Throughout the offseason, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange and Caroline Hendershot will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: What do you expect from the AFC East teams next season?
EA: The gap has closed, and my expectation is the gap will close even more in the offseason. Buffalo has captured the past three AFC East titles, but it was pushed around at the line of scrimmage and outclassed by the Bengals in the divisional round. The Jets and the Dolphins split with Buffalo (in the regular season) and Miami may have topped the Bills in the postseason with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa. The Jets have pivotal decisions to make on offense, but they'll get OL Alijah Vera-Tucker and RB Breece Hall back in the fold next season, Garrett Wilson is a star, plus they field one of the league's top defenses. The Patriots, a club that has won 14 straight against the Jets, also are stingy on defense and have upgraded at OC with the return of Bill O'Brien. In a few months after free agency and the draft, I wouldn't be surprised to see a co-favorite emerge in the division although Josh Allen remains a superstar.
EG: It's tough, but it's winnable. The Jets showed they can play against the division's best. They beat the Bills, who have won the division three years in a row, at MetLife Stadium and played them tough at Buffalo, holding Josh Allen to 147 passing yards. The Green & White's defense will play a big factor in their division success, lining up against high-powered offenses like Buffalo and Miami four times a season. The Patriots are always a difficult matchup and should have an improved offense with Bill O'Brien calling plays in New England (Miami's defense should be improved, too, with the addition of Vic Fangio). If the Jets offense can take a step forward and the defense can continue to play at a high level like it did in the 2022 season, it's not crazy to think they can make a run at the division crown. The Green & White has the pieces to be one of the better young teams in the NFL and with possibly a veteran signal-caller to be added this offseason, he could steer the ship near the top of the division.
RL: Three thoughts. (1) HC Robert Saleh and his new OC need to settle on a QB, whether it's Zach Wilson or someone else, to compete with the division's young, established starters: Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. That obviously is job one for the entire offseason/preseason. (2) The Jets need to keep their high-ranked defense purring along. The AFC East has the best division "D" in the NFL, based on its teams' average ranking of ninth in yards/game allowed in '22, best among the eight divisions, and its average ranking of 10.3 in points allowed, third-best among the divisions. Any defensive slippage by any division team would prove costly. (3) Nothing is etched in stone. The AFC East went from a .400 win percentage against non-division foes in 2018, worst in the league, to .581 this past season, third-toughest. The NFC East similarly went from .475 to a league-best .727 in the last five seasons. The AFC South plummeted from .575 in '18 to an ugly .273 in '22. So the AFC East is among the NFL's toughest divisions today, but things can look vastly different on opening day and beyond, so to all Jets fans, three familiar words: Keep the faith.
CH: The AFC East is going to look a lot different in 2023 than it did this past season. Starting with coaching changes, the Jets have a new OC in Nathaniel Hackett, the Dolphins will have a new DC in Vic Fangio, and the Patriots will have a new OC in Bill O'Brien. The Jets hope to add a veteran quarterback and a new signal caller could work behind a revamped offensive line. The Jets list of free agents include OL Connor McGovern, George Fant and Duane Brown, in addition to defenders Sheldon Rankins and Quincy Williams. The Jets' division rivals also have critical decisions to make on players with expiring contracts. Those include S Jordan Poyer and DT Jordan Philips in Buffalo; TE Mike Gesicki in Miami; and WR Nelson Agholor, S Devin McCourty and CB Jonathan Jones in New England. The Patriots are scheduled to have more than $32 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com.