The AFC East, for years a season-long snoozefest thanks to the New England Patriots’ dominance, is now one of the more fascinating divisions in the NFL.
You could make a case — albeit some far stronger than others — for each team in the division to win the East in 2022. The flipside of that, though, is every team (except for Buffalo, probably) could finish in last place.
That does make trying to project regular-season wins tricky. As such, trying to lock in on a win total over/under for any team in the East is easier said than done. All we can go off right now are narratives and past history.
As it pertains to narratives, a team like the Jets, whose season win total is currently set at just 5.5 (with juice to the over) at DraftKings Sportsbook, is a popular OVER bet. New York got a ton of credit for its draft performance, and Pro Football Focus labeled the Jets one of the five most improved teams of the offseason.
On the other end of the narrative perspective, are the Patriots. New England’s draft performance was widely criticized, and Bill Belichick didn’t have the resources to wheel and deal as he did a year ago. They won 10 games last season, but DraftKings currently has the total set at 8.5 for 2022.
So, to put it very simply, the narratives say the Jets might be getting incrementally better, while the Patriots are a bit stagnant at best. However, past history says we should be careful when it comes to buying the hype on a team like the Jets or trying to forecast the downfall of a team like the Patriots.
NFL analyst Warren Sharp shared this tremendous table Thursday looking at how teams have performed against their win total in the last five seasons.
The Giants make sense as a popular, big-market team who might naturally have their win total inflated by the market. That they play in the NFC East, a division that still gets more attention than any other despite being relatively poor in recent seasons also is an element that must be considered.
As for the Jets, well, they’ve largely just been a train wreck. Per Sharp’s table, New York hasn’t exceeded its win total since 2017 … when it won five games.
In the seasons since then, the Jets went under the total every year and they did so considerably. As the quarterback and coach carousel went round and round, New York went under the cumulative total by nine games over the four seasons. Similar to the Giants, there might be some of that New York thing built into the preseason number, and the AFC East — save for the mighty Patriots — had been otherwise pretty bad until Buffalo’s resurgence the last couple of years especially.
As for the Patriots, they unsurprisingly have outperformed their win totals in three of the five seasons and pushing with an 11-win campaign in 2018. Obviously, the massive caveat here is Tom Brady was the quarterback for three of those five seasons, but that was considered when sportsbooks made the win total numbers. Though it is telling that in the one season New England went under, it went way under, missing by two wins in the horrendous 2020 campaign with Cam Newton under center.
The takeaway here, it seems, is when trying to handicap season win totals, we probably should put the strongest emphasis on coaching and organizational structure. It’s noticeable that all the teams who have performed well against their total are all good teams. That might make sense on the surface, but it’s worth considering the best teams are going to have the highest totals — and they’re still exceeding them.
Almost all the teams in the top third of the league have had the most consistent coach and/or quarterback situations. It’s part of the reason the 2022 Saints are so intriguing. Drew Brees has been gone for a year, and now Sean Payton has exited, too. Their number is set at eight, and if you like the over, it’s a lot different putting your faith in Dennis Allen and Jameis Winston than it is Payton and Brees.
So, while it might feel like things are changing in the AFC East, it might make sense to lean into the organizational stability of a team like the Patriots until we know for sure a Zach Wilson-Robert Saleh combination is truly ready to take the next step.