FPC Division Previews: AFC East

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When you play in the AFC East, a few givens exist. First, the weather will turn ugly for three-fourths of the division by October. Next, the rivalries and enmity reside deep within the fiber of each fanbase. Lastly, teams continuously search for ways to dethrone the New England Patriots. Yet, every team and writers enter the seasonal fray with a new hope, an emboldened spirit. FPC editors Mike D’Abate, Kyle Hirshkind, Brandon Ray, and Isaih Battiste discuss their opinions regarding the AFC East.

1. Which coach could find themselves on the hot seat by the end of the season? Which coordinator could see his stock rise this season?

Despite some misguided, attention-seeking prognostications of doom from several members of the New England media, Bill Belichick should continue to feel very secure in his position as head coach of the New England Patriots. Buffalo’s Sean McDermott led the Bills to their first playoff appearance since 1999. Although many have acknowledged a slight weakening of the Bills’ overall roster, it is hard to imagine that McDermott could erase that type of goodwill, even if Buffalo fails to qualify for the playoffs.

Miami’s Adam Gase has a coaching style and scheme that seems to be tailor-made for returning quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That should give the front office the confidence that Gase is the right man for the Dolphins, given their revised personnel. The only way Dolphins will split from Gase is if the team finishes with five or fewer wins. If that is not the case (and Dolphins narrowly miss the playoffs with a seven or 8-win season,) it would be foolish to blow up the culture and jettison one of the better offensive minds in football.

The Winner?

That leaves the New York Jets…and members of their coaching staff are the answers to both parts of this question. Head coach Todd Bowles’ overriding mandate is to develop the growing talent on his roster. Bowles is widely popular among his players. They remain united in their belief that Bowles is the right man to get them where they expect to go in 2018 and beyond. General manager Mike Maccagnan has remained patient with Bowles as he overhauls the roster. However, that patience could run out this year if Bowles’ team sputters out of the gate. It is true that Sam Darnold is a rookie quarterback. Yet, he showed enough promise and progress to allow the Jets to trade Teddy Bridgewater to New Orleans. Expectations have been raised on the green side of the Meadowlands, and that could mean an increase of the heat on Bowles’ coaching seat.

On the contrary, a potential breakthrough could be in store for offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. Being tasked with developing a talent like Sam Darnold can be both a curse and a blessing. Darnold’s performance will have a profound impact on the Jets’ coaching staff. However, the argument can be made that no one stands to see a greater rise in stock than Bates does. If Darnold can muster enough success to lead the Jets into playoff contention, Bates might be a hot commodity among coaching vacancies heading into 2019.

– Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Patriots and covers the NFL and MLB. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Mike can be followed on Twitter @mdabateFPC

2. Which team will have the best offense? The best defense?

When you field a team featuring Tom Brady under center, it is hard to argue against the New England Patriots having the best offense in the AFC East. In 2018, they will continue to do just that. Despite the losses of Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Nate Solder, the Pats still look to be potent on the offensive side of the ball. Rob Gronkowski has recently stated that he feels as strong as he ever has heading into the 2018 season. That is scary news for all NFL teams, and especially those in the AFC East. Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister round out an impressive tight end corps.

The Patriots’ running back group (led by James White, Jeremy Hill, and Rex Burkhead) should provide a stellar ground attack. Although first-round rookie Sony Michel is still dealing with an injury that has kept him sidelined during the preseason, New England’s backfield has the talent and versatility to make up for any potential issues at the position.

Even with Julian Edelman missing the first four games, the Patriots wide receivers are always worthy of attention. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett will likely be among Brady’s favorite targets in September. In addition, newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson has shown the ability to be a prolific pass catcher when needed. Of course, the Pats offense begins and ends with Brady. Even at age 41, he does not appear to show any signs of falling off Max Kellerman’s ‘cliff’ any time soon. The Patriots will continue to put points on the board, and they should be able to do that better than their counterparts in the AFC East.

