AFC East preview: Best bets for every team

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The VSiN pro football experts have been hard at work this summer, writing up team previews and predictions for all 32 teams, including their favorite individual season win total and College Football Playoff bets.

Here are the team previews and best bets for the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo has won 24 regular-season games over the last two seasons, but each year ended the same way: with a loss to Kansas City in the postseason. However, this season might be different. The Bills enter 2022 as the highest power-rated team by many and the preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl. The franchise is in great position to win its first Lombardi Trophy.

 

Offense

 

The Bills ranked fourth in expected points added per play (0.09), sixth in points per drive (2.63) and seventh in yards per play (5.9) last season, and much of that was due to the production of Josh Allen. Allen enters this season as the MVP favorite at DraftKings, but despite coming off a solid season in which he threw for 36 touchdowns and 4,407 yards, there are some hurdles he must overcome. Former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is now the head coach of the Giants, and Allen enters the first season of his career without Daboll calling plays. Allen also ranked 22nd among quarterbacks in turnover-worthy play rate (3.4%), and his career mark is 3.8%. He still finished sixth in overall offensive grade by PFF standards and is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Should he cut down on the turnovers and continue to thrive without Daboll, his path to an MVP is clear.

It is reasonable to question the Bills’ skill-position depth, specifically at wide receiver. Stefon Diggs is a proven commodity and caught 103 balls for 1,225 yards in 2021, his second consecutive season catching 100 or more passes. Gabriel Davis showed out in the divisional round loss to Kansas City, but a vast majority of his production came late in the season, and he must prove he can do it consistently. The rest of the pass catchers are solid but not top tier. Isaiah McKenzie only played 292 snaps last season and Jamison Crowder had his worst year as a pro. Dawson Knox and O.J. Howard make up the tight end rotation, but their PFF receiving grades of 65.9 and 63.0 are below average. There is no doubting Allen’s level of play the last two seasons, but the loss of Daboll and somewhat weak depth should keep bettors from overvaluing this offense.

Defense

Despite all of the eye-popping offensive numbers for the Bills last season, it was the defense that really impressed. Buffalo led the league in defensive EPA per play (-0.16), yards per drive allowed (26.11) and points per drive allowed (1.57), though most of that came against one of the easiest schedules in the league (12 of their opponents ranked 20th or lower in offensive DVOA). The Bills face just five teams that finished in the top 10 of offensive DVOA last season, but their schedule is more difficult (18th easiest) and divisional opponent Miami has better offensive talent. Given how great this unit was a season ago, there’s likely some regression coming for Buffalo.

 

That is not to say the Bills’ front office didn’t try to make this unit better. Von Miller was signed via free agency and DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle were brought in to add depth to the defensive line. However, if the Bills had a weakness last season it was its run defense, and that projects to be largely the same with no real additions to combat it. Buffalo allowed opponents to convert 74% of power situations and ranked 31st in open-field yards per carry (0.98). Miller has been a solid run defender, but where the Bills lack true run stuffers is along the interior and none were added.

 

Outlook

 

Buffalo has the highest win total at DraftKings (11.5) and is the preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl. It might seem easy to pencil the Bills in for 12 or more wins and a berth in the Super Bowl, but this team is not perfect. The loss of Daboll is huge and depth at wide receiver is a question. On top of that, their biggest weakness on defense remains. Buffalo is going to be a good team this season, but remember this squad was 7-6 after a Week 14 loss to Tampa Bay last season. It seems as if the market might be glossing over those flaws.

 

Pick: Under 11.5

Miami Dolphins

One could argue that the Dolphins have the best roster in the AFC East. Miami boasts plenty of speed, specifically at wide receiver, new head coach Mike McDaniel is a progressive-thinking offensive mind who will look to maximize that talent. However, none of that talent matters if Tua Tagovailoa is not ready to take a step forward in his development.

 

Offense

 

What can Tagovailoa do with McDaniel calling plays and Tyreek Hill playing alongside Jaylen Waddle? Tagovailoa might be one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, but his lack of desire to push the ball downfield has held him back. Last season he ranked 25th among qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.8), 36th in average depth of target (7.4) and his 29 attempts of 20 or more yards were third fewest among quarterbacks who started 10 or more games. It’s not that Tagovailoa needs to lead the league in deep passes, but his tendency to throw in front of the sticks makes it easier for teams to defend. Hill and Waddle have enough speed to take short passes and turn them into more, but Tagovailoa will need to add another dimension to his game if this team is going to evolve.

