Is the AFC East Ripe for the Taking?

Elise Amendola/AP

Midway through last season, the Dolphins looked to be in a deep hole. Thoughts of truly competing for a division crown felt lightyears away, and the Patriots were still rolling. Was it 2006? 2014? No, 2019 felt like much of the same. Oh boy have things shifted in a hurry.

As we enter the heart of the offseason, Miami is sitting in perhaps the best spot of the 4 teams in the League’s previously least competitive division. The Kings of the hill appear to have fallen a few steps back. Namely, the loss of Tompa Brady (the fact that he is trademarking that is just hilarious for how pathetic it sounds), makes the Patriots far less formidable. Not only did the Dolphins manage to beat New England with their lackluster roster to close out the 2019 campaign, both teams have gone in opposite trajectories for the first time in decades. Miami strengthened their team by weakening the Patriots. The signings of Kyle Van Noy, Ted Karras, and Elandon Roberts hurt immensely. Moreover, Belichick lost other key contributors as well including Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and Duron Harmon. Not all key pieces, but there is no doubt that New England will fall back to earth, even if just for a season.

The Bills are the new favorites to take the crown, and they have gotten better with the additions of Josh Norman and Stefon Diggs. However, Miami matches up far better with the Bills then previously. The signing of Byron Jones allows the team to cover Buffalo’s weapons while also applying pressure to Josh Allen, who is entering a potential make or break campaign. Many feel Allen is on the cusp of stardom, however, his feel for the game has not improved and for that the team will suffer.

Lastly the Jets. Oh Adam Gase. The J-E-T-S should be improved, there is no way their health could be any worse than last season, and Sam Darnold is still the best young QB in the division. Their defense will be improved, but the loss of Robbie Anderson will hurt their struggling offense, and Gase has proven that he wears on a franchise over time.

Based on early projections, 10 to 11 wins would likely win this division. Keep in mind, the Dolphins finished the last 9 games of the season with a 5-4 record, and should be vastly improved with better line play bolstering the run game and providing protection for Fitzpatrick to start, as well as an improved defense. Although it is far too early to say that the Dolphins will win the division, they are much closer than many outsiders believe. Jarret Stidham is New England’s current plan at Quarterback, and even if he is better than he appeared coming out of college, there will be growing pains. The Bills should be formidable, but there is a ceiling with Josh Allen at the helm, one that rears its head multiple times a game with an egregious misfire or poor decision. The Jets will have to solid internally in order to give themselves a shot, and seeing how quickly the roster’s stars, namely Le’Veon Bell and Jamal Adams, have voiced concerns with New York’s leadership, that is in serious doubt.

The Phins have proven they can coach. They have shown that they can get players to buy in and play above their previously projected abilities, this is a trait of a team which breeds consistent success. Miami will be favored with an easier schedule than their division rivals as well thanks to their 4th place finish last season which allows them to ease into the season much smoother. We have a long way to go until September, but the AFC East will look significantly different than at any time over the last two decades. This is unprecedented in the Belichick/Tom Brady era. Regardless of this immediate season, the power is shifting in the division and the Roarin’ 20’s could bring success for this starved franchise.

What do you think? Do the Dolphins have a legitimate shot of contending in 2020? Or are the Phins still a year or two away? Let us know in the comments below!