The AFC East has a new older-brother, and they no longer hail from New England. For what seemed like ages, Tom Brady and the Pats tormented the other 3 teams in a cruel game of “who wants to win second place”, season after season; New England prevented even a glimmer of Super Bowl hope to reach their division rivals. Now Tom is gone. The times have changed, yet the story… it remains the same.

There is a new champion of the East, and they hail not from Boston but the table-smashing town of Buffalo. This division figures to have some great storylines, with each team fielding exciting offenses with electrifying young QB’s at the helm. But I’d be kidding all of you if I pretended the Bills aren’t the easy favorite to win the division.

Maybe any of the three youngsters (Jones, Tagovaoila, Wilson) takes a massive leap forward, propelling their teams to contention in the stacked AFC. But with the impressive roster Buffalo has constructed, odds are Miami, NYJ, and NE are hoping for Wildcard spots.

Can Tua finally silence his crowd of haters and improve his deep-passing with his array of new weapons? Has Bill Belichick finally lost his marbles? Will the Jets be picking top-5 AGAIN?

Find out the answers to those questions, along with my thoughts on the key contributors each team gained and lost through free agency, and initial remarks on their ‘22 Draft Class below.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick is going to do Bill Belichick things.

Offensive coordinators? Who needs them? Your 26 y/o Superstar corner who has already registered 25 INTs in 4 years wants a new contract? WHO NEEDS HIM? It’s draft night and you’ve got some early draft picks, should you use those picks on analyst-consensus top-50 prospects? Of course not!

The Patriots do this… Bill does this. It’s confusing and almost maddening to watch, but at this point is there any reason to question the coach wearing six Superbowl rings?

The story of the Patriots 2022 season is all about second-year Quarterback, Mac Jones, following a rookie campaign that saw him as the runner up in OROY behind Ja’marr Chase. Jones showed off the pinpoint accuracy he was known for coming out of Alabama, finishing sixth in completion percentage (67.3%) among all starting QB’s; above guys like Brady, Carr, Herbert, and Mahomes.

Mac has seemingly quieted the doubters from his pre-draft process who believed he didn’t possess the big-league arm talent to start in the NFL, and the Patriots have surrounded him with a diverse and talented offense that can help him take the year-two step all teams crave from young QB’s. The loss of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Vegas could prove to be detrimental to the development of Jones, but I trust in the Belichick coaching tree to have planned ahead for his departure. Plus, with how often it happens, the odds likely favor McDaniels back coaching in New England before too long.

The loss of J.C. Jackson and Kyle Van Noy are big blows to the defense, and they both went to a conference powerhouse in the Chargers. They’re losing nearly 2,000 snaps along the interior of their offensive line between Ted Karras and Shaq Mason, both of whom went to protect ‘elite’ QB’s in Tom Brady and Joe Burrow. On paper these aren’t the best moves to be making when you have a QB on a rookie deal, but the Patriots seem to let star players sign large contracts elsewhere every year. Bill Belichick is essentially Thanos…
“And where did that bring them? Back to me.”

Speaking of stars returning to Bill, they brought back Malcolm Butler, while additionally bolstering their secondary with the additions of Terrance Mitchell and Jabrill Peppers.

Ty Montgomery joins the never-ending backfield rotation as a versatile receiving threat, and they used a 5th rounder to acquire Dolphins stud receiver DeVante Parker.

New England’s Front Office made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the NFL Draft, being mocked for their selections as “reaches”. Cole Strange was a Center prospect who received rave reviews from the Senior Bowl combined with impressive athletic testing that seemed to have him on the path of Quinn Meinerz last year, a small school guy who can end up being a top-100 pick. Bill shocked the other war rooms, taking him at 29.
I liked Strange at the Senior Bowl, and with the loss of Karas and Mason they needed players along the interior. Still, odds are they could’ve waited on a position that isn’t highly sought after and a player that wasn’t highly regarded.

Easily the most confusing pick was their selection at #50 with Tyquan Thorton. Thorton is a pure speed threat standing at 6’3 and running a 4.28 at the NFL combine. But he lacks the polish and overall build to play at the next level. Maybe if this were a day-3 or even later day-2 pick I could understand. But this was the 50th pick, where there was a lot of talent available. Not the time to take a massive shot on speed when the rest of the physique doesn’t translate well.

