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Is the AFC East Wide Open with Tom Brady's Departure from the Patriots?

Jets, Bills & Dolphins Could Challenge for Division Crown in 2020


Throughout the offseason, reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Olivia Landis and Randy Lange will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.

Today's question: Is the AFC East wide open following Tom Brady's departure?

EA: In our challenging times, the greatest sports moments of the spring belonged to Michael Jordan. "The Last Dance" was an entertaining documentary about the end of the Chicago Bulls dynasty as seen through the lens of His Airness. While Jordan retried for a second time after a second three-peat (before returning to the Washington Wizards in 2001), head coach Phil Jackson also vowed to never coach again (before leading the LA Lakers to an additional five NBA titles). Jordan left the Bulls as the best player in basketball but Chicago also lost its leader. Although Tom Brady isn't the best player in football anymore, Bill Belichick is as good as anyone coaching in the NFL and he remains in Foxborough. All of Belichick's six Super Bowls as head coach came with Brady as quarterback, but his eight overall rings are the most in league annals. No matter who plays QB, the Patriots aren't void of talent and they won't defeat themselves. New Jets RB Frank Gore believes the division is "wide open" and it does have that feel. Brady is in Tampa, the Bills are better and have made the playoffs two of the past three seasons, Sam Darnold has more to talent to work with in New York and the Jets have defensive studs and the Dolphins will be far more competitive. But someone has to step up and do it.

EG: Yes. Tom Brady's departure for Tampa Bay opened the door for the rest of the AFC East. Even if Jarrett Stidham takes over under center, it's hard to bet against Bill Belichick. New England's defense is also one of the best units in the NFL and in 2008 when Brady tore his ACL in Week 1, Matt Cassel led the Pats to an 11-5 record. With that being said, many believe the Bills are in line to take the divisional crown in 2020. After making the playoffs last season, Buffalo added star WR Stefon Diggs while improving a top-5 defense. The Jets can't be counted out, either. After clawing to a 7-9 finish after a 1-7 start, the Green & White improved their roster on both sides of the ball and are expecting a clean bill of health for both TE Chris Herndon and Pro Bowl LB C.J. Mosley in 2020. If QB Sam Darnold takes the leap many expect him to in his second year in Adam Gase's system and the revamped OL gives him time to throw and provides Le'Veon Bell more holes than last year, I think the Jets will have a real chance to compete for a playoff spot, if not the division.

RL: Without a doubt, the AFC East is now wide open, certainly compared to 2001-19. Tom Brady was 84-21 as the Patriots starter in regular-season matchups against the Jets, Bills and Dolphins in those seasons. Remove that record and his performances in those games and there's no other way to look at it for those three other teams, if they don't want to be eating New England's exhaust in the post-TB era as well. However, while I'm sure the fans of each Patriots division foe are salivating while contemplating ways to pay back their long-time nemeses, I have no doubt each of the three teams will not be thinking publicly in those terms and will adapt Adam Gase's approach to the Pats problem. "I think one of us actually has to go and do it, figure out a way to jump in front of New England," Gase has said. "It's tough because they've held on in the division for so long. I think we've just got to do a good job of focusing on what we have to do, to make sure we're doing everything right in our building."

*OL: *It's not often you determine how open a division is based off one individual player. However, when you're talking about a future Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever play the game, conversations change. After Tom Brady left the Patriots to head to the Buccaneers and the NFC South this offseason, it left the AFC East — as Jets RB Frank Gore puts it — "wide open." For the past 11 years, Brady and the Pats have claimed the division and often dominated their competitors. With a wide open AFC East still comes heavy competition, though. New England and Bill Belichick remain atop the NFL's defensive rankings — with or without their star QB — and Buffalo is predicted to make another convincing run for the divisional title following a playoff appearance last season. Miami is also in a heavy rebuild and has added many talented players to the roster this offseason. But GM Joe Douglas' new-and-improved Jets team shouldn't be overlooked either. Douglas invested heavily in the offensive line this offseason and selected one of the top tackles in the 2020 NFL Draft in Louisville's Mekhi Becton. Sam Darnold is a young talent entering his third season and second year in the same offense. Big returns are expected from LB C.J. Mosley and promising additions will have an opportunity to shine. It's safe to say the AFC East is anybody's game this year.

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