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AFC East Preview

The 2022 NFL regular season is right around the corner, and that means it’s time for the Sports Obsessive AFC East preview. There’s an overwhelming consensus on who the top dog will be in the East, but how will everyone else fare?  In order to answer that question, we need to break down each team in the division and tell you what to expect by the end of the season.

Let’s dig in!

New York Jets

’21 season record: 4-13

AFC East Standing: 4th

Final Game: Week 18 loss to Buffalo Bills 27-10

Draft Picks: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (CB), Garrett Wilson (WR), Jermaine Johnson (DE), Breece Hall (RB), Jeremy Ruckert (TE), Max Mitchell (OT), Micheal Clemons (DE)

Last season was nothing short of abysmal for Jets fans as they finished near the bottom of the NFL in nearly all phases of the game. Their rookie QB included, Zach Wilson was as bad as they come. Wilson finished the season with a passer rating of 69.7, the worst in the NFL among starting QBs in 2021.

Onto 2022, and what we can expect from them. To start, we must give credit to Joe Douglas and the front office for coming out of this year’s NFL draft with one hell of a haul. Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, and Jermaine Johnson headline the stellar cast of picks. Combine those players with the likes Elijah Moore and Alijah Vera-Tucker from the 2021 draft, and you have the groundwork for optimism towards the future of this franchise.

Key Concerns

  • Can Zach Wilson return to play early this season? Wilson had a noncontact injury in the first preseason game against the Eagles. He is expected to miss no more than a game or two at the most. If all goes well, Wilson could be back in week 2 vs the Browns.
  • QB must improve in all areas. The biggest concerns are his ability to read the field/dissect the defense in front of him and throwing accuracy. Zach Wilson was the talk of the town during the 2021 draft when the Jets took him second overall, right behind Jacksonville’s top pick of Trevor Lawrence. The issue is that he continued to be the talk of the town throughout the entire season and off-season for all the wrong reasons. Wilson was as inaccurate as they come and flat out looked lost last year.
  • DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE. The Jets were horrid on both sides of the ball last season, and there is nowhere to go but up (literally); the Jets were worst in the league last season on defense. With the addition of Sauce Gardner and Jermain Johnson, the J-E-T-S are hoping to see both the defensive line and secondary play take a giant leap forward this year.

Path to Playoffs

  • There really isn’t a realistic path for the Jets to make the postseason this year.
  • Jets open the season facing the Ravens, Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Dolphins, Packers, and Broncos. Short of every QB in the league being injured, I expect the Jets to start the season  0-7 or at least 1-6.
  • There will be an upset win or two, and there are winnable games down the stretch, but this schedule should prove to be a bridge too far for New York’s postseason chances in 2022.

End Season Finish

Record: 5-12

AFC East: 4th

Miami Dolphins

’21 season record: 9-8

AFC East Standing: 3rd

Final Game: Week 18 win over NE Patriots 33-24

Draft Picks: Channing Tindall (LB), Erik Ezukanma (WR), Cameron Goode (OLB),                     Skylar Thompson (QB)

Miami enters this year on a positive note. They finished last season with a winning record and have acquired one of the most electric WRs in all of football to accompany Jaylen Waddle. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are by far the fastest WR tandem in the NFL and should make defenses around the league sweat as they try to figure out how to defend the two speedsters.

2022 looks to be a promising season for the ‘Fins, and if they can hold their own against teams like SF, Baltimore, and Buffalo, there is a path to a possible playoff birth this year.

Key Concerns

  • Tua Tagovailoa needs to prove he is the QB the Dolphins drafted him to be. It’s time to put up or shut up for the young left-hander.
  • Lead back to take charge of the backfield? There are a litany of backs in the Dolphins RB room right now, but are any of them actually any good? The entire cast is arguably a room full of backups. Each of them has had the opportunity to show NFL teams what they are capable of, but none have been able to keep the job as the lead back. The running game simply has to get some clarity and relieve some of the pressure off of the QB. If not, Tua will once again be under fire from opposing linebackers not worrying about who’s carrying the ball out of the backfield.

Path to Playoffs

  • Offense sustaining drives and keeping opposing offenses off the field.
  • The defense has to be excellent again this season and keep games close.
  • AFC West to beat up on each other and eliminate 2 teams from that division.
  • Win at least 3/4 games vs. the Jets and Patriots, and possibly split with Buffalo.

