AFC East QBs show promise, but Buffalo Bills are clearly 2021 favorites

Last year around this time, the question was if the Bison Tickets were ready to break the New England Patriots‘hold on AFC East. The Bills responded decisively.

In fact, the Bills didn’t just turn out to be the new kings of the division the Patriots had dominated for nearly two decades when they won 17 of 19 titles. Coach Sean McDermott’s Buffalo side have also shown they are a force to face in the AFC, advancing to the conference title game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

So it’s the Bills who come in 2021 as AFC East favorites, and now different types of questions are being asked. Coach Brian Flores Miami dolphins are all-in on the sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa – for better or for worse – as they hope to build on second place in the division last year. Coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots are aiming to return to the limelight, spending big in the offseason in hopes that 2020 represents a one-year blow.

And the New York Jets, who at 10 seasons has the longest drought in the NFL playoffs, breathed new life into the franchise with the hiring of upbeat coach Robert Saleh and the selection of BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at n ° 2 of the general classification 2021 NFL Draft.

Here are three of the most compelling questions the AFC East faces, with answers from ESPN NFL Nation reporters Marcel Louis-Jacques (Bills), Cameron Wolfe (Dolphins), Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Rich Cimini (Jets). :

How far ahead of the Bills?

Louis-Jacques: Asking this question in western New York might bring tears to the eyes of a Bills fan. AFC East is owned by Buffalo. Josh Allen became the quarterback he had shown flashes of in his first two seasons, and offense dominated to such an extent that the downfall from elite defense to mediocre almost went unpunished. With the same key pieces in place on both sides of the ball, and a rare fourth consecutive season with the same coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, there’s not much on paper to suggest Buffalo won’t win its second straight division title in 2021. Miami is likely to be the betting favorite to dethrone the Bills , but even this scenario depends on the development of Tagovailoa. Neither the Jets nor the Patriots can keep up with Buffalo offensively, and they look at least a year or two away from competing for the division crown.

Wolfe: It’s still the Bills division to lose. The Bills finished three games ahead of the second-place AFC East Dolphins, and no team has done much this offseason that should convince us they’ve closed the gap. The Bills have the best quarterback (Allen) in the division, the best offensive player (wide receiver Stefon Diggs) and are the most complete team. Keep an eye out for Miami for wrestling, however. The pressure is on Tagovailoa to perform, but Miami’s defense arguably the best in the division and the wide receiver additions William Fuller V and Jaylen waddles should insert an explosion much needed for the offense. But from now on, Buffalo has the advantage.

Reis: When the linebacker Matt milano re-signed on a four-year, $ 44 million contract just before the start of free agency, it was a sign to me that the Bills were firmly ahead of the pack. Teams that Draft (Milano was a fifth-round pick in 2017), Develop and Hold are generally positioned for the most success. The fact that Milano chose to stay, instead of testing the free market, was a sign that the Bills’ schedule had reached the desired point in McDermott’s fifth season. I think the gap will close a bit this season in the division – the Bills (13-3) were three games better than the Dolphins (10-6) and significantly better than the Patriots (7-9) and Jets (2-14) – but Buffalo is still a game or two better than the next team.

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Rob Ninkovich considers the Patriots’ pro style system to be more suited to Mac Jones than to Cam Newton.

Cimini: I’m a big believer in the dynamic coach-quarterback, and no duo in the division does it better than McDermott and Allen. The dolphins are due for a market correction, so to speak. They capitalized on an easy schedule last season – just one win against a team that finished with a record winning record. I can see a drop, especially as they overcome the growing pains of Tagavailoa. The Patriots won’t be as mediocre as they were last season because it’s the Patriots, but I see it as a year of transition for them. They will be stuck in traffic on the Cam Newton-at-Mac Jones bridge at QB. The Jets? They are heading in the right direction after two brutal years under the leadership of former coach Adam Gase, but they just fall short in terms of talent.

Which player is under the most pressure this season?