Outside of that their draft was fine. Marcus Jones and Jack Jones are fun DB’s who offer a ton of special teams impact. Pierre Strong is a solid running back who will fit in somewhere along the perpetual rotation of carries. Nothing super flashy in the late rounds.

This team didn’t do anything this offseason that leads me to believe they think they can seriously contend this year. My take is that they liked, not loved, what they saw out of Mac and want to see if he can build on it going into year two, which is the smart call.

They added in some great puzzle pieces that Bill can fit perfectly into his scheme, without hamstringing themselves too heavily for the future. With any luck, Mac leads them to the playoffs, maybe even winning a Wildcard game, and they enter year three of the Mac era ready to fully invest.

Key Departures Key Signings 2022 Draft Class
Kyle Van Noy (LB/Edge) Mack Wilson (LB) Cole Strange (iOL)
J.C. Jackson (CB) Terrance Mitchell (CB) Tyquan Thornton (WR)
Ted Karras (OC) Malcolm Butler (CB) Marcus Jones (CB)
Shaq Mason (OG) Ty Montgomery (RB/WR) Jack Jones (CB)
Jabrill Peppers (DB) Pierre Strong (RB)
DeVante Parker (WR) Bailey Zappe (QB)
Kevin Harris (RB)
Sam Roberts (DT)
Chasen Hines (OG)
Andrew Stueber (OG)

Miami Dolphins

While Mac Jones is succeeding in quieting many of his doubters, there is perhaps no player more disrespected in the league than Dolphins QB Tua Tagovaoila. Every offseason training video, every practice rep, are all hyper-analyzed and the focus is on one thing… Tua’s arm strength. It’s no secret to fans this upcoming year is shaping up to be a “do or die” season for the 3rd year QB, but the front office and especially new head coach (former 49ers OC Mike McDaniel) have made their belief in Tua well known, and if their words alone didn’t make that trust clear, their huge investments through Free Agency certainly do. This is a team hoping to compete, and they believe with a step in the right direction from Tua and his major upgrades at receiver, combined with an already stellar defensive cast, they’re a real contender in the stacked AFC.

As far as large investments go, the draft capital invested and the contract given to former Chief Tyreek Hill, combined with the contract given to former Saint Terron Armstead, are among the biggest in league history. Two all-pro caliber talents signed for top of the market deals, and they weren’t done reshaping the offense yet.

The Dolphins also signed Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel to man the kind of committee backfield McDaniel was well known for in San Francisco.

To open up the running lanes, they brought in guard Connor Williams from Dallas and fullback Alec Ingold.

The final ingredients of the McDaniel offensive-stew were receivers Cedrick Wilson and Trent Sherfield. An offense featuring some of the best speed mismatches in the league (Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Mike Gesicki, and Raheem Mostert) will leave plenty to the imagination of McDaniel’s. Still, it will all fall on the shoulders, and more importantly arm, of Tua. It’s hard to do much more for a young quarterback than what we’ve seen from Miami going into 2022. Now it’s up to Tua to prove himself as a difference making QB.

The 2022 Draft was a quiet one for Miami, as most of their capital had been used up in prior trades, but I will highlight the selection of Channing Tindall, one of the ridiculously talented members of the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs defense.

He, combined with Melvin Ingram who signed late in the offseason, will look to bolster an already talented Miami defense.

It feels impossible to place playoff expectations on a team in a division with Josh Allen and a conference like the 2022 AFC, but I don’t see how the Dolphins can be hoping for anything less out of this team they’ve built for the season. It feels unlikely with all of the moving pieces along their coaching staff, and offensive personnel, but middling out with Tua leaves this team in a very difficult spot.

I don’t think this roster is bad enough to end with a top-10 selection, which the team is probably going to want if Tua isn’t the solution, given how strong the 2023 QB class looks to be. It seems if Tua can’t progress into the QB Miami is hoping for, they may spend a couple years in the dreaded ‘QB Purgatory’, a position the team is all too familiar with.

Personally, I’m a believer in Tua in the McDaniel offense and believe the pieces around him will cover up some of the lesser areas of his game. I think if he can deliver the ball on time and accurately with the mismatches they have at their skill positions, it’s hard to imagine him looking bad. It’s a question of how much extra he can do to push them over the top, and as unfair as it might be, how many wins he can get them. Wins aren’t at all a QB stat, but if you’re not winning as the starting QB by year three, the axe is coming soon.

