It’s not as clear-cut in the AFC East as it has been since early this century. Only once since 2003 has New England failed to win the division. We still back the Patriots, but with some provisos.
No more Tom Brady, off to Tampa Bay to ride into the sunset of his career. Wasn’t it the season that Brady missed — 2008 — that the Pats last failed to win the East? That’s true, but Bill Belichick still squeezed 11 wins out of a team with Matt Cassel taking almost all the snaps. And Belichick has won games in recent years with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett taking snaps when Brady was out.
Cam Newton will open 2020 as the man behind center, but the Pats didn’t win the East again for an 11th straight season in 2019 because of the Brady-led offense. The defense ranked best in the league for most of last season and is still probably the most formidable platoon in the division even as Belichick deals with a handful of opt-outs for 2020.
The rest of the East looks as if it is closing the gap, and Buffalo is a chic pick to usurp the Pats. But it’s worth noting that it has been a decade since any other East team has won a playoff game, which the Mark Sanchez-led Jets did in 2010. Bet against Belichick at your own risk.
Live ’dog: Jets: We can’t really call the Bills underdogs. And since we’re not ready to back the Dolphins, that leaves us with the Jets. Why not? Quietly, coach Adam Gase saved a job that looked precarious at midseason by winning six of the last eight in 2019. Included were wins in the last two, amid rumors of internal strife, one of those effectively knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs.
Will they have as much adversity to deal with this season, especially if they avoid another 0-4 start? In the offseason, Gase set about rebuilding his offensive line via free agency, adding versatile pieces to better protect QB Sam Darnold, who has been under siege most of his first two seasons. That should allow first-round pick Mekhi Becton, an OT from Louisville, to ease into the lineup.
Ageless RB Frank Gore was enlisted in free agency to take some of the load off Le’Veon Bell. GM Joe Douglas also believes he has ample replacements for SS Jamal Adams, including Bradley McDougald, acquired from Seattle in the same deal that landed the Jets a trove of draft picks down the road.
But the key to making a playoff run remains Darnold, now working in the second year of the Gase system with what seems an upgraded supporting cast.
Player props: The prop that intrigues us the most with Cam Newton is his +360 odds to win Comeback Player of the Year. This figures to be a two-horse race with Ben Roethlisberger, with Newton’s price worth a look. Meanwhile, amidst the Buffalo ballyhoo is a lot of support for second-year RB Devin Singletary to have a bust-out campaign, though we suspect many of the carries Frank Gore had last season will instead be going to rookie Zack Moss. The Buffalo offense might be leaning on QB Josh Allen’s aerial exploits a bit more in the fall. If Singletary splits time with Moss as we believe, we’d take a hard look at Singletary Under 800¹/₂ rushing yards, offered at a fair -106 price at DraftKings.