The AFC East was once the New England Patriots Invitational as head coach Bill Belichick and GOAT quarterback Tom Brady won 17 of 20 division titles from 2000-19. Now in a fair twist of fate, the Patriots appear to be the only team in the division without a realistic path to the division crown in 2023 as their offense remains loaded with question marks in the post-Brady era. Meanwhile their former punching bags -- the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins -- all have the potential to come out on top at the end of the upcoming regular season.
The Bills, the team Brady tortured the most by winning 33 of 36 career starts against them, are the current three-time reigning champion after Brady left to conclude his unrelenting career in the NFC with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Buffalo will once again factor heavily into the fight for the division title in 2023, but so too will the Jets now that they have the established quarterback they have been searching for in Aaron Rodgers. The Dolphins, a team who nearly knocked off the Bills in the postseason while playing in Western New York, improved tremendously on defense this offseason with the acquisitions of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Here are the roads to victory in the quest to win the 2023 AFC East for each of the three non-New England franchises.
The Bills have been one of the NFL's most dominant teams across the last three regular seasons, leading the league in points per game (29.4) and points allowed per game (19.4) in that span. They are also, not coincidentally, the three-time defending AFC East champions. Quarterback Josh Allen is the engine that drives the Bills, and he'll once again factor into another strong run for Buffalo in 2023. He provided gigantic production in 2022, ranking second in the NFL to only MVP Patrick Mahomes in total yards (5,045) and total touchdowns (42).
However, Allen had a glaring issue a year ago: he led the league in turnovers. He had 14 interceptions (tied for the third-most in the NFL) and five fumbles lost (tied for the second-most in the NFL). Allen became erratic as Buffalo asked him to be its No. 2 running back -- his 124 carries and 762 rushing yards were the second-most on the team while his seven rushing scores led the Bills -- behind James Cook.
"I know this sounds crazy, but I'm getting older," said Allen, who's now 27, in April, via the Bills' team website. "It's like I can't continue to do this. I know when I'm using my youth I feel like I can, but over the course of my career, I'm going to have to learn to adapt and change. And I've always had the mindset of I've been a football player first and a quarterback second, and at some point that's going to have to switch. When that point is I don't know; I guess I'll let my body tell me."
Naturally, general manager Brandon Beane heard the face of his franchise's message loud and clear, so he prioritized making Allen's life easier in the 2023 NFL Draft. His thought process appeared to be perhaps Allen won't feel the need to be Superman and act as another rusher on top of being the team's passing game conductor if provided with more support to his offensive ecosystem. Buffalo selected the draft's top pass-catching tight end, Utah's Dalton Kincaid, 25th overall, and one of the draft's top offensive guards, Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence, 59th overall (Round 2), with its first two picks. Beane even parted with a fourth-round pick to move up two spots (from 27 to 25) in order to select the first tight end in the draft. With Kincaid acting as Allen's , Buffalo could have an even more efficient offense in 2023, leading to a fourth straight division crown.
New York Jets
The reasons why the Jets could win their first AFC East title since 2002 are simple: four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers plus a top-five defense. Rodgers is the best quarterback to ever put on a Jets uniform.
Aaron Rodgers vs. every Jets QB since 1970 NFL/AFL merger
Seasons with 4,000 pass yards
Seasons with 30 pass TD
Super Bowl wins
Rodgers will be joining a young defense led by 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner (he'll turn 23 in August) and 2022 first-team All-Pro Quinnen Williams (25 years old) that allowed the fourth-fewest points per game in the league last season: 18.6. The last time Rodgers had a scoring defense ranked inside the NFL's top eight was the 2010 season when the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV. As long as he stays healthy in 2023, Rodgers will likely play closer to his MVP form from 2020 and 2021 than his sluggish 2022 when he played through a fractured thumb on his throwing hand. That Rodgers -- alongside 2022 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, dynamic running back Breece Hall, and head coach Robert Saleh's defense -- should be more than enough for the Jets to win the division.
The Dolphins had an offense capable of winning the AFC East in 2022, when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was healthy. Tagovailoa had the best season of his NFL career in his first year with head coach Mike McDaniel and All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, with bests in touchdown-interception ratio (25-8, tied for the fifth-best in the NFL with Trevor Lawrence), passing yards per attempt (8.9, led the NFL), and passer rating (105.5, led the NFL). The problem was Tagovailoa missed the better part of six games while suffering concussions in Week 4 at the Bengals and Week 16 against the Packers. His second concussion against Green Bay on Christmas Day caused him to miss the final three games of the regular season and Miami's narrow wild-card round loss at the Bills. Tagovailoa has spent this offseason learning how to fall in a safer way to prevent future head injuries through .
Dolphins by starting QB in 2022 regular season
* Highest by any starting QB last season (minimum 10 starts)
Defensively, the Dolphins upgraded their personnel and coordinator. Miami completed a slam dunk trade by sending a third-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and tight end Hunter Long to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for six-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Even though he toiled through a 5-12 Rams season in 2022, the 28-year-old still has plenty left in the tank. Ramsey was Pro Football Focus' third-highest graded cornerback last season with a grade of 86.4, trailing only 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie Year of the Year and New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (87.9) as well as Denver Broncos 2022 First-Team All-Pro cornerback Pat Surtain II (86.8).
Pairing established Pro Bowl veterans like Ramsey, cornerback Xavien Howard, and linebacker Bradley Chubb in addition to ascending youngsters like linebacker Jaelan Phillips and safety Jevon Holland with one of the best defensive coaches in the league in Vic Fangio could take that side of the ball to the next level, much like McDaniel and Hill did on offense a year ago. The Dolphins defense ranked among the league's worst against the pass (27th) and in scoring defense (24th) under former defensive coordinator Josh Boyer in 2022, but four of Fangio's last five defenses have ranked top 10 or better in points allowed. Much of the NFL copies his two-high safety foundational structure, which says everything about the value he can provide on the South Beach sideline. If both sides of the ball in Miami play up to their potential, this is a franchise that could very well win the AFC East.
Scoring defenses under Fangio (last five seasons as coach)
|SEASON||FANGIO (COACHING ROLE)||PPG ALLOWED NFL RANK|
Broncos (head coach)
Broncos (head coach)
Broncos (head coach)
Bears (defensive coordinator)
Bears (defensive coordinator )