Key Departures Key Signings 2022 Draft Class
Albert Wilson (WR) Chase Edmonds (RB) Channing Tindall (LB)
Will Fuller (WR) Cedrick Wilson (WR) Erik Ezukanma (WR)
Jason McCourty (CB) Connor Williams (OG) Cameron Goode (LB)
Teddy Bridgewater (QB) Skylar Thompson (QB)
Raheem Mostert (RB)
Trent Sherfield (WR)
Tyreek Hill (WR)
Terron Armstead (OT)
Sony Michel (RB)
Thomas Morstead (P)
Melvin Ingram (Edge)

New York Jets

The Jets 2022 season, much like their division rivals the Dolphins and Patriots, will serve as an audition for a second year QB. In their case, 2021 #2 overall pick Zach Wilson.

Wilson’s 2021 season was bad, as he was the least accurate starter in the league (55.6 completion percentage) and threw 9 TDs compared to 11 INTs,only starting 13 games. While his supporting cast did him no favors, QB’s simply aren’t given the leash to put up consecutive seasons at this level of play. While it may sound crazy, this season could very well be do-or-die for the BYU product as the New York fanbase and front office will look for answers if they watch another losing season. This goes not only for QB Zach Wilson, but likely also HC Robert Saleh. I’m not trying to be a downer on this team, as I believe they do have a lot of talented young pieces. But this team is incredibly reliant on first and second year players to perform like seasoned veterans.

They’ll start the ‘22 season with an absolutely brutal stretch and barring some upsets, could easily find themselves out of playoff contention by their bye week.

It’s hard to look at this team on paper compared to their rivals within the division and not see them at the bottom. Especially when you consider the investments through free agency some of these other teams made.

Much to the disappointment of their front office and Jets faithful alike, they weren’t able to use multiple of their high draft picks to acquire a bonafide superstar receiver like DK Metcalf or Deebo Samuel. They did manage to quietly put together a solid offseason. Highlighted by arguably one of the better draft classes on paper in the NFL.

Robert Saleh looked to improve his secondary with the signings of safety Jordan Whitehead and CB DJ Reed. And is given the chance to reconnect with former 49ers top selection and Saleh disciple, DL Solomon Thomas.

On offense, the Jets continued to throw money at the tight end position, signing both CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. They also hope to have solidified another offensive line spot for the long term with the signing of Laken Tomlinson.

The Jets made seven selections in the top-117 picks, including three picks in the first round, and each of the selections were highly regarded throughout the pre-draft process and could find themselves as a starter before too long.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Garrett Wilson were two blue chip, can’t-miss prospects, so credit to the Jets front office on both their top-10 selections. Sauce brings the swagger to play in the big New York market and is arguably the best corner drafted by the Jets since Revis. Garrett Wilson was a big-play machine at Ohio State and is a perfect compliment for Wilson’s deep passing ability.

Later in the first, New York traded back into the first to select sliding edge rusher, and personal favorite of mine, Jermaine Johnson. Jermaine was the best player at the Senior Bowl and massively impressed throughout his collegiate career. How he fell to 26 I am unsure, but the Jets made sure to capitalize.

Breece Hall was widely considered the best running back in the class, and combined with second year runner Michael Carter, creates one of the more exciting young backfields in the league.

Jeremy Ruckert was another favorite of mine, as I believe he was the most polished blocker of all the highly touted rookie tight ends, and even 5th round pick Max Mitchell is a perfect scheme-fit for OC Mike LaFleur with impressive college tape. Should Mehki Becton end up moving from the Jets, I believe he could start on the right side week one.

I feel as though I haven’t been very optimistic for the Jets, but I do believe they are putting together a solid core of young players that will play some entertaining games. Every position group, offense and defense, has exciting youth that given time could gel into one of the more explosive teams in the league. I just don’t know if they have enough veteran leadership and established talent to succeed this season. And I don’t trust the team to take the time necessary to allow the growing pains I think should be expected from this roster. I can’t emphasize enough how young this team is, with the average age of their starters at 24.95 y/o.

I think Jets fans are in for another crushing season that ends in a high draft selection, and possible debate over taking a top QB.