Although the Patriots defense will be much improved in 2018, the AFC East’s best defensive unit will reside in Buffalo, NY. Jerry Hughes notched just four sacks last season, but played well against the run and managed to succeed versus some double teams. He is now a part of a 4-3 front that added Trent Murphy and Star Lotulelei in hopes of increasing the 27 sacks they had in 2017. Terrence Fede and Owa Odighizuwa should add depth, while 35-year-old Kyle Williams can still play. Third-year pass rusher Shaq Lawson is intent on breaking out after two subpar campaigns. Look for him to finally live up to his pedigree.

The Bills will need takeaways to make up for their potentially problematic offense. Their secondary pulled that off last season, and are even better equipped to do so in 2018. Led by corner Tre’Davious White, Buffalo should improve on the impressive 18 picks they reeled in during 2017. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer return as a productive safety duo, while veteran cornerback Vontae Davis is slated to start across from White -Based on the strength of their secondary and an improved front seven, many believe that the Bills can regularly cause havoc in 2018.

– Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Patriots and covers the NFL and MLB. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Mike can be followed on Twitter @mdabateFPC

3. Who will have the best position group on offense? On defense?

The AFC East is beginning to feel a bit different. With the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all taking on new perspectives by gutting certain positions in attempt to revitalize performance, and the Patriots coming to ends with the fact that Brady only has so much time left, you can see how the AFC East may be on to keep an eye on.
However, that may not be the exact case in 2018. New England will most likely be the most dominant on offense, per usual. With arguably the greatest quarterback of all time at the helm, and weapons in Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman (after suspension), and a sneakily stacked backfield – it’s hard to imagine any other team in the AFC East competing. Even if injury prevails, Brady is one of the best at making the players around him better. It is no wonder that players from around the league have no issue signing there, especially with the near guarantee to revamp their career.
In terms of defense, however, I believe the AFC East will be a close battle. No defense is terrible, per se, but we’ve seen shakiness on that side of the ball from all four teams in recent years. I may be a bit bias, but I would put my money on the Jets secondary this year to be the best in the division. With sophomores, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye poised to breakout, and additions of Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne, I think the Jets’ defense will see a significant uptick against the pass this year. The line could still use some help, however, I think some younger guys will be forced into the spotlight (a lot like last year) and success should follow in their footsteps.

– Kyle Hirshkind is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Jets and covers the New York Jets. Like and follow on

4. Which rookie will have the best season in 2018?

For me, the best rookie in the division may not be one of the two quarterbacks (Sam Darnold and Josh Allen), or at least right now. I think Miami’s Minkah Fitzpatrick will see the most success early, and a for a few reasons.
The Dolphins have a varied template for using their first-round pick. The former Alabama standout corner played all over the field under coach Nick Saban and saw much success no matter where he was slotted. He practically played every position in the secondary.
Miami has taken this into account early on, giving Fitzpatrick time at free safety, strong safety, nickel corner, and even outside corner in practices and throughout the preseason. No matter where the Dolphins play him, Fitzpatrick is bound to see success. He’s been thrown in as the spotlight of the Miami D, so I expect him to start making an impact early on, especially with his extended variability.

– Kyle Hirshkind is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Jets and covers the New York Jets. Like and follow on

5. Who is getting too much love? Too little? (coach/player/team)

New England Halfback James White is receiving a lot of love as of late. With the departure of Dion Lewis to Tennessee, many are expecting White to take on a larger role in the offense. New England has traditionally been a running back by-committee team. That is not expected to change this season as the Patriots employ Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, and Sony Michel. However, White has been talked about as if he will be the lead back this year primed for a breakout season. 

 Although that could happen, I believe that it is much more likely that the Patriots stick to their by-committee approach. Sure, White will get a bigger slice of the pie now that Lewis is no longer with the team. However, I still believe that White will be use primarily as a pass catcher. The carries will be divvied up amongst the rest of the halfback room, as they should be since that approach has worked for New England in the past and the current halfback room is capable. No individual is head and shoulders above the rest, it just makes sense to share the load.

