Patriots

Bills 'the most complete team' but not the Patriots' lone AFC East challenger

Patriots

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks our Patriots Insiders will be speaking with beat writers from around the NFL to get an outside view on what the future holds for the Patriots. Today’s team: The Buffalo Bills with Tim Graham of The Athletic.

Since 2003, the New England Patriots have won 16 of a possible 17 AFC East titles. The only year they didn't come away with a victory was in 2008, when the Dolphins went from worst to first in the division while Matt Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record and the team missed the playoffs despite being without Tom Brady.

In 2020, the Patriots will be without Brady for the first time since 2008. Well, at least without him long term, as he did serve a four-game suspension in 2016 for his involvement in the Deflategate scandal. But either way, the Pats look ready to hand the keys to Jarrett Stidham and see if he can help the team continue its winning ways.

But this season, the Patriots taking home another divisional title is anything but a foregone conclusion. Other teams in the division have improved and most notably, that includes the Buffalo Bills.

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In a recent Zoom conference with NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran, Tim Graham of The Athletic spoke about the Bills' chances of making a run at a divisional title. And he had a simple reason for fans to trust them ahead of the 2020 season.

I think they are the most complete team. You mentioned that they [went] 10-6 last year and they've already made the playoffs two of the last three seasons. Josh Allen is going to be another season older. Adding Stefon Diggs, the defense was already solid. I think that they've made some good adjustments during the offseason, but I think their biggest addition is by subtraction in Foxboro, (with) Tom Brady being out of the division.

 

This certainly makes sense, especially considering that the Bills, sans Diggs and their free-agent acquisitions, played two one-possession games against the Patriots last year. And without Brady in the fold, it may be harder for the Patriots to continue to win tightly contested affairs against the Bills' stingy defense in 2020.

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While Graham expressed confidence in the Bills -- he said "they look like the best team" among the four -- he wouldn't commit to them running the division. In fact, there was another non-Patriots team that Graham could see making some noise in the division.

I like the Miami Dolphins. I think a lot of people are overlooking them because their 2019 season got off to such a bad start and everybody's looking at the Dolphins as the worst team in the NFL in that conversation we love to have every year. ... But towards the end of the season, Miami was starting to get pretty strong under Brian Flores. And I think they had a really strong offseason, and then they did well in the draft.

The Dolphins did add a lot of talent to their team especially with their three first-round draft picks of QB Tua Tagovailoa, OT Austin Jackson, and CB Noah Igbinoghene, and they also added a lot of talent in free agency. Notably, they signed former Patriots linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, cornerback Byron Jones to a deal worth over $80 million in total, and former Patriots center Ted Karras to patch some of their biggest weaknesses.

And given how hard they played for Flores last year, perhaps they'll be ready to make a bit of a leap to be even more competitive in 2020.

No matter how you look at it, the AFC East is wide open. And while Bill Belichick and the Patriots should still firmly be in the mix for a playoff spot, it may be tough to stave off the competition from some of the division's younger teams as they start to come into their own.

Only time will tell what will happen with the Patriots. But for the first time in a long, long time, New England isn't heavily favored to emerge from the AFC East.