NFL Preview 2018: The Patriots’ Path Through the AFC East Has Never Been Easier

The Pats may have their worst team in years, yet Brady and Belichick will be more than enough to get by the young Jets, a Dolphins team in flux, and a Bills side with too many question marks

(Brady by Brook Ward / CC BY-NC 2.0. Photo Illustration by Nathan Graber-Lipperman)

The Unplugg’d Staff will be previewing the 2018 NFL Season by going through each division and highlighting key storylines for every club. First up is the AFC East, which the New England Patriots have held in a stranglehold for the majority of the millenium.

New England Patriots

In 2017: 13–3 (lost in Super Bowl to the Eagles, 41–33)

(Belichick talks strategy at media day by WEBN-TV / CC BY-ND 2.0)
  • Added: OG Isaiah Wynn, RB Sony Michel, CB Jason McCourty, DL Adrian Clayborn, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Jordan Mathews
  • Lost: OT Nate Solder, CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis, WR Danny Amendola
  • Notes: Yes, a mass exodus of Patriots players landed elsewhere. What else is new? If anything, Bill Belichick’s decision to let so many key players leave was as Belichikian of a move as there ever was. The team gained four — four! — compensatory draft picks in next year’s draft…Isaiah Wynn impressed the team enough to be selected twenty-third overall, but unfortunately for the rookie, he went down with an Achilles tear and will miss the season…Danny Amendola might have joined the rival Dolphins, yet the team will be getting Julian Edelman back after an ACL tear in 2017. The last time we saw Edelman was in a dominant 2016 playoff run; he figures to be a major part of the offense once again…Adrian Clayborn was a sneaky good pick-up from the Falcons…Brady will miss his blindside protector, Nate Solder, as an already-shoddy offensive line will need all the help it can get in order to give its QB the pocket he loves so dearly…though I thought the team reached a bit for Georgia running back Sony Michel at the end of the first round, a rotation of backs featuring Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Jeremy Hill means Dion Lewis surely won’t be missed.
(Tom Brady by Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  1. Tom Brady is coming off of an MVP campaign at 40. Will vegan diets and resistance bands keep the ageless wonder at the top of the game for the next five years like he’s said in the past? In any event, I’ll be watching how the Brady-Belichick-Kraft beef progresses throughout the season. If Captain America: Civil War taught me anything, sometime the only way to defeat the strongest teams is to make them crumble from within.
  2. This defense has trended the wrong way since locking up teams en route to a Super Bowl XLIV win. Finishing 31st in Defensive Efficiency ratings — as measured by Football Outsiders — means that this unit will really need to step up should the Pats get back to the Super Bowl. The secondary should be okay with Stephon Gilmore and new addition Jason McCourty playing alongside the latter’s brother, Devin McCourty. But the oft-injured Dont’a Hightower can’t be relied on to generate a consistent pass rush, and it’s up to rising star Trey Flowers to pick up the slack.
  3. In all honesty, the Patriots will be trotting out one of the worst rosters in the league. But the Patriots Way and Belichick-Brady magic is too strong for this team not to win the weakest division in football, which makes the whole thing all the more frustrating. Why didn’t I just pick the Brady jersey back in 2007 instead of sticking with the powder blue #17? Life would’ve been so much easier.

The Pick: 12–4 (AFC East Champions)

Buffalo Bills

In 2017: 9–7 (lost to Jaguars in Wild Card game, 10–3)

