Home Sports AFC East preview and predictions: Tom Brady-less Patriots hold off Bills’ push

AFC East preview and predictions: Tom Brady-less Patriots hold off Bills’ push

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Mark Cannizzaro previews the AFC East as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

1. New England Patriots

Coach: Bill Belichick

2019 record: 12-4

O/U wins: 9 1/2

Key additions: QB Cam Newton, S Kyle Dugger, LB John Uche, LB Anfernee Jennings, LB Cassh Maluia

Key losses: QB Tom Brady, LB Kyle Van Noy, LB Jamie Collins, LB Elandon Roberts, S Duron Harmon, DT Danny Shelton, K Stephen Gostkowski, FB James Develin

First-and-goal: No Brady, no problem? We’ll see. But Belichick’s unquestioned team-first, no-star system remains. So does offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has the chance to be the team MVP without playing a down if he can quickly acclimate Newton into the Patriot Way.

Fourth-and-long: Settling on Newton over Jarrett Stidham to replace Brady was the first of the Patriots’ issues. Not to be lost in that is the fact they had a league-high eight players opt out because of COVID-19 concerns. Defense was affected most, with starting LB Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung opting out. They were joined by starting RT Marcus Cannon, RB Brandon Bolden, TE Matt LaCosse, WR Marqise Lee, FB Danny Vitale and OL Najee Toran.

Cam Newton Patriots
The Patriots’ new starting quarterback Cam Newton arrives on the practice field.Boston Globe via Getty Images

Cann’s Call: 10-6. Difficult to bet against a dynasty, even without its most important piece. McDaniels accelerates his head-coaching career by making it work with Cam.

2. Buffalo Bills

Coach: Sean McDermott

2019 record: 10-6

O/U wins: 8 1/2

Key additions: WR Stefon Diggs, DE Mario Addison, DE A.J. Epenesa, DT Vernon Butler, DT Quinton Jefferson, CB Josh Norman, LB A.J. Klein, LB Tyler Matakevich, RB Taiwan Jones, RB Zack Moss, OL Brian Winters, OL Daryl Williams

Key losses: DT Jordan Phillips, DE Shaq Lawson, RB Frank Gore, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Julian Stanford, LB Maurice Alexander, CB Kevin Johnson, OL LaAdrian Waddle

First-and-goal: Best thing the Bills have going for them is continuity, which is something many teams don’t have. Their offense returns nine starters and has added a franchise WR in Diggs, who’s coming off two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons in Minnesota. The NFL’s No. 3-ranked defense from 2019 also returns nine starters.

Fourth-and-long: How good is QB Josh Allen? The potential is there. He can be a playmaker, with both his arm and legs, but Allen has been inconsistent. His 58.8-percent completion rate ranked last in the NFL among starters, and the Buffalo offense scored 20 or fewer points 11 times, which is not good.

Cann’s Call: 9-7. With Brady gone and the Bills stocked with talent, everyone believes Buffalo is poised to overtake the Patriots for the division title, their first since 1995. I’ll believe that when I see it.

3. New York Jets

Coach: Adam Gase

2019 record: 7-9

O/U wins: 6 ¹/₂

Key additions: OT Mekhi Becton, WR Denzel Mims, S Bradley McDougald, WR Breshad Perriman, CB Pierre Desir, C Connor McGovern, RB Frank Gore, QB Joe Flacco, LB Patrick Onwuasor, CB Quincy Wilson, OT George Fant, G Greg Van Roten, WR Chris Hogan, OL Josh Andrews, S Ashtyn Davis, RB La’Mical Perine, P Braden Mann

Key losses: S Jamal Adams, WR Robby Anderson, WR Demaryius Thomas, CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Darryl Roberts, LT Kelvin Beachum, G Brian Winters, LB Brandon Copeland, RB Bilal Powell, RB-WR Ty Montgomery, OT Brandon Shell, P Lachlan Edwards

First-and-goal: Running back and tight end has potential to be a strength, with a highly motivated Le’Veon Bell and the ageless (37) Gore in the backfield and Chris Herndon returning from injury to join the productive Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco at tight end. Defensive continuity with coordinator Gregg Williams’ system for a second season should help.

Fourth-and-long: Biggest question is how much better can QB Sam Darnold be with a weak, unproven receiving corps? Mims missed almost all of training camp, and Perriman the last two weeks of it. Both are newcomers trying to learn a new system. Cornerback may be a problem with Desir new and having missed a lot of camp and the incumbent, Brian Poole, also having missed a lot of camp with dehydration issues. Jets will start five players on offensive line who didn’t start in Week 1 of last season.

Sam Darnold is seen during a recent Jets practice at MetLife Stadium.
Sam Darnold is seen during a recent Jets practice at MetLife Stadium.Robert Sabo

Cann’s Call: 8-8. Darnold improves despite his thin skill position players, and Williams’ defense leads.

4. Miami Dolphins

Coach: Brian Flores

2019 record: 5-11

O/U wins: 6

Key additions: QB Tua Tagovailoa, CB Byron Jones, LB Kyle Van Noy, RB Jordan Howard, RB Matt Breida, C Ted Karras, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB Elandon Roberts, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Shaq Lawson, OL Ereck Flowers, S Clayton Fejedelem, T Austin Jackson, CB Noah Igbinoghene, S Kavon Frazier, WR Chester Rogers, TE Adam Shaheen

Key losses: S Reshad Jones, C Daniel Kilgore, S Walt Aikens, DE Taco Charlton, DE Charles Harris, G Evan Boehm, LS Taybor Pepper, LT J’Marcus Webb, DT John Jenkins

First-and-goal: The Dolphins’ strongest position is cornerback, with veteran Byron Jones, first-round pick Igbinoghene and Xavien Howard. These players should help improve a defense that yielded a league-high 39 touchdown passes last year.

Fourth-and-long: What is Tagovailoa going to be as a rookie? And how long before Flores goes to the rookie first-round pick to replace veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick? Much may have to do with how quickly the rebuilt offensive line comes together. The Dolphins are thin at receiver, too, with Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson opting out because of COVID-19 concerns.

Cann’s Call: 5-11. It’s a big ask for a raw rookie QB to save a floundering team in one season.

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