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2022 NFL Team-By-Team Analysis: AFC EAST

By CaptainPicks

Photo by All-Pro Reels

Here at CaptainPicks, we’re getting prepared for the 2022 NFL season by bringing you a full series of NFL team previews. We’ll go division-by-division with breakdowns and roster analysis for every team in the NFL, starting today with the AFC East. Who’s ready to bet on football and win in 2022?

Buffalo Bills 

With a complete roster, a top-three quarterback, and an excellent coaching staff, it’s with good reason that the Bills are the betting favorite to win the super bowl. At times, Josh Allen can be borderline indefensible; he can make every throw in structure, out of structure, and his QB runs can be downright devastating.

The biggest shakeup comes to the Bills coaching staff, where QB coach Ken Dorsey was promoted to replace OC Brian Daboll, who left for the Giants. With Allen taking ownership of the offense, and the highly-regarded Dorsey offering continuity, we expect a smooth transition. However, there is an element of unknown for a guy calling plays for the first time.

Last year, Allen and the Bills got the same treatment as Mahomes; teams forced them to be patient, dink and dunk, and hope they could induce a mistake  – a strategy that was often successful. Expect the Bills to be more efficient taking what the defense gives them this year. That means an improved running game and more consistency in the short and horizontal passing game.

Sean McDermott has indicated he wants to run the ball more, as the team has been criticized at times for a lack of physicality. Devin Singletary came on pretty strong at the end of last year, and second-round pick James Cook should immediately fill a much-needed role catching passes out of the backfield as an extension of the run game.

The Bills’ turned over the receiver room this offseason, moving on from veterans Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley, signing Jamison Crowder, and creating space for Isaiah McKenzie and Gabriel Davis to step into larger roles. Though Davis and McKenzie are somewhat unproven, we expect this group could be even better than last year’s. Crowder is an upgrade over Beasley, and Davis looks primed to become a bonafide number two guy opposite Diggs off his incredible four-touchdown playoff game.

The Bills focused on being more schematically flexible on offense this offseason. For example, adding tight-end OJ Howard means we could see more two-tight-end sets.

The offensive line is the biggest question mark for the Bills, but as in previous seasons, Allen only needs a passable line to play in front of him. Right guard Ryan Bates and right tackle Spencer Brown should both improve in their second years as starters, and should one get hurt or falter they have decent depth behind them. Beyond protecting Allen, this line needs to prove it can be physical in the run game.

Led by Leslie Frazier, Buffalo’s defense is as well-coached as any group in the league. Buffalo was first in total defensive DVOA and pass DVOA in 2021; if anything, the defensive personnel is better in 2022.

Schematically, Buffalo lives in nickel; they had five defensive backs on the field 92% of the time, which led the league.

Top corner Tre White started camp on the PUP list, coming off his torn ACL on Thanksgiving last year. With a tough early season schedule, Buffalo will need him back sooner than later. First-round corner Kaiir Elam is held in high regard but corner is typically a position with a significant rookie learning curve. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are perenially among the top pairings in the league.

If we’re looking for potential issues, depth at the corner could be one, but every team in the NFL is an injury away from trouble at some position.

With Von Miller aboard, Buffalo projects to have one of the best and deepest pass rush units in the NFL, and Miller should be a force multiplier for young edges Greg Rousseau, AJ Epenesa, and Boogie Basham. Rousseau especially is a physical specimen who we believe is poised to jump a level in year two. Shaq Lawson also joins the edge group as an under-the-radar signing.

The AFC East will play an out-of-conference schedule against the NFC North.

The Bills’ schedule is very difficult in the first eight weeks before softening in the second half of the season. They visit the Rams to open the season, are @Ravens in Week 4, @Chiefs in Week 6, and home for the Packers in Week 8.

Miami Dolphins

Miami threw every resource possible into improving the offense around Tua Tagovailoa. As he enters his third season, the common sentiment of the offseason is there are no more excuses.

Tua has been mistake-prone in his first two seasons, and the question is whether that’s mostly an outgrowth of a poor supporting cast. Miami’s offensive line was 32nd in pass block win rate in 2021.