(LeSean McCoy by Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Added: QB AJ McCarron, QB Josh Allen, DE Trent Murphy, DT Star Lotulelei, RB Chris Ivory, CB Vontae Davis, WR Corey Coleman, LB Tremaine Edmunds
  • Lost: QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Cordy Glenn, OG Richie Incognito
  • Notes: With Tyrod Taylor moving on to Cleveland, career backup AJ McCarron and first-rounder Josh Allen will be competing to take his spot…LeSean McCoy ain’t getting any younger, but Chris Ivory isn’t the same back he once was, making it look like another workhorse year for Shady…Cordy Glenn might’ve been shipped off to Cincy, but the bigger loss here is Richie Incognito, one of the best in the business last year. Glenn’s backup Dion Dawkins filled in admirably last year when the starter missed time, but there’s no real backup for Incognito. He’ll be missed…Brandon Beane’s decision to pull the trigger on Corey Coleman is a high-upside, low-risk kind of move. If the young receiver can capitalize on the potential that got him drafted fifteenth in 2016, him, Zay Jones, and Kelvin Benjamin could form one of the more potent groups in the league going forward…I like the Vontae Davis signing. This secondary should be lethal, matching Davis up with 2017 standouts Tre’Davious White and Micah Hyde.
After competing in the NFC, Micah Hyde and Kelvin Benjamin figure to be two of the Bills’ stars in 2018 (Kelvin Benjamin, Micah Hyde by Mike Morbeck / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  1. Tyrod Taylor was a nice story, but him and the Bills decided to mutually part ways after it became clear the former Hokie wasn’t going to get it done in Buffalo. That said, AJ McCarron isn’t scaring anyone, and Josh Allen might benefit more from sitting than being thrown into the fire Week One. Though he has looked much improved in the preseason
  2. As mentioned above, I really do believe in the Bills secondary, yet the rest of the defense is filled with question marks. I absolutely loved the decision to trade up for Edmunds, but the dude’s only 20, and there’s no other real playmakers at the position. The defensive line features a lot of moving parts: Lotulelei and Murphy are sliding in for the first time, while mainstays Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams aren’t as good as they once were. Nevertheless, at the very worst, this unit should be mediocre in 2018.
  3. A dud of a season could very well be in the cards for the Bills after their surprise return to the playoffs in 2017, though I do think some curse-altering is in store. Sean McDermott looked like the real deal in his debut season, and Brandon Beane has shown the prowess necessary to craft a team. I’ll be watching if this positive culture change keeps up in Year Two, or if it all blows up in spectacular Bills fashion.

The Pick: 6–10

Miami Dolphins

In 2017: 6–10

Ryan Tannehill returns after an ACL tear in 2017 (Ryan Tannehill by Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Added: OG Josh Sitton, DE Robert Quinn, WR Danny Amendola, RB Frank Gore, QB Brock Osweiler, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • Lost: DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Jarvis Landry, C Mike Pouncey, QB Jay Cutler
  • Notes: Smokin’ Jay is out and Ryan Tannehill is back in after a lost year for the Dolphins. In all honesty, were you really expecting much more from Jay Cutler at this point in his career? At least his reality TV career is booming…The Fins lost Mike Pouncey yet gain one of the best guards in the league in Josh Sitton. Though Pouncey was often injured and could no longer live up his contract, Sitton sure didn’t come cheap…I would’ve loved to see Hard Knocks visit the Dolphins and focus a whole episode on Cameron Wake and Frank Gore telling stories about what football was like back in the Dark Ages…losing Ndamukong Suh will hurt, as this defensive line is gonna be mauled in the trenches week in and week out…I feel like Brock Osweiler picked the wrong, below-average QB to back up. Dude could’ve been the next Clipboard Jesus, sitting tight with $40 million in career earning. Instead, he might actually have to play.
(Ndamukong Suh by Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  1. While head coach Adam Gase is arguably coaching for his job, the team decided to cut the expensive trio of Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncey in trying to instill a “culture change.” In other words, Gase has effectively said good-bye to his position as he attempts to lead a team seemingly devoid of top-end talent.
  2. Just when you think Jay Cutler is done, he comes back for one more mediocre year. It was fun while it lasted, right? I’m not expecting much from Ryan Tannehill, as he hasn’t really inspired confidence in recent seasons…and that was before he tore his ACL. Besides, Jarvis Landry has accounted for the majority of every passing category since getting drafted in 2014. The trio of DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, and Kenny Stills isn’t bad, but it’ll be hard to replace the production of #14. Kenyan Drake is exciting, though, with the caveat of a young offensive line in flux.
  3. Remember when the Fins made the playoffs two years ago? That was cute. We might be looking at the worst defense in the league in 2018. Though Quinn and Wake might be terrorizing QB’s into their forties, the only other proven playmakers on this whole defense are the ever-underrated Reshad Jones and the ghost of Kiko Alonso.

