Buffalo Bills

2020 NFL season: Patriots, Bills have almost even odds to win AFC East

2020 NFL season: Patriots, Bills have almost even odds to win AFC East

The 2020 NFL season is still three and a half months away, but for the first time in awhile, there's some real intrigue in the AFC East.

With apologies to the Dolphins and Jets, it's looking like a two-team race. Will the Patriots win an unprecedented 12th straight division title? Or will the Bills finally dethrone New England to win their first AFC East crown in 25 years? 

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

The odds have see-sawed in recent weeks. When the schedule was released earlier this months, DraftKings Sportsbook had the Patriots as +125 favorites, with Buffalo close behind at +145, though the Bills are now the betting favorites at +130, with the Patriots at +140.

And now another metric projects the two teams in a near dead heat.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), Buffalo is favored to win the division... just barely. FPI gives the Bills have a 41.0 percent to claim the AFC East title, with the Patriots trailing at 40.9 percent.

Listen and subscribe to the Next Pats Podcast:

How razor-thin is FPI's margin? Both the Patriots and Bills have a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs (in the new expanded playoff field), and both teams are projected with 8.6 wins. 

Despite the projections, the Bills are very confident, with everyone from Jim Kelly to Josh Norman proclaiming the division is Buffalo's for the taking.

Meanwhile, the Bills aren't the only team that's right next to the Patriots in FPI's forecast. There's also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose quarterback should be slightly familiar to Patriots fans.

FPI gives Tom Brady's new team a slight nod over his old one, as the Bucs have a 63 percent chance to make the postseason. Tampa also has a 3.6 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl — the seventh-best odds in the league — while the Patriots are right behind at 3.0 percent.

According to FPI, the Chiefs have the best odds to win Super Bowl LV at 21 percent, with the Ravens (17 percent), Saints (13 percent), 49ers (12 percent) and Cowboys (5 percent) rounding out the top five.

Frank Gore claims AFC race is 'wide open' after Tom Brady's Patriots departure

Frank Gore claims AFC race is 'wide open' after Tom Brady's Patriots departure

Tom Brady's departure from the New England Patriots has put the AFC East title in play for the first time in a long while.

The Patriots have won the AFC East in 17 of the last 20 seasons, including a streak of 11 consecutive division titles. The six-time Super Bowl champion decided to leave the Patriots after 20 years and sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in NFL free agency, opening the door for the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills to claim the division crown.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Veteran running back Frank Gore, who signed with the Jets this offseason, sees an open race for the division title.

"It's wide open," Gore told reporters Thursday, per ESPN's Rich Cimini. "(Tom) Brady's gone, and it's wide open. You've got young quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Josh (Allen). I don't know what Miami is doing or whatever. I think it's wide open."

Gore isn't necessarily wrong -- the race should be a lot more competitive than it's been over the last 10 years.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

It also would be foolish to dismiss the Patriots' chances of extending their run of division dominance.

The Patriots defense, despite losing a few important veteran players during free agency, projects to be a top-10 unit next season. The Patriots' secondary remains one of the league's best. New England's offense, despite doubts from experts, still has plenty of talent, including what should be an excellent offensive line. The Patriots also have a tremendous coaching advantage with Bill Belichick running the show. No coach does a better job preparing his team each week.

The Patriots do face several challenges in defending their division title streak. Two of the toughest tasks facing New England are a very difficult 2020 schedule and adapting to a new starting quarterback.

Oddsmakers see a close AFC East race in 2020, but they still view the Patriots as the favorites to win the division, with the Bills coming in a close second.

Jim Kelly: If Bills don't win AFC East, 'something's wrong'

Jim Kelly: If Bills don't win AFC East, 'something's wrong'

The New England Patriots have won 11 straight AFC East titles, but some expect that impressive streak to come to an end in 2020 as the post-Tom Brady era begins.

Their biggest competition is expected to be the Buffalo Bills, who finished 10-6 in 2019 and added some talent in the offseason, most notably star wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

With Brady gone and Buffalo seemingly getting better, Hall of Fame Bills quarterback Jim Kelly believes this is the year his former team overtakes New England for the division crown.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

“If they don’t, then something’s wrong,” Kelly said on CBS Sports Radio's The Zack Gelb Show. “I mean, Tom Brady is not there to block you anymore. So that, to me, is huge. I think Tom of course is getting older, getting old, but he still can play. I tried to talk him into retirement like two, three years ago, but he just wouldn’t listen to me. I don’t know why.

"But now that Brady’s gone, I definitely do think the Bills are the team to beat, even though you look at the Jets, they’re getting better. Miami with Tua (Tagovailoa) coming in, I think they’re going to be better. And of course, (Bill) Belichick will have his team ready to play. So we’ll see what happens at the quarterback position in New England."

Despite Kelly's confidence, the Bills have been cautiously optimistic as they ready for life without Brady in the division. Head coach Sean McDermott still believes New England should be considered the favorite, and general manager Brandon Beane has been wary of counting out Bill Belichick's team.

Barring any surprises, it'll be 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham replacing Brady at quarterback and looking to extend that AFC East title streak to 12. Stidham has taken only a handful of snaps as an NFL QB, but he's made quite the impression on his teammates behind the scenes. His former teammates at Auburn also have raved about his work ethic.

The Patriots (+115) are still favored over the Bills (+145), according to DraftKings Sportsbook.