Wolfe: It must be Tagovailoa. No young NFL player has come under more scrutiny in the past eight months. To be replaced by Ryan fitzpatrick twice in the fourth quarter last season, rumors of a trade adjustment with the Houston Texans for the quarterback Deshaun Watson, in the practice of the minicamp with five interceptions this offseason, most of the discussions on Tagovailoa have been negative. Part is deserved, but much is overdone. In the end, he’s the only one who can silence the noise. A rebounding season in which he leads Miami to the playoffs will spark belief that he can still be the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback – the guy the franchise has been desperate for since Dan Marino retired. 21 years old. Another volatile season that leaves the Dolphins at home in January could mean an offseason QB search. There is no more pressure than that.

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Jeff Saturday reacts to Tua Tagovailoa throwing five interceptions at the Dolphins minicamp.

Louis-Jacques: While there are high expectations for the Patriots Jones and Wilson Jets, both will likely have at least two years to show their worth. Tagovailoa, meanwhile, is in his second year and is leading an otherwise playoff-caliber team. The hype around him to enter the league and his college success gave him no mercy for a slow start to his NFL career, but fans – Bills fans, in particular – should be hesitant to write off a quarterback. -back in difficulty after his recruit. season.

Reis: Remember the whole “Tank for Tua” discussion? It’s different now. Rather: “Is this too much for Tua?” The Dolphins were on the cusp of the playoffs last season, and Fitzpatrick’s contributions were a big reason. But with Tagovailoa in the driver’s seat by the end of the season, Miami has failed, and now it’s unmistakably its show in 2021. With the Dolphins looking to build on a 10-win season triggered largely by FitzMagic, how could we have more pressure on him than Tagovailoa in the AFC East?

Cimini: My first inclination was to agree with my good friends Cameron, Marcel and Mike – Tagovailoa is under a lot of pressure – but I’m going to stay close to home and choose Wilson. He was the second overall pick in the draft, which automatically puts a ton of pressure on, especially in the New York market. Instead of putting him in a competitive situation, the Jets almost anointed him The One by not adding a veteran to the quarterback. They are ready to ride the beginners roller coaster without emergency stop switch. The blink of an eye: the Jets open the 2021 season against the Carolina Panthers, which means Wilson will face his predecessor, Sam darnold. Make no mistake, kid.

Which franchise has the best prospects at three years?

Cimini: I can’t believe I don’t pick the Patriots out of sheer habit, but will Belichick still be around in three years? Is Jones the answer to the quarterback? Is Wilson the answer for the Jets? Tagovailoa for Miami? The Bills have a known amount as a quarterback (and coach), which makes him an easy pick. They also have a good core of young players which means they should keep up the momentum. I love what the Jets are building with Saleh, who has what it takes to be a great coach, but the roster still has a way to go. We’ll see. If Saleh and Wilson crash their honeymoon season, I might have a different answer in 2022.

Reis: Once the Bills re-sign quarterback Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds – and I see these moves more as a ‘when’ than ‘if’ – that will further consolidate them as a franchise with the best prospects over three years. Drop me off for the Bills, but with this caveat: I believe the Patriots will send a big thank you note to the San Francisco 49ers for passing Jones with the No. 3 draft pick. He slipped all the way to New England at No. 15 and was makes a strong first impression on coaches and players. If he comes across as the quarterback of the future as the Patriots believe, New England’s three-year outlook could threaten Buffalo’s.

Louis-Jacques: The Bills are the kings of AFC East, and here’s the thing: Most of their cornerstones have been drafted in the past few years or are in their athletic heyday. Allen could get overtime that rivals Chiefs quarterback Patrick mahomes‘ lengthways. Diggs, cornerback Tre’Davious White, left tackle Dion Dawkins and Milano are all signed for the foreseeable future, and Edmunds will be too – maybe as early as this summer. General manager Brandon Beane has a solid record in the NFL Draft, and rumors are spreading that Buffalo is a place to go for veterans who want to win. Now that pendulum may swing south if the Dolphins and Tagovailoa take the next step, but as long as Allen throws passes in Orchard Park, New York, the Bills will be a force.

Wolfe: Miami will be the team to beat in 2024. There’s no question the Bills reign supreme right now, but I’m betting on Tagovailoa to become the quarterback the Dolphins drafted him last year. The Dolphins have a higher cap and better championship potential than any team in this division. Miami has drafted nine players in the first two rounds in the last two drafts, with additional picks coming in 2022 and 2023. This young core, paired with an already talented roster, will overtake Buffalo over the next three seasons.

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