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2023 Best-Case/Worst-Case: AFC East


Sean McDermott is feeling the heat after another early playoff exit.

Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Buffalo Bills


Arrivals

  • S Taylor Rapp

  • DT Poona Ford

  • DE Leonard Floyd

Departures

  • DC Leslie Frazier

  • LB Tremaine Edmunds

  • WR Isaiah McKenzie

  • RB Devin Singletary

Notable

  • K Tyler Bass signs four-year extension

Impact Draft Picks

  • TE Dalton Kincaid – Rd. 1 (#25)

  • OLB Dorian Williams – Rd. 3 (#91)

Best-Case: 12 - 5, 1st in AFC East


Despite their discouraging loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs last year, the Buffalo Bills will still be a force to be reckoned with in 2023. Turnovers aside, Josh Allen is perhaps the hardest QB to stop on a play-to-play basis, and if he can clean up said turnovers, he could legitimately challenge Patrick Mahomes for the title of Best QB in the League. Stefon Diggs returns at wide receiver, and the Bills added Dalton Kincaid in the first-round to be another downfield weapon for their cannon-armed QB.


On defense, the Bills return a healthy Von Miller and a host of competent pass rusher that makes life hard for opposing QBs. They also boast considerable continuity, with nearly their entire secondary – including heart-attack survivor Damar Hamlin – back for another year. The loss of Tremaine Edmunds will test the linebacker unit, but Matt Milano remains one of the best 'backers in the business. In a much-improved AFC East a repeat of last year's 13 wins might be a stretch for the 2023 Bills, but winning the division is definitely within reach.


Worst-Case: 7 - 10, 3rd in AFC East


It must be repeated: the AFC East is really tough this year. With all of their positive momentum and energy heading into the 2022 season, how much will the Bills have left in the tank after another disappointing playoff exit? Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has departed the team, and that's an underrated blow to a consistently excellent defense. Head coach Sean McDermott will take over defensive play-calling duties, but he might not have the same touch as he did as the DC back with the Carolina Panthers. Either way, with Von Miller coming off another ACL injury and a secondary that looked decidedly old at inopportune times, this defense could be due for serious regression.


Aaron Rodgers is now in the division with the New York Jets. The Miami Dolphins were absolutely volcanic with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa, and the New England Patriots went heavy in free agency once again to build around Mac Jones. Last year could have been the Bills best chance. If Allen hasn't figured out his turnover woes, and if the defense takes a big step back from last year's performance, the Bills could tumble down the AFC East standings.


Tua and the Dolphins were unstoppable at times in 2022.

Photo Credit: CCS Pictures, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Miami Dolphins


Arrivals

  • CB Jalen Ramsey

  • DC Vic Fangio

  • WR Braxton Berrios

  • QB Mike White

Departures

  • DC Josh Boyer

  • CB Byron Jones

Notable

  • Exercised QB Tua Tagovailoa's fifth-year option

Impact Draft Picks

  • CB Cam Smith – Rd. 2 (#51)

Best-Case: 13 - 4, 1st in AFC East


Say it with me: "If Tua can stay healthy…" Good, glad we got that out of the way.


Given the above, the Dolphins could easily have the most explosive offense in the NFL, full stop. The combination of fighter-jet speed on the outside at receiver, Tua Tagovailoa's uncanny ability to anticipate open receivers, and Mike McDaniel's avant-garde play-calling has proven to be unstoppable – at times. Do I need to remind Dolphins fans of Week 14 vs the Chargers?


It's the defense, however, that could be key for the Dolphins winning the AFC East and potentially securing the AFC's lone bye-week. The Dolphins kicked 2022 defensive coordinator Josh Boyer to the curb, brought in the renowned Vic Fangio and traded for his favorite toy, All-Pro defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey, along with 2020 All-Pro corner Xavien Howard and an improving defensive line headlined by rising stars Christian Wilkins and Jalen Phillips, could vault this unit into top 5 status. If McDaniel and Fangio can both continue working their magic, the Dolphins are in for a special season.


Worst-Case: 5 - 12, 4th in AFC East


One more time everyone, "If Tua can stay healthy..."


Yeah, the worst-case scenario for the Dolphins is obvious: Tua gets hurt again. It feels incredibly unfair to call someone "injury prone" when their injury was a head injury caused by being ripped violently to the ground by a defensive lineman, but the fear of another Tua injury is real. One more could end his career – and by extension, the Dolphins 2023 season.


The Dolphins did sign Mike White from the Jets to be the backup QB, and while he's had some impressive moments in the past, he's not Tue. He doesn't have Tua's anticipation or accuracy. The offense also wasn't specifically designed for Mike White's talents, like it has been for Tua. If Tua misses half the season, the Dolphins will be halfway to Cabo by early September.


There's also the worry that McDaniel's offense was, well…gimmicky. It relied entirely on the speed of two players being too much for defensive backs (and entire defenses) to handle reliably. And that was true, for the most part – until the Chargers suffocated them. Did Brandon Staley and the Chargers defensive staff unlock something that December night? Or can Tua, McDaniel and their tremendous receivers keep torturing defenders? Time will tell, but if the former is true, the Dolphins could really struggle in 2023.


Can Mac Jones and the Patriots rebound in 2023?