Kyle Shanahan disciple Mike McDaniel replaces Brian Flores as head coach and will bring a version of his creative, run-oriented philosophy. The staple of Shanahan’s offense is the wide-zone run, which gets defensive bodies flowing laterally, sets up one-cut running lanes for backs to hit, and marries those zone runs to play action and west coast passing concepts. With the defense flowing in one direction, the offense looks to hit them with horizontal and in-breaking routes like slants and crossers. Tua’s accuracy is a good fit for this quick-read passing game.

With Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson joining Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins’ top receivers are all vertical threats and together can cause major headaches. The yards after catch potential is especially tantalizing.

“The biggest thing for us is YAC. We want to YAC the heck out of teams,” Tagovailoa said in April. McDaniel will look to find any and every way to get the ball in their hands quickly and in space.

Mike Geisicke is also back on the franchise tag, and Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmunds, and Sony Michel were signed in a complete overhaul of the running back room.

The most important move of the offseason was signing left tackle Terron Armstead from New Orleans.  After a series of draft whiffs by GM Chris Grier, Miami’s offensive line was among the worst in the league a year ago. Guard Connor Williams comes over from Dallas and it appears they plan to play him at the center. Even with two new starters, the reshuffled offensive line remains the biggest question mark on this team. Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson, both of whom were high draft picks, look set to compete for the starting right tackle job, but neither has proven they can hold down the position.

McDaniel retained defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, and in contrast to the offense, the entire defense remains virtually unchanged from last season. Brian Flores certainly had significant influence over the defense in his tenure, so one open question is how Boyer’s defense will look different under McDaniel, if at all.

Second-year outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips, coming off an 8.5 sack rookie season, is expected to take a leap in year two, and second-year safety Jevon Holland is already among the elite players at his position.

With Holland in center field, and Xavien Howard and Byron Jones at cornerback, the Dolphins boast one of the top secondaries in the league, and that group unlocks the Dolphins’ blitz-heavy approach. Miami blitzed as much as any team in the league last year. The concern on the back end would be depth at cornerback behind the two starters.

Most of the Dolphins’ furious second-half surge last year was powered by feasting on awful opponents. So we’ll need to wait and see just how good this defense is when they play top-level quarterbacks you can’t blitz.

The Dolphins’ schedule for the first month of the season is difficult; after a visit from the Patriots in week 1, they are @Ravens, home for the Bills, and @Bengals. Their schedule softens in the middle of the year before stiffening significantly down the stretch. Week 13 starts a four-game stretch, @Niners, @Chargers, @Bills, Packers. Yikes.

New England Patriots

With Josh McDaniels in Vegas, the Patriots appear poised to go without an offensive coordinator this year. New England now has Matt Patricia installing a new offensive scheme, with Joe Judge as an “offensive assistant.” Neither of them has an offensive coaching background, yet they’ll fill prominent roles on the offensive staff – and it remains unclear who will call the plays. All this makes it tough to project the outlook for the Pats’ offense.

Mac Jones had the best rookie season among his quarterback class last year, distinguishing himself with his accuracy and pocket poise – but McDaniels departure doesn’t bode well for Jones as he enters his second season.

Belichick has been uncharacteristically candid in his praise of Jones.

“His offseason work has been significant, and I think everyone recognizes how well he prepares and how much further along he was then a year ago,” said Belichick early in camp.

Aside from schematic questions, the Pats receiver group remains uninspiring. They traded for Devante Parker from Miami and added speedster Tyquan Thornton in the second round. Parker is not a guy who consistently separates and you wonder why Miami was more than willing to trade him within the division. Kendrick Bourne and Jacoby Meyers remain as solid holdovers, and Nelson Agholor is also, still around. With the two tight ends, the Pats have pass-catching depth but no standout playmakers.

With Rhamondre Stevenson, and Damien Harris (add in rookie Pierre Strong Jr.), we would expect the Patriots to be a ground-and-pound offense, with heavy play action.

Guard Shaq Mason and G/C Ted Karras are on new teams so the Pats’ offensive line will have two new starters. They did add guard Cole Strange in the first round, who should step in as an immediate starter. This is a position where the Pats have earned the benefit of the doubt, but depth, especially at tackle, could become an issue.

