AFC East Divisional Preview

by Eric Eager|August 7, 2023


The NFL offseason is a long and arduous one. While hope is on the horizon with the first game of the season coming soon in early September, there is still plenty of time to prepare for your fantasy team and your futures betting. Enter SumerSports.

In this series we will do a weekly preview of each division using our simulation, which iterates through the 272-game NFL schedule 10,000 times to produce each team’s estimated number of wins, likelihood of winning the division, conference, Super Bowl, and earn the number one overall pick. The team ratings that power the simulation are derived from a combination of market odds, previous results, roster changes, and other factors. Such power ratings will be available through over the next few months.

Individual games are also handicapped using rest differential, travel, and familiarity. Team strengths are updated sequentially based on simulated game outcomes. That way, in simulations where a weaker team exceeds expectations or a solid one fails to meet theirs, they carry a commensurate form with them to their late-season games.

No division has had a more interesting offseason than the AFC East. From the Jets acquiring Aaron Rodgers, to the Dolphins trading for Jalen Ramsey, to Stefon Diggs voicing various stages of consternation with the Buffalo Bills, this is a very high leverage division in 2023. After being home to two or fewer playoff teams each season since realignment, the clubs’ four fanbases are all reasonably expecting postseason play.

Buffalo has been at the top of this division since Tom Brady departed, winning 11 or more games each season since 2020. They were the league’s favorite to win the Super Bowl going into 2022, beat the Chiefs as small favorites in Arrowhead in October, and were power rated as the league’s best team by the betting markets. This came to a head with their loss in the snow at home to the Cincinnati Bengals in January.

Von Miller’s injury, as well as a small decline in Josh Allen’s play after an elbow injury last season, has some contracting their expected Super Bowl window. Be that as it may, they remain favorites in the AFC East and second favorites in the AFC overall.

The Jets’ acquisition of Aaron Rodgers papers over a 2022 season in which New York lost their last six games after a 7-4 start that saw them beat teams like the Dolphins, Packers, and Bills. Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh are getting a mulligan through moving off former second-overall pick Zach Wilson to Rodgers. Rodgers, combined with a defense full of impressive personnel, has given the Jets some similar markers as the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Dolphins have had a winning record all three years of Tua Tagovailoa’s tenure as their quarterback, and he blossomed in 2022 under Mike McDaniel. They had to finish last year without Tagovailoa, though, as a string of concussions left them watching Skylar Thompson engineer a plucky effort on the road as the seventh seed in the AFC playoffs.

The New England Patriots hope to claw back after a disappointing 2022 season in which they saw Mac Jones regress significantly under Joe Judge and Matt Patricia. Bill O’Brien returns to try to right the offense while the defense hopes to remain one of the league’s best.

All odds are sourced from FanDuel and are subject to change, as are the results of our simulation.

Buffalo Bills

2022 Record: 13-3

The Buffalo Bills offense is built around the talents of Josh Allen, whose 0.148 EPA/CPOE composite is second only to Patrick Mahomes since the 2020 season (including postseason games). The passing offense, also second only to Mahomes’ Chiefs in EPA/play, has benefitted greatly from the trade for Stefon Diggs, who has amassed 4189 regular season receiving yards and 29 touchdowns since coming over from Minnesota.

The Bills lack of a consistent second option hurt them in 2022. Gave Davis, whose four touchdowns in the divisional round against Kansas City in 2021 had many believing he could aptly compliment Diggs, saw his yards per route run fall from 2.03 to 1.47 a season ago. Dawson Knox, who signed a $52-million contract on the eve of the 2022 regular season, saw his production fall as well and averaged just 1.11 yards per route run in 2022. The Bills hope that first-round pick Dalton Kincaid from Utah can get open enough to take some pressure off Allen and Diggs in 2023.

The Bills defense had one of the best sets of defensive metrics in 2021 as measured by EPA, DVOA, and individual coverage metrics using tracking data. They were unable to stop Kansas City when it mattered most, though, and in 2022 set out to improve by drafting Kaiir Elam out of Florida in the first round and signing Von Miller in free agency.

Elam had ups and downs, playing 570 snaps as a rookie and will need to solidify his potential starting job in 2023. Miller’s ACL tear leaves some of his 2023 in doubt, so the Bills went out and signed former Bear and Ram Leonard Floyd to help rush the passer while he recuperates.

The Bills were seventh in the league in EPA allowed a season ago but suffered an additional setback when linebacker Tremaine Edmunds left to go play for the Bears. While Edmunds was always more highly regarded by the league than by advanced metrics, they still need to replace his production. They did not do so in the draft or free agency save for Tulane’s Dorian Williams who recently was moved out of Edmunds’ old spot. In a division that has traded up offensively in recent offseasons, Buffalo will need to return to form to keep a firm grasp on the division.

The Bills felt the loss of Brian Daboll a season ago and will have to deal with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier taking the season off this year. Sean McDermott has been a great head coach, especially on in-game decisions where he has been one of the league’s best. He is calling the defense this year, which may test his mettle.

New York Jets

2022 Record: 7-10

After failing early on two top-three picks in Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson, the Jets get another shot with Aaron Rodgers, a four-time MVP who has a very good case to be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in league history. After struggling some – at least for him – from 2017-2019, Rodgers bought in to Matt LaFleur’s offense in 2020 and 2021. This resulted in leading the league in EPA/CPOE composite by a wide margin during two MVP seasons.

In 2022, though, the Packers moved on from Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling while opting for a younger receiving corps, and Rodgers struggled. His adjusted net yards per attempt fell from over 8.0 in 2020 and 2021 to just 5.99 in 2022. His 12 interceptions were more than he had thrown in a season since his debut season as a starter in 2008. The Jets are banking on Rodgers re-emerging again in 2023.