 

The offensive line also needs to be better, as Tagovailoa was under duress on 32.5% of his attempts, which was the 16th-highest rate in the NFL. That might not seem terrible, but given the fact that Tagovailoa posted one of the shortest times to throw among quarterbacks (2.18), it’s amazing he was pressured as often as he was. Terron Armstead was signed in the offseason to address some of the concerns at offensive line, but it’s not a perfect unit. Tagovailoa was also abysmal under pressure last season, throwing three touchdowns to seven interceptions while committing 15 turnover-worthy plays. If the line allows frequent pressure again, Miam’s offense is due for another subpar season.

 

Defense

The most underrated aspect of this team is its defensive line. Zach Sieler graded out as the third-best interior defender in the league last season and Christian Wilkins was sixth. Both players are balanced in their ability to rush the passer and defend the run, and both Emmanuel Ogbah and Andrew Van Ginkel are quality edge rushers. Miami also signed Melvin Ingram to give this unit depth along the edge. Where this team is weakest is linebacker, as none of the players graded better than a 662.0 by PFF standards against the run last season. The Dolphins finished 17th in rush defense DVOA and ranked 30th in defending power situations and open-field yards per carry (0.96). Linebacker will seemingly be a weakness again, but the back end of the defense more than makes up for it.

 

Miami’s secondary is strong with Jevon Holland, Xavien Howard and Eric Rowe protecting the back end. All three posted a 70.7 PFF coverage grade or better, and the team has quality depth in guys such as Nick Needham and Byron Jones. The Dolphins ranked third in defensive pressure rate last season, and with a vast majority of that group back, along with additions such as Ingram and a secondary with depth, bettors should expect this group to jump into the top half of the league in defensive efficiency.

 

Outlook

 

So much of the outlook relies on Tagovailoa. Two seasons and 754 dropbacks is hardly enough to draw a solid conclusion about who he is, but he has yet to show real dynamism. Miami owns the 19th-easiest schedule in the league, so this could be a daunting year, but with the Patriots potentially getting worse and the Jets relying on Zach Wilson, there is an opportunity to push for a playoff spot and surpass its win total. However, to lay a price of -120 on 9 wins is too much with questions at quarterback.

 

Pick: Under 9

New England Patriots

The Mac Jones era got off to a fantastic start last season as the rookie quarterback played an integral role in leading New England to 10 wins and a playoff berth. However, losses on the roster and coaching staff have the Patriots on tenuous ground.

 

Offense

 

It seems as if New England has its quarterback of the future. Jones was the 11th-best passer by PFF grading in 2021 and threw for 3,801 yards while posting a minimal 2.5% turnover-worthy play rate. The only area in which Jones truly struggled is when he was pressured. In those situations he averaged just 5.9 yards per pass attempt and committed six turnover-worthy plays on 156 dropbacks. Given his strengths, Jones projects to improve this season, but only if the system around him accelerates that growth.

 

From a skill-position standpoint, there is not much explosiveness on this roster. The wide receiving corps is solid, but both Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers catch a majority of their pass attempts no more than nine yards downfield. Meyers’ longest play was just 39 yards. Tyquan Thornton might be turning heads in training camp, but the rookie out of Baylor is still unproven. The tight end position is a potential weakness as well with Jonnu Smith coming off his least productive season (one touchdown). There is also the matter of who is running the offense. Both Joe Judge and Matt Patricia are seemingly trying out for the job of offensive coordinator and neither are Josh McDaniels, who had this unit ranked ninth in offensive DVOA last season. All in all, this unit is a candidate for regression.

 

Defense

 

One of the driving forces behind the Patriots’ successful season was a defense which was among the most productive in the league. New England forced 30 turnovers in 2021 while ranking fourth in defensive DVOA (-12.8%) and fifth in defensive EPA per play (-0.09). Unfortunately, this unit is a candidate for some real regression when you dive into its personnel.

 

The cornerback position could be a very large problem for Bill Belichick this season. J.C. Jackson, the Patriots’ best cover corner last season, departed in free agency. The best cover corner left by PFF standards is Jalen Mills, who posted a 63.4 cover grade and allowed 35 catches on 60 targets and a team-worst six touchdowns. The team coaxed Malcolm Butler out of retirement, but he was recently placed on injured reserve and will not play this season. Safety is in much better shape with Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty, but there is no doubt this secondary could be a problem this season.