Key Departures Key Signings 2022 Draft Class
Marcus Maye (S) Jordan Whitehead (S) Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (CB)
Lavrent Duvernay-Tardiff (OG) DJ Reed (CB) Garrett Wilson (WR)
Tyler Kroft (TE) Laken Tomlinson (OG) Jermaine Johnson II (Edge)
Morgan Moses (OT) CJ Uzomah (TE) Breece Hall (RB)
Jamison Crowder (WR) Tyler Conklin (TE) Jeremy Ruckert (TE)
Greg Van Roten (OT) Soloman Thomas (DL) Max Mitchell (OT)
Greg Zuerlein (K) Michael Clemons (Edge)

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were a coin-toss and overtime rule change from a Super Bowl appearance, and enter the 2022 season as the betting-favorites to hoist this year’s Lombardi Trophy. Josh Allen is the NFL’s poster boy for betting on traits at the QB position, and is arguably the biggest threat in the league with the ball in his hands on any given play.

In 2021 Allen led the NFL’s 3rd highest scoring offense with 29.8 points per game, and he hopes to maintain that dominance even with the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to NYG.

The Bills also managed to field the #1 scoring defense in the league throughout 2021, giving up only 18.3 points per game, and also managed to create turnovers and generate pressure at an absurd rate.

What I’m trying to tell you is the 2021 Bills were a force to be reckoned with and it’s hard to imagine them putting together an even better season than the one they just did. At least I thought it was hard to imagine; then the offseason happened.

I won’t lie, the Bills lost a lot of snaps from big-time contributors in free agency. Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams played a lot of snaps along the Buffalo line. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are two of the more consistent pass-rushers in the game. Levi Wallace has been great opposite Tre White, and Emmanuel Sanders seems to never age, catching deep touchdowns year after year. They are both gone as well. There was a decent bit of roster turnover, and there’s always the chance that new faces take time to mesh into a new system. Normally I’d be more weary of such massive change if it wasn’t for the quality of players Buffalo brought in as replacements.

They imported the right side of Tennessee’s offensive line by signing Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry. They added two established veterans with playoff experience coming in fully healthy to replace Feliciano and Williams– Tim Settle and Shaq Lawson are solid veterans to rotate in along the front-7, while OJ Howard and Jamison Crowder offer trustworthy receiver depth to compete for red zone looks from Josh Allen.

Easily the biggest move of all, and arguably what sets this team apart from last seasons, is the signing of 2x Super Bowl winning pass rusher, Von Miller. I don’t know what more needs to be said here but Buffalo going from Jerry Hughes to Von Miller is a scary sight for any team hoping to compete for the Lombardi this season. Buffalo’s defense is incredibly stout, but it lacked true difference makers who could change the game on any given play come playoff time. If you were to look up playoff difference-maker in some weird NFL dictionary, there would just be a picture of Von there, smiling.

The Bills crushed free agency, but their draft was nothing to scoff at either. A roster that lacked holes saw Buffalo add even more talent, pick by pick. Kaiir Elam is a scrappy cover man who fits the mold of a Buffalo corner beautifully. A long-armed menace who slipped to Buffalo at pick 23.

Maybe the lone position of weakness on Buffalo’s roster was the running back, and the second round saw them snag Georgia runner James Cook, arguably the best receiving weapon out of the backfield in the ‘22 class.

Khalil Shakir shows impressive separation ability and figures to be a day one playmaker out of the slot. I expect him to see plenty of opportunities replacing Cole Beasley.

And when you have the top ranking offense and defense, you can afford some big swings on prospects which is exactly what they did drafting the “Punt-God” out of SDSU Matt Araiza.

This Bills team is frighteningly good and looks to be playing football late into January. They were going to be a favorite regardless of their moves, due to the superhuman they have throwing the football, but they managed to go above and beyond and solidify themselves as the team to beat with their acquisitions.

Key Departures Key Signings 2022 Draft Class
Jon Feliciano (OC) Rodger Saffold (OG) Kaiir Elam (CB)
Daryl Williams (OT) DaQuan Jones (DT) James Cook (RB)
Jerry Hughes (Edge) Von Miller (Edge) Terrel Bernard (LB)
Mario Addison (Edge) Tim Settle (DT) Khalil Shakir (WR)
Harrison Phillips (DT) OJ Howard (TE) Matt Araiza (P)
Levi Wallace (CB) Shaq Lawson (Edge) Christian Benford (CB)
Emmanuel Sanders (WR) Jamison Crowder (WR) Luke Tenuta (DB)
Cole Beasley (WR) David Quessenberry (OT) Baylon Spectre (LB)
Matt Breida (RB)

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