New England also has question marks on defense.

While their safeties are solid and versatile, top corner JC Jackson left in free agency, and they replaced him by signing Malcolm Butler (who didn’t play in 2021) and drafting two mid-round corners. Jonathan Jones should return healthy as the slot guy, but the rest of the group is uninspiring.

The standout on the backend for New England is third-year safety, Kyle Dugger. Dugger exemplifies the versatility Belichick (and much of the NFL) is looking for from players in the secondary. He’s athletic, tackles well, and plays everywhere; he really excelled last year locking down tight ends.

At linebacker, they moved on from Hightower and Winovich to be more coverage oriented at the position, but are short on proven entities here as well. We expect safety Jabrill Peppers will play a lot of dime linebacker.

The defensive line is the strength of the defense, with Matt Judon, Davon Godchaux, and Christian Barmore, who had a standout rookie season as an interior disruptor. Pats will need to break out second-years from Barmore and edge Josh Uche. Otherwise, we’re not sure the back end can hold up.

The depth chart on defense points to 5-6 defensive backs being on the field at all times for New England. With Belichick crafting game plans, this can be an above-average defense, but we don’t see the talent and playmaking to be a top-end group.

Betting against Bill Belicheck over the last two decades would have cost you a lot of money, but Belichick the general manager hasn’t drafted well over the last half-decade. Those poor drafts are showing up now, as the Patriots are capped out with a rookie quarterback. With numerous question marks, New England is poised to take a step back, even if Mac Jones steps forward.

Other than home games versus the Lions and Bears in the first six weeks of the season, the Patriots will face a consistent schedule of quality opponents. Their non-division schedule includes games vs the Ravens, @Packers, Colts, @Raiders, and home for the Bengals.

New York Jets

The Jets improved their roster as much as any team in the league this offseason, bolstering the skill positions around second-year QB Zach Wilson while shoring up their biggest weakness in the secondary.

New York took Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson with the 10th overall pick and traded up in the second round to grab running back Breece Hall. They also overhauled the tight end, signing CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, and drafting Wilson’s teammate Jeremy Ruckert. Hall could contribute immediately in the short passing game, providing a safety blanket for Wilson.

Signing two starting caliber tight-ends and drafting a third, signals a desire to play more two-tight end sets. Despite the weak tight end room in 2021, Mike LaFleur’s offense was still league average in percentage of snaps in 12 personnel.

Pulling it all together, with promising second-year receiver Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Wilson, Braxton Berrios, and a solid offensive line and backfield, the Jets have the weapons to be a very good offense. GM Joe Douglas has done an excellent job building this team, but of course, it will all come down to QB Zach Wilson.

Wilson completed just 55.6% of his passes, held onto the ball way too long, and struggled with decision-making in his rookie year. In coordinator Matt Lafleur’s west-coast style offense, they need Wilson to make quick, precise throws within the offensive structure – which would require a sizable leap forward from the young QB in year two.

Lafleur showed promise as a first-career coordinator, and now he has all the talent he needs to make it work – but it’s all about Wilson.

The Jets were dealt a massive blow in training camp, as third-year tackle Mekhi Becton is expected to miss the entire season for the second straight year with a knee injury. The Jets signed 36-year-old veteran tackle Duane Brown following the Becton injury.

Signing corner DJ Reed from Seattle, drafting corner Ahman Gardner with the fourth overall pick, and bringing in former Buc safety Jordan Whitehead should fortify what was a terrible secondary a year ago.

The Jet’s defensive line group is deep and talented. Quinnen Williams is the standout, the return of Carl Lawson is a boost, and they also added Florida State defensive end, Jermaine Johnson, in the first round. Johnson profiles early as strong against the run, and the Jets will need it; they ranked 26th in DVOA against the run in 2021. The linebacker group, however, remains a weakness. CJ Mosley has been oft-injured and less effective since arriving from Baltimore.

The Jets face a brutal schedule early in the first half of the season before their Week 9 bye, including home games versus the Bengals and Ravens, and road games versus the Packers and Broncos. The slate eases up a bit after the bye, but they’ll still have visits to each team in the division in the second half of the year.

DVOA statistics & strategic tendencies sourced from Football Outsiders