 

There is also a chance New England struggles to rush the passer this season. Matthew Judon and Christian Barmore were the two leaders in pressures for the Patriots last season with 63 and 48, but where the other consistent pass rush comes from is a question. Kyle Van Noy is gone and Dont’a Hightower and Josh Uche totaled fewer than 20 pressures. This might be a front with some effective run defenders, but with a lackluster pass rush and poor corner group this defense will likely take a massive step back.

 

Outlook

 

New England received no favors as they have the eighth-hardest schedule in the league when using projected win totals. Outside of divisional games against Buffalo and an improved Miami squad, the Patriots will also face the Ravens, Packers, Browns, Colts, Vikings, Bengals and Raiders, with four of those games on the road. Jones does seem to be a legitimate quarterback, and the future is bright for New England, but there are just too many flaws to overlook this season.

 

Pick: Under 8.5

New York Jets

The Jets did a great job revamping its roster in a short time frame, but they enter 2022 with their biggest questions coming at the most important position. Quarterback Zach Wilson will start the season on the shelf, but when he returns it will be for a team that is set up for him to succeed.

 

Offense

 

The intriguing aspect of New York’s roster is the amount of talent it has, specifically on the offensive side. In a short amount of time, Joe Douglas has amassed prospects at every position and made the offense one that is seemingly waiting for a signal caller to make it work. The offensive line — even with the loss of Mekhi Becton to injury — is very solid. At wide receiver, the Jets have some good young talent in Braxton Berrios, Elijah Moore and Corey Davis, and they are joined by rookie Garrett Wilson. New York even has a quality group of running backs with Michael Carter and rookie Breece Hall at the top of the rotation. The front office has done everything it can, but now it’s on Wilson to show he can be a starting quarterback.

 

Wilson did not show many positive traits in his rookie season. In his 13 games he committed a turnover-worthy play on 3.8% of his pass attempts, and he invited pressure by holding on to the ball too long. In fact, PFF numbers assigned him blame on 19.7% of pressures, the sixth-highest rate in the league last season. His biggest strength was on short throws no further than nine yards downfield, an area of the field in which he completed 65.9% of his passes and did not commit a single turnover-worthy play. Wilson will get plenty of opportunity to show his stuff this season, and if he actually improves then this offense has an oddly high ceiling.

 

Defense

 

Robert Saleh had an empty cupboard to work with on defense last season, specifically in the secondary where he was starting fifth- and sixth-round rookies regularly. Cornerback gets much stronger this season with the addition of rookie Ahmad Gardner, who can play alongside newcomer D.J. Reed. New York goes from a secondary with late-round rookies to having two solid cornerbacks on top of the depth chart. The Jets ranked 31st in defensive EPA per pass play in 2021 (+ 0.22), and with the additions of Gardner and Reed alongside a safety pairing of Jordan Whitehead and Ashtyn Davis, this secondary should be greatly improved.

 

The front seven is a work in progress, but the Jets do have a cornerstone piece in edge John Franklin-Myers, who led the team in pressures (53) and sacks (6) last season. Their second-leading pass rushers in terms of pressures were Shaq Lawson and Bryce Huff, who posted only 17 pressures each. New York is dying for another pass rusher to pair with Franklin-Meyers, and there might not be one on this roster right now.  The run defense is likely going to be a weakness as well. The Jets ranked 21st in adjusted line yards per carry allowed (4.43) and 24th in both second-level yards per carry (1.28) and open-field yards per carry (0.8), and they did not add much in the way of a run-stopping defender in the offseason. New York ended up with the second-worst point differential in part because of their porous defense, but the secondary should be much better which should improve the pass rush.

 

Outlook

 

The Jets’ fate is tied to Wilson, who has been given the weapons and an offensive line to succeed. Should Wilson start to show signs of growth, this team could surprise given the upgrade of talent at multiple positions. However, if Wilson looks like the same quarterback as last season, the Jets could once again be picking near the top of the draft. There was nothing last season that showed his potential and now he must deal with the sixth-hardest schedule in the league. Hard to see where six wins come from for this group.

 

Pick: Under 5.5

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