The Pick: 4–12

New York Jets

In 2017: 5–11

(Sam Darnold by Keith Allison / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Added: CB Trumaine Johnson, QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB Sam Darnold, WR Terrelle Pryor, RB Isaiah Crowell, LB Avery Williamson
  • Lost: LB Demario Davis, RB Matt Forte, DE Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Kony Ealy, TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins
  • Notes: Trumain Johnson was the big-ticket addition this offseason for the Jets, and man, did he cost a pretty penny. Is he good enough to warrant $15 million a year? We’ll see. I’m not a big Trumaine Johnson guy, and I’m inclined to think we’re gonna see something closer to 2016 Darrelle Revis than 2009 Darrelle Revis…Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown, or Sam Darnold? In the first time in seemingly forever, the Jets have actual plans at quarterback and not just a logjam of facepalms in the huddle. So long, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty — you won’t be missed…though their games are completely different, replacing the shell of Matt Forte we’ve seen suit up in green with Isaiah Crowell was a great move. If Thomas Rawls can provide any sort of spark, I really like the committee of Crowell, Rawls, and Bilal PowellAvery Williamson was a fine pickup, but replacing Demario Davis will be no easy task. Reports out of New York stated that the team’s leading tackler in 2017 was an key locker room figure…Robby Anderson, Terrelle Pryor, Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enuwa — this WR corps is four-deep if Pryor returns to form. Easily one of the most underrated groups in the league.
Demario Davis will be a tough guy to replace (Demario Davis by Trevorpeelman / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  1. Everything is pointing up for a team that exceeded its expected win total by 5 last year…and still wound up with Sam Darnold. People can say what they want about Todd Bowles as he enter his third year with the club. Dude just knows how to lead a group of men. Similar to the Bills, even if the talent isn’t there this season, I like where the franchise is heading under Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan. The Patriots dynasty has to end sometime, right?
  2. How about that secondary? Yeah, I hated on Johnson a little bit, but the guy is a clear-cut #1 in this league. With the recently re-upped Morris Claiborne and guys like Jamal Adams (who’s the real deal) and Marcus Maye entering their second year, this unit could rival the Revis and Cro. days. Was that ever a nickname they used? If it wasn’t, I’m gonna have to go trademark that. The defensive line and linebackers are a little underwhelming after the losses of Ealy, Davis, and Wilkerson. I still expect this young defense to improve from its 18th-overall finish in 2017 according to DVOA. Expect a huge year from Leonard Williams, who’s looked like a different player in the preseason.
  3. Regarding the QB situation, what to do? Management seems to have played their hand, as reports peg Bridgewater moving teams before the season starts. Sell high after Bridgewater’s solid preseason? Someone’s been playing fantasy football. At this point in time, I expect the Jets to be completely behind Darnold in his rookie year, in which he’ll flash and improve in a Wentz-like fashion. Nothing too crazy for the former linebacker, as he will have to cope with one of the worst offensive lines in football.

The Pick: 7–9

Keep following the blog as we preview all of the divisions ahead of the NFL’s September 6th kickoff! To see more NFL coverage as we gear up for the 2018 season, click here; to follow us on Twitter, click here.

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Nathan Graber-Lipperman

Written by

what got you shook on this saturday // creator of unplugg’d and editor-in-chief of UP MAG // portfolio at beunpluggd.com/ngl

UNPLUGG'D MAG

Dedicated to longform storytelling on Gen Z culture and life.

Nathan Graber-Lipperman

Written by

what got you shook on this saturday // creator of unplugg’d and editor-in-chief of UP MAG // portfolio at beunpluggd.com/ngl

UNPLUGG'D MAG

Dedicated to longform storytelling on Gen Z culture and life.

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