Photo Credit: Jeffhoffman2001, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


New England Patriots


Arrivals

  • RB Ezekiel Elliott

  • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

  • TE Mike Gesicki

  • OC Bill O'Brien

Departures

  • WR Jakobi Meyers

  • RB Damien Harris

  • S Devin McCourty

Notable

  • ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley signs two-year contract extension

Impact Draft Picks

  • CB Christian Gonzalez – Rd. 1 (#17)

  • DE Keion White – Rd. 2 (#46)

Best-Case: 10 - 7, 2nd in the AFC East


Some of the luster has come off in the past two seasons sans Tom Brady, but Bill Belichick remains one of the premier coaches in the NFL. Beating him remains a challenge – and this year, the Patriots went out and acquired some talent to level the playing field between them and the rest of the ultra-competitive AFC East.


The biggest upgrade of the offseason, though, isn't a player – but a coach. Bill O’Brien returns to New England after twelve years away to be the offensive coordinator. The tag-team play-calling combo of Matt “The Body” Patricia and “Sneaky” Joe Judge completely derailed the offense and almost sabotaged quarterback Mac Jones' career, so O’Brien should make the Patriots offense look professional at least. I know the legitimacy of the Pro Bowl has taken a beating over the last few years (shout out Tyler Huntley), but Mac Jones did make the roster during his rookie year. If he can even show modest improvement, the Patriots could be in really good shape with their strong defense and run game.


Matthew Judon returns as one of the best edge rushers in football and the rest of the front seven looks frightening. If the recent additions to the secondary – like first-round pick Christian Gonzalez – can make an immediate impact, the Patriots defense could be dominant. Still, the AFC East is brutal, and even in a best-case scenario, it’s hard to see the Patriots being explosive enough on either side of the ball to win the division. A playoff berth as the “wild card team no one wants to face” could be in play though.


Worst-Case: 6 - 11, 4th in AFC East


Let’s face it: as crazy as it sounds, Belichick might be on the ropes. Yes, Brady and all that…but look at Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger retired and Antonio Brown self-destructed and they still refuse to finish under .500. You're telling me losing Brady was a bigger deal that all of that?


Jones’ regression last year was scary, too. At times, it felt like Belichick wanted nothing to do with him anymore, and Belichick isn’t the kind to hand out third chances, let alone seconds. Bill O’Brien should help the offense be more cohesive, sure, but there still isn’t a lot of top-end talent here. JuJu Smith-Schuster is not someone you want as a #1 receiver, and Elliott has definitely lost a step over the years (and feels somewhat redundant to what Stephenson gives the offense anyway).


The defense should be stout regardless, but probably not 2000 Ravens stout. In this day and age, even that might not be enough to make up for this offense in a worst-case scenario. They will probably be well-coached enough to win some games they shouldn't, but the Patriots could be at a significant talent disadvantage for the entire season.


Sauce Gardner and the Jets have their sights set on the playoffs.

Photo Credit: Mark Getman of the New York National Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

New York Jets


Arrivals

  • QB Aaron Rodgers

  • RB Dalvin Cook

  • OC Nathaniel Hackett

  • WR Mecole Hardman

  • WR Allen Lazard

Departures

  • OC Mike LaFleur

  • WR Elijah Moore

  • OG Nate Herbig

  • WR Braxton Berrios

Notable

  • DT Quinnen Williams signs four-year extension

Impact Draft Picks

  • DE Will McDonald IV – Rd. 1 (#15)

Best-Case: 13 - 4, 1st in AFC East


As impossible to believe as it sounds, the Jets are real Super Bowl contenders thanks to the arrival of Aaron Rodgers. Don’t buy into any of the nonsense that Rodgers is washed-up. He was on a team without reliable weapons in Green Bay (and that was partly his fault for skipping the offseason workouts, of course), but now with the Jets he’s going to try to light the league on fire this year during his revenge tour. Rodgers with something to prove should be a scary thought for the AFC East.


Besides their new QB, the Jets have stockpiled some serious offensive weaponry. Garrett Wilson was named Offensive Rookie of the Year at receiver, while running back Breece Hall looked well on his way to the award before falling to injury during the middle of the season. Those two second-year players – combined with a trove of free agent additions – could propel this offense to heights Jets fans haven't seen in generations.


Not only did the Jets draft last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year, but they also drafted the Defensive Rookie of the Year in cornerback Sauce Gardner. The 23-year-old from Detroit smothered receivers with his length and technique, looking right at home on an island with some of the league's most dangerous pass catchers. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams nearly took home the Defensive Player of the Year award last year too, and if he can have a repeat performance after locking down a healthy, four-year extension, the Jets could be in play for the #1 seed in the AFC.


Worst-Case: 7 - 10, 3rd in AFC East


Let's be real: it's the Jets. As great as Rodgers is, he can't lift a cursed franchise by himself – especially if he's lost a step going into his nineteenth season. There is talent around him, but the Jets will be relying on a lot of young players to step up. If they can't, the Jets offense will stagnate despite their Hall of Fame QB.


The defense looks great on paper, but we've only seen Williams have one great season and the rest if the front seven isn't all that inspiring. If he takes a step back, the Jets won't be the same against the run or the pass. Even a stud like Gardner can't lock down receivers if opposing QBs have all day.


The biggest concern for the Jets in 2023, though, has to be their offensive line. Former first-round pick Mekhi Becton looked like the answer at tackle after his rookie year, but injuries and inconsistent play have soured a promising start. Duane Brown is battle-tested at left tackle, but he's no spring chicken at 38. The rest of the interior isn't too imposing either. Bad offensive line play can fluster even the greatest QBs, and the Jets could suffer a very disappointing season if they can't consistently protect Rodgers. This team is too talented top-to-bottom for another last-place season in 2023 but falling .500 is still in the cards.

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