6)
Week 15: New England Patriots (W, 8-6)
Week 16: at Las Vegas Raiders (L, 8-7)
Week 17: at Buffalo Bills (L, 8-8)
Head coach Brian Flores’ team ended its 2019 campaign by winning three of its last five games, and I think such late-season momentum will propel this group to relative success in 2020.
Miami has quietly established a solid running back duo of newcomers Matt Breida and Jordan Howard as well as an unsung young receiving corps in DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, Preston Williams and tight end Mike Gesicki.
I am under the impression that 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick will start the year at quarterback for the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick put up a decent season in 2019 via 20 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Giving the nod to the veteran Fitzpatrick would allow fifth overall selection Tua Tagovailoa the chance to further heal his ailing hip.
Miami’s subpar offensive line may hinder its offensive success, though its defense is vastly improved. The Dolphins splurged in free agency by adding cornerback Byron Jones, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, and defensive end Shaq Lawson.
Furthermore, the Dolphins have the propensity to play well at home. Dating back to 2018, the ‘Fins have been able to knock off some stellar opponents at home, including the Bears and Patriots (2018) as well as the Philadelphia Eagles (2019). This is why I have them beating the Bills and Seahawks en route to a 4-0 start.
All in all, Flores’ squad is in an excellent spot for the future. Even though I surmise they’ll lose a Week 17 clash with Buffalo with the division title on the line, the Dolphins should still earn their best record in 3 years and could very well win the AFC East next season.
New York Jets
Week 1: at Buffalo Bills (L, 0-1)
Week 2: San Francisco 49ers (L, 0-2)
Week 3: at Indianapolis Colts (L, 0-3)
Week 4: Denver Broncos (L, 0-4)
Week 5: Arizona Cardinals (W, 1-4)
Week 6: at Los Angeles Chargers (L, 1-5)
Week 7: Buffalo Bills (L, 1-6)
Week 8: at Kansas City Chiefs (L, 1-7)
Week 9: New England Patriots (W, 2-7)
Week 10: at Miami Dolphins (L, 2-8)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: Miami Dolphins (W, 3-8)
Week 13: Las Vegas Raiders (W, 4-8)
Week 14: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 4-9)
Week 15: at Los Angeles Rams (L, 4-10)
Week 16: Cleveland Browns (W, 5-10)
Week 17: at New England Patriots (L, 5-11)
With Adam Gase still at the helm, compounded by a general dearth of talent, the Jets are likely in for yet another disappointing season.
Sam Darnold, like Josh Allen, will be entering his third year of pro ball. In 2 seasons with the Jets, Darnold has just 36 touchdowns to 28 interceptions. He’s been far short of marvelous and has yet to live up to the expectations of a third overall pick.
Unfortunately for Darnold, his weaponry is still abhorrent. Darnold’s starting running back, Le’Veon Bell, enjoyed his worst career season in 2019. Moreover, Darnold’s receivers will, once again, be lackluster. The USC product’s best receiver very well may be rookie Denzel Mims, who is a stellar second round draft pick considering many experts had him being taken in the first round. Mims will be paired with far-from-elite wideouts Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Josh Doctson.
It would be hard-pressed to envision the Jets’ offensive line doing anything but improving after drafting Louisville OT Mekhi Becton in the first round. Then again, it’s challenging for a unit to do worse than the Jets’ line did in 2019, as they ranked 30th in pass protection and 31st in run blocking.
On defense, the Jets are certainly more solidified and have talent in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson, strong safety Jamal Adams and free safety Marcus Maye. However, their pass rush will likely continue to be average at best, and New York’s corners are average outside of Brian Poole.
If general manager Joe Douglas decides to pull the trigger on a trade for Adams, this team may have even fewer wins than I projected for next season. With or without Adams, who is arguably the second best defensive player in the league, this troop is in store for likely its third 5-11 campaign in 5 years.
New England Patriots
Week 1: Miami Dolphins (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 0-2)
Week 3: Las Vegas Raiders (W, 1-2)
Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs (L, 1-3)
Week 5: Denver Broncos (L, 1-4)
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: San Francisco 49ers (L, 1-5)
Week 8: at Buffalo Bills (L, 1-6)
Week 9: at New York Jets (L, 1-7)
Week 10: Baltimore Ravens (L, 1-8)
Week 11: at Houston Texans (W, 2-8)
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals (W, 3-8)
Week 13: at Los Angeles Chargers (L, 3-9)
Week 14: at Los Angeles Rams (W, 4-9)
Week 15: at Miami Dolphins (L, 4-10)
Week 16: Buffalo Bills (L, 4-11)
Week 17: New York Jets (W, 5-11)
Note: Even though the Jets and Patriots would finish with identical records in this scenario, the Patriots would still come in last place due to going 1-5 against the AFC East compared to the Jets going 2-4 in such matchups.
It’s safe to say these are not the same New England Patriots of the past 19 years.
Arguably the worst offseason in franchise history was spearheaded by the departure of the GOAT himself, Tom Brady. But things didn’t stop going haywire from there for Belichick & Co.
In free agency, the Patriots witnessed one of their defensive leaders and communicators in Kyle Van Noy leave to the rival Dolphins. Fellow linebackers Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts also bolted, leaving gaping holes in New England’s linebacking corps.
Simply put, the Patriots very well may end the year with the worst offense in the entire NFL by January 2021.
Even if the presumed starter, 31-year-old Panthers veteran Cam Newton, performs decently, his surrounding cast is abominable. The Patriots have one of the worst receiving corps in the league; Julian Edelman is now 34, Mohamed Sanu had just 207 receiving yards in 8 games with New England last year, and N’Keal Harry posted only 107 yards in 7 games.
Turning to New England’s tight ends doesn’t offer much more solace, as Newton’s ensemble is absolutely bare-bones with Matt LaCosse and rookie Devin Asiasi.
It is also paramount to note that Belichick’s running back duo of Sony Michel and James White is far from dynamic. The two accumulated 1150+ yards on the ground in 2019, with 7 players in the NFL who reaching the feat single-handedly.
Turning to the other side of the ball, New England’s front 7 is far from superb. Defensive ends Lawrence Guy and John Simon combined for just 7 sacks in 2019.
However, the signing of former Jets outside linebacker Brandon Copeland will stabilize a shaky group, and New England’s secondary is outstanding with stars in Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty.
What creates even bigger hurdles for Belichick is an awfully daunting schedule. New England is likely to play at least 10 games against teams that should fare .500 or better. Gone are the days of intimidation while playing Brady and Belichick in Gillette Stadium.
Belichick is certainly one of the greatest coaches of all time, but I don’t think even he has the acumen to steer this ship to anything more than a putrid season for the first time in 20 years.
Signing Newton should afford this group a few more wins, but I still see a miserable year ahead.