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Is There a Seismic Shift Underway in the AFC East?

Throughout the season, reporters Eric Allen, Randy Lange and Ethan Greenberg will each give their answers to a series of questions regarding this year’s team.

EA: No. Not yet anyway. The NFL season will reach its first quarter point this weekend and the Dolphins have a wonderful opportunity ahead of them against the Patriots. If they secure a road win at Gillette Stadium, they’ll not only be 4-0 but also 2-0 in the division with both of those Ws coming away from home. Since 2001, the Patriots have won 15 of the last 17 division championships including the last nine in a row. They certainly have looked vulnerable early in the season, but we’ve seen this script before. Tom Brady will get Julian Edelman back in Week 5 and Bill Belichick said on Friday that Josh Gordon is working hard on and off the field. More concerning for the Patriots is the play of their defense that is yielding 406.3 Yds/G and 25.7 Pts/G. The Dolphins have won three relatively tight ball games to date with a stingy defense and opportunistic offense. They haven’t overwhelmed, but they continue to get the job done. I like how both the Jets and the Bills are positioned for the long term. They have talented rookie signal callers in Sam Darnold and Josh Allen who will experience peaks and valleys, but they each have special qualities. Both of their defenses are playing well and each club looks like it will have plenty of financial flexibility next spring. But as Jaguars coach Doug Marrone stated this week, the Jets easily could be 3-0 and they are going to be tough out every week. If they could somehow score a victory on the road in Jacksonville, they’ll be in a great position to start the season’s second quarter. Let’s see what the Bills have for an encore today in Green Bay after that improbable destruction of Minnesota. We’re just getting started.

RL: The premise of the question derives from the AFC East standings after three weeks: The Dolphins are 3-0 while the Patriots, Jets and Bills are all 1-2. Hey, what’s up with that? But consider this: In the eight seasons from 2010 through 2017, New England was 23-9 in the first quarters of those seasons combined, a .719 winning percentage. Not bad at all, but in a few of those starts, such as 1-2 in 2012, 2-2 in ’14 and last year, media and fans were all a-tremble: What’s wrong with the Patriots? Is the Bill and Tom Show finally over? Not quite. The Pats went 79-17 in the last three quarters of those seasons, an .823 win percentage, first place in the division and the playoffs all eight years. Then there’s Miami — 3-0 start in 2002, 6-7 finish, 9-7 overall, third place, no playoffs; 3-0 start in 2013, 5-8 finish, 8-8 overall, third place, no playoffs. Predicting a “seismic shift” in the AFC East after 19% of the results are in is a fool’s errand. As much as I’d like to see the Jets rise up, beat the Pats twice and the Bills twice and challenge the ‘Fins for division dominance while the Pats crawl home under .500, I’ll need a lot more data before venturing out on that limb.

EG: Long story short, it’s early. There’s tons of football left to be played and as head coach Todd Bowles says every year, teams are still developing identities. However, I’m very curious to see what happens in Sunday’s Dolphins-Patriots game. I think it could almost be somewhat of a litmus test for Miami because we’ve seen this movie before in Foxborough. The bad start, the comeback, etc. In his career, Tom Brady is 21-10 against the Dolphins with a rating of 91.2. If Miami can pull away with a win, I think tons of questions will arise whether or not this is the year of the Patriots’ downfall. But for me, until there’s 0:00 left on the clock and the Pats aren’t in first place in the AFC East come late December, then I’ll believe it. Like I said before, there’s still so much football left to be played. As it stands, the Jets, Pats and Bills are all 1-2 and if the Jets can reach the quarter mark even at 2-2, I think they’re in a good position moving forward with three home games in a row (Broncos, Colts and Vikings). First you have to get through this week, but I’m not buying stock in the fact that there’s a shift right now.

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