The Patriots (14-2) have dominated the AFC East for the last 16 years, winning the division title 14 times. During that span, they’ve also won five of seven Super Bowl appearances, including a 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons (11-5) in Super Bowl LI.
The Dolphins (10-6), fueled by the emergence of second-year halfback Jay Ajayi, finished second in the division. However, they lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a knee injury in Week 14. As a result, they saw an early exit from the playoffs, losing to the Steelers (11-5) in the wildcard round.
The Bills (7-9) ranked as high as No. 5 in our Week 6 BES Rankings after a 4-2 start to the season. However, nagging injuries to key players, including star halfback LeSean McCoy (hamstring/thumb), underscored their 3-7 finish.
Meanwhile, the Jets (5-11) never established themselves in the AFC East. They were unable to build upon their encouraging 10-6 finish from the prior 2015-16 season.
Here’s a closer look at how the AFC East finished in our final Week 17 report of 2016:
HOW THEY FINISHED
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The Bills hired Sean McDermott as their new head coach. He has an extensive background as a defensive coordinator for both the Eagles (2009-10) and Panthers (2011-16).
Additionally, McDermott was a former national high school wresting champion and a walk-on, All-Conference safety at the College of William & Mary. Therefore, at age 42, he brings energy and toughness to the Bills as he implements his heavy zone, 4-3 defensive scheme.
Overall, McDermott seems like a good fit for a Bills defense that was 25th in BES Defense last season. However, he faces the task of ending a Bills playoff drought that dates back to 1999.
NOTABLE PLAYER TRANSACTIONS
We’ve maintained that our data can provide a framework of how teams might approach the draft and address needs. Here are the rookies we feel will have the most impact on each team’s weakest area(s) in BES performance:
AFC EAST BALANCE OF POWER
The Bills and Dolphins are candidates to disrupt the Patriots hold on the division. Both teams became more balanced this offseason. However, there’s still some uncertainty surrounding their respective defenses. Meanwhile, the Jets have an abysmal quarterback situation and lost too many veteran leaders in free agency to consider them a contender.
Overall, barring a rash of injuries, there’s little reason the Patriots shouldn’t make a ninth consecutive defense of their AFC East title. They reinforced one of the league’s more explosive offenses while bolstering depth on defense. More importantly, future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady has reportedly looked hungrier and more focused than ever. As long as that’s the case, the Patriots will rule the AFC East.