Miami Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not receiving enough love as of late. Tannehill was forced to miss the entirety of the 2017 season, along with the last quarter of the 2016 season due to an ACL tear that struck not once, but twice in a short period of time. 

This was especially tough on Tannehill as he led the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2016 but was not able to participate in the final push to get there. Ultimately, the Dolphins were eliminated by the Steelers in the wildcard round. Tannehill was having his best season by far up until that point, which was his first year with Miami Head Coach Adam Gase. 

This led to a lot of excitement about Tannehill’s second year with Gase, as it seemed as though the Quarterback guru was able to get the most out of Tannehill’s ability. Due to the fact that 2017 was a scratch, this will be Tannehill’s second year playing in Gase’s system, but his third year working under it. 

Tannehill has not gotten much respect from analysts and reporters across the nation, due to the fact that he has been a middle-of-the-pack quarterback throughout his career, statistically. However, it is important to note that Tannehill has had to endure many changes at the Offensive Coordinator position, as well as the Head Coach. Tannehill now has a chance to prove what he can do on the field given support from the front office, as well as continuity in the coaching staff and scheme. Miami fans are excited about a potential breakout year from Tannehill as he will more than likely be a contender for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

– Isaih Battiste is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL and the Miami Dolphins. Like and follow on Twitter @FPC_Dolphins

6. Which offseason acquisition (signing or trade) will be the best? The worst?

The best free agent signing for the AFC East has to be the Patriots and Adrian Clayborn. Somehow, a team sorely lacking pass rushing talent that signed a “talented pass rusher” has gotten little attention locally and nationally. Quite frankly, when it comes to the Patriots, folks seemed more interested in the nonexistent drama surrounding the team. However, there is nothing nonexistent about Clayborn’s ability. Clayborn is entering his eigth season in the NFL where he spent the last three years with the Falcons. In 2017, he had a career-high 9.5 sacks to lead the Falcons. In contrast, Trey Flowers led the Patriots with 6.5 last season.

Perhaps the worst signing this offseason within the division is Brock Osweiler. Look, this is based solely on his history in the NFL but if I were a Dolphins fan, the idea of Osweiler backing up a fragile Ryan Tannehil would frighten me more than the University of Miami’s defense. In the end, Miami could wind up being the perfect destination for him if he is put in the position to play. However, if he couldn’t get it done with the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, do you really believe he can do it with Davante Parker and Danny Amendola?

– Ian Glendon is the Editor-In-Chief of Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on and Facebook.

7. Who will win the offensive and defensive MVP in the division?

Tom Brady wins offensive MVP. It seems like Brady will never slow down, regardless of his age. Brady is arguably the most consistent quarterback in the NFL. The only team that causes him problems is the Miami Dolphins, but only when they play in South Beach. Expect Brady to take a baby step back, but still outplay every offensive player in the division.

When it comes to defense, this is when the best plays happen that can change the outcome of a game. One player I expect to take a giant step forward in helping their team is DE Leonard Williams of the New York Jets. While Williams does not have the Aaron Donald stats, he flashes dominance. He causes pressure a majority of the time and has the work ethic that coaches look for. Williams still needs to improve, but the Jets defense improved this offseason. Williams should step up in 2018.

– Brandon Ray is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL and the Buffalo Bills. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Brandon can be followed on Twitter @brandon_ray79

8. Which game will be the most highly anticipated divisional battle?

The first meeting between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills will rank as the marquee contest. On Monday, October 29, Monday Night Football will roll into Orchard Park, NY. The Patriots remain the one team in the division that the Bills can never seem to beat. Brady owns a 27-3 record versus Buffalo. In addition, former Bills legend Thurman Thomas will see his jersey retired.

– Brandon Ray is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL and the Buffalo Bills. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Brandon can be followed on Twitter @brandon_ray79

Who wins the AFC East?

Ian Glendon – New England Patriots
Mike D’Abate – New England Patriots
Kyle Hirshkind – New England Patriots
Brandon Ray – New England Patriots
Isaih Battiste – New England Patriots

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