End Season Finish

Record: 11-6

AFC East: 2nd

New England Patriots

’21 season record: 10-7

AFC East Standing: 2nd

Final Game: WC loss to Buffalo Bills 47-10

Draft Picks: Cole Strange (G), Tyquan Thornton (WR), Marcus Jones (CB), Jack Jones (CB), Pierre Strong (RB), Bailey Zappe (QB)

Unlike the Jets, New England comes into the season with more questions and doubt than positivity. The Patriots have lost a lot of star power with the departure of J.C. Jackson, the retirement of backfield stalwart James White, and numerous other changes on both sides of the football team.

Key Concerns

  • Malcolm Butler lost for the season. The Patriots lost both Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams to IR. With the Departure of J.C. Jackson last season, this secondary looks scary, and not in a good way.
  • Can Mac Jones continue to improve and become a reliable NFL starter without relying so heavily on the run game? Last season Jones looked serviceable and had a decent rookie season, finishing with just over 3800 yards. The film shows that much of that was due to a heavy dose of dump-offs, screens, and short high success rate passes. This season, Jones will be without pass-catching back James White and a WR room filled with more mediocre options on game day. Is Mac Jones the future of the Patriots franchise? We will find out.

Path to Playoffs

  • Split with Buffalo.
  • Win both games vs. the Jets and at least split with Miami.
  • Take advantage of the QB change in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and win both games.
  • Beat the teams that look worse on paper (Lions, Bears,)
  • Upset wins over AFC opponents like Raiders and Bengals.

End Season Finish

Record: 8-9

AFC East: 3rd

Buffalo Bills

’21 season record: 12-6

AFC East Standing: 1st

Final Game: AFC Divisional Round loss to KC Chiefs 42-36

Draft Picks: Kaiir Elam (CB), James Cook (RB), Terrel Bernard (LB), Khalil Shakir (WR),               Matt Araiza (P), Christian Benford (CB), Luke Tenuta (OT), Baylor Spector (LB)

The Bills enter the season as the team to beat and are widely accepted as the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year. Josh Allen and company are loaded for bear and are looking for at least an extra 13 seconds of solid defensive play during the playoffs this season.

Buffalo is in the driver’s seat to make the run all the way to the finish line this year, but they will need to fix the mental errors on the field as well as on the sidelines.

Key Concerns

  • CB situation is up in the air and could be a liability to start the year. Pro Bowler CB Tre’ White is unlikely to see the field anytime soon, and Buffalo must deal with it. They have Dane Jackson and rookie CBs Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford fighting for a spot as the top 2 CB’s in the Buffalo secondary while White is absent. How will this shake out, and how will they fare against a tough start to the season against the Rams, Titans, Dolphins, and Ravens? This team needs to get off to a good start, and that begins with solid play from the secondary, even though they are young.
  • Play calling from the new OC will be a change to what Josh Allen is used to hearing through his headset. We will have to see how that plays out early on this season.
  • An entitled mindset must not be present this season. Last year the Bills walked out of the tunnel thinking they were the greatest show on turf, and everyone was going to feel the wrath of the chip on their shoulder from the loss to KC in the 2020 AFCCG. They found out right away that they were human and had to adjust their mindset.

Path to Playoffs

  • Josh Allen is healthy throughout the season.
  • Strong start to the season even without Tre’ White.
  • Stay humble and win the games that they should. The Jaguars’ loss from last year cannot be repeated.
  • Win the AFC East
  • Stay aggressive on defense and get pressure on opposing QBs.

End Season Finish

Record: 13-4

AFC East: 1st

FINAL THOUGHTS

The AFC East should be competitive this season, but also seems like it will be a two-horse race between Buffalo and Miami. The Jets and Patriots have a lot to improve before they can hope to keep up with the leaders of the pack. This season should be fun to watch and could be home to the Lombardi Trophy next off-season.

As always, for any and all sporting needs, look no further than Sports Obsessive. We have you covered, and you will never leave disappointed.

Also, keep an eye out for my weekly Buffalo Bills match preview starting week 1 of the regular season!

If you like this article or have any opinions about what you just read, please leave a comment below.

Written by Tom Ayling

I am Canadian, an NFL Fanatic, and proud member of #BillsMafia. I watch game film and write about what I see on tape, not just the box scores.

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