Are Patriots Still AFC East Favorites After Losing Tom Brady?


March 25, 2020

Tom Brady’s 20-year Patriots tenure officially ended last week. Will New England’s reign of AFC East domination end with it?

Sportsbooks aren’t banking on that.

The latest NFL odds from have the Patriots’ over/under for 2020 wins pegged at 9 1/2. That would be a down year by their lofty standards — the last time the Pats failed to win 10 games was way back in 2002, which also happens to be the last year they missed the playoffs with Brady as their quarterback — but still leads the pack in their division.

The over/under for the Buffalo Bills, a playoff team last year at 10-6, is set at 8 1/2 wins. For the New York Jets, it’s seven wins while the Miami Dolphins are tabbed with six.

Underestimating any Bill Belichick-coached team is a dangerous proposition, but with expected Brady successor Jarrett Stidham still very much an unknown commodity, should New England really be considered AFC East favorites at this point? We’re not so sure.

Buffalo Bills
2019 record: 10-6
2020 over/under: 8 1/2 wins
Notable additions: WR Stefon Diggs, DE Mario Addison, CB Josh Norman, LB A.J. Klein, DT Vernon Butler, DT Quinton Jefferson, LB Tyler Matakevich, RB Taiwan Jones
Notable subtractions: DE Shaq Lawson, DT Jordan Phillips, LB Lorenzo Alexander, CB Kevin Johnson

The Bills made the splashiest offseason move of any AFC East team with their trade for Diggs, a dangerous deep threat who’s coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. Diggs should help Buffalo’s offense immensely, shifting John Brown and Cole Beasley — both of whom enjoyed career years in 2019 — to complementary roles and opening things up for cannon-armed quarterback Josh Allen.

On the other side of the ball, Sean McDermott’s squad is cycling some new faces (Addison for Lawson, Butler/Jefferson for Phillips, Klein for Alexander, Norman for Johnson) into a defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season. Most of the key players in that unit remain, however, and Buffalo again should be one of the league’s stingiest teams.

Last season, the Bills held the Patriots to nine offensive points in one matchup and held a fourth-quarter lead in the other. The addition of Diggs, coupled with Brady’s departure, could tip the scales in their favor this season.

Eight or nine wins? That would be a major disappointment. Until we get a better sense of New England’s quarterback situation, Buffalo should be viewed as the favorite to win its first division title since 1995.

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Miami Dolphins
2019 record: 5-11
2020 over/under: six wins
Notable additions: CB Byron Jones, LB Kyle Van Noy, G Ereck Flowers, RB Jordan Howard, DE Shaq Lawson, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, LB Elandon Roberts, C/G Ted Karras, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, S Clayton Fejedelem
Notable subtractions: S Reshad Jones, C Daniel Kilgore

Brian Flores’ Dolphins had money to spend this offseason, and spend they did. They landed the top corner on the market, brought in a whole slew of ex-Patriots, landed a much-needed running back, bolstered their front seven and signed two likely starters for their offensive line. And remember, this is the same Miami team that won five of its final nine games last season, including a shocker over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 17.

The Dolphins’ question marks at quarterback — they’re set up to roll with either Ryan Fitzpatrick or a rookie this season — likely will prevent them from contending just yet, but Flores has built a solid foundation for future success down there in South Florida. We’d take the over on six victories.

New York Jets
2019 record: 7-9
2020 over/under: seven wins
Notable additions: OT George Fant, C/G Connor McGovern, WR Breshad Perriman, G Greg Van Roten, S Marqui Christian, G Josh Andrews
Notable subtractions: WR Robby Anderson, LB Brandon Copeland, CB Darryl Roberts, OT Brandon Shell, CB Maurice Canaday

It’s easy to forget that the Jets, whom the Patriots pasted by a combined score of 63-14 in their two meetings, actually won a respectable seven games last season. All of those wins came against non-playoff teams, though, and New York was one of just two teams to lose to the woebegone Cincinnati Bengals.

The Jets were not good in 2019, and it’s hard to say they’ve gotten substantially better this offseason. They were smart to overhaul their offensive line, but their additions raised eyebrows. McGovern? Sure. He was the top center available in free agency and fills a clear need. But Fant? At three years and $30 million? That’s the opposite of a safe bet.

New York also lost its top wideout in Anderson and replaced him with a player in Perriman who was viewed as a full-on bust before breaking out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. More improvements are needed to fix an offense that ranked 31st in scoring, dead last in both yards per game and yards per play and 31st in DVOA in 2019.

It’s not difficult to envision Adam Gase’s club regressing and fallings short of that seven-win target.

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Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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