The former Green Bay Packers quarterback has a great supporting cast of skill position players; it starts with 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year in Garrett Wilson, who eclipsed 1,100 yards receiving on 1.85 yards per route run despite having one of the worst quarterback situations in the entire league. Breece Hall was one of the more explosive backs in football before an ACL tear took him out midseason, and he may have help coming his way.

Defensively, the Jets’ cornerstones are former University of Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner and the newly extended interior defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Gardner primarily plays the left side of the Jets defense, playing 887 of his 1206 snaps at left cornerback per PFF. He broke up 14 of the 74 passes into his coverage a season ago while intercepting two.

Cornerback is a very streaky position, so while he appears to be a fixture atop charts at his position for a long time, it may be difficult to repeat his rookie season in 2023. Williams, who has still never played over 700 snaps in a season, put pressure on the quarterback 52 times in 2022 and was involved in 13 sacks. As with Gardner, there may be some regression for Williams, but with a supporting cast of C.J. Mosely, D.J Reed, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, and 2023 first-round pick Will McDonald, the Jets defense looks to lead the way again in 2023.

The market believes the Jets will be a playoff team in 2023, and they will likely need to be to keep the regime together in its current capacity. Robert Saleh has turned the defense into one of the league’s best and Joe Douglas drafting both of the league’s rookies of the year a season ago has brought them this opportunity.

Miami Dolphins

2022 Record: 9-8

2022 was the Dolphins’ first playoff appearance since 2016, as they earned the conference’s seventh seed. They then bowed out to the league’s best team (at least by the market’s estimation) in Buffalo on the road. Skylar Thompson had to start that game, as 2020 first-round quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered yet another concussion on Christmas Day against the Green Bay Packers and was forced to miss the rest of the season.

Concussions were really the only issue for Tua in 2022 as he was second only to Patrick Mahomes in terms of EPA/CPOE composite, all while dialing up throws with an average of 9.7 air yards. Much of Tua’s efficiency can be attributed to Mike McDaniel and the pair of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at wide receiver.

After six years as Kansas City’s most explosive option in the passing game, Hill shattered his own career high in yards per route run in 2022 with a mark of 3.07, besting his previous high of 2.44 in 2018. After a season where the two-high looks the Chiefs were seeing dropped Hill’s average depth of target from 12.9 in 2020 to 10.6 2021, McDaniel was able to get his number back up to 12.6.

Waddle’s second year in Miami was similar to Hill’s second in KC. Waddle saw his ADoT rise from 7.0 as a rookie in 2021 to 12.7 last year, and he amassed 1,400 yards (including postseason) at a clip of 2.46 yards per route run. If this trio stays healthy and McDaniel can avoid some regression as a play caller, this will be one of the best offenses in football in 2023.

The Dolphins defense acquired two key pieces this offseason in Vic Fangio and Jalen Ramsey. Unfortunately for the Phins, Ramsey is already out until around December with a torn meniscus, which hurts his ability to lift the play of everyone around him.

They will need 2022 mid-season acquisition Bradley Chubb to produce up to the level of his compensation in year two. His career marks (including a 11.6% pressure rate) are that of a solid, but not spectacular, player at the position. Jalen Phillips, their first rounder in 2021, has actually outperformed Chubb through two seasons, and is a player to watch. Christian Wilkins, Javon Holland, and Xavien Howard round out a defense that shoulders a lot of pressure in a division with Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers.

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New England Patriots

2022 Record: 8-9

2022 was an enigmatic year for the Patriots. Having Matt Patricia and Joe Judge run the offense in Mac Jones’ second season had predictable results. The unit ranked just 24th in EPA per play offensively, 22nd in the passing game, and 21st in the running game. Jones himself regressed, falling from 6.22 adjusted net yards per passing play to 5.36.

Bill O’Brien comes over from the University of Alabama to call plays in 2023. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki were acquired in free agency to help see if Jones can compete in a division and conference full of elite quarterbacks. It is likely that with sufficiently good play calling, Jones can return to his 2021 form. A reasonable question is whether that is good enough to compete for a playoff spot.

Defensively, there is no question that the Patriots are good enough to compete in the AFC. A season ago, the Pats were bested defensively in EPA per play only by San Francisco and Dallas. Basically every bet they have made on players on that side of the ball has returned positive results.

Matthew Judon, acquired from the Ravens in 2021, has generated 133 pressures and has been involved in 31 sacks while generating 70 stops the last two years. Josh Uche has filled the hybrid role with great aplomb, generating 56 pressures a season ago while being involved in 12 sacks. Ju’Whaun Bentley has emerged as one of the more solid off-ball linebackers in football, earning 47 stops last year while missing just 10 tackles.

Kyle Dugger is the all-around player that Bill Belichick prizes and had 11 pressures, 25 stops, four pass breakups, and three interceptions. The secondary is very solid and acquired Christian Gonzalez via a draft-day trade in April. Defense may not win championships anymore, but if it did, this would be the caliber of unit that one would look to if they were making predictions for the 2023 season.

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The Patriots’ win total sits at 6.5 at many shops, and while the price is juiced to the over (-140 at DraftKings, for example) this represents the lowest the market has been on the Patriots since 2001.

While this demonstrates that anything is possible in the NFL, it is also a sign that, while the Patriots have hung around for the three years post Brady, they have lost significant ground on both the division they dominated for two decades and the conference that they won nine times since the turn of the century. Does that mean that this is a do-or-die season for Belichick and company? A few years ago, that question would have seemed laughable.

Next up. NFC East.


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