After 10 consecutive division titles, the New England Patriots enter the 2019 season with a stronghold on the AFC East. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Patriots are a combined 47-14 against divisional opponents in regular and postseason play.
That run of success doesn’t appear ready to change this season. New England finishes half of its divisional schedule before the month of September ends, hosting the New York Jets in Week 3 flanked by road trips to Miami and Buffalo.
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While the Jets look much improved and Bills making some interesting, yet productive roster moves, the East could become a competitive division sooner rather than later. How will the Patriots fare against their division rivals?
This is the first installment in a running series. Stay tuned tomorrow for analysis on the AFC North.
New York Jets
Home: September 22, 1 p.m. (Week 3); Away: October 21, 8:15 p.m. (Week 7)
The Jets did some tweaking in the offseason to strengthen its offensive line and its running game. The biggest move, of course, was signing Le’Veon Bell from Pittsburgh along with Ty Montgomery from the Ravens. Those additions will give quarterback Sam Darnold some backfield help.
In Bell’s career against the Patriots, he is 0-3 with 272 yards rushing and 181 yards receiving.
There’s also the acquisitions of Kelechi Osemele and Ryan Kalil to strengthen the offensive line, helping protect Darnold who was sacked 30 times in just 13 games. This should help elevate a Jets offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league in most major statistical categories.
Prior to the first week of the season, the Jets signed former Patriots’ receiver Braxton Berrios as well. A slot receiver with an element of Julian Edelman’s qualities, he will likely be a top target for Darnold.
On defense, the Jets lost top linebacker Avery Williamson for the season and will be without Brandon Copeland for the first four weeks. Up front, top draft pick Quinnen Williams is set to be a real difference-maker in the pass rush while the secondary got a boost by signing cornerback Brian Poole.
OUTLOOK: The Patriots might have a tougher than normal time with the Jets this season, especially given both matchups are early in the season. A victory at home should be in the cards but the road game in October for Monday Night Football could be a grind-it-out style.
Prediction: New England goes 2-0.
Home: December 21 or 22, TBD (Week 16); Away: September 29, 1 p.m. (Week 4)
A playoff contender, the Bills are the biggest threat to end New England’s run of consecutive division titles this season. Quarterback Josh Allen is much improved and his mobile style is something that gives the Patriots fit. As does their strong corps of multi-faceted running backs in Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon.
The Bills defense is loaded, headlined by rookie tackle Ed Oliver. Their linebacking unit is even stronger with Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, and Matt Milano leading the charge. In the secondary, Tre’Davious White and safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde will likely see the bulk of the snaps.
OUTLOOK: The Patriots have lost just three times to Buffalo over the past ten years. In the past, September trips to Buffalo are rarely routine and can often turn into shootouts. Containing Allen will be the key for New England in both meetings. But the final matchup, a pre-Christmas contest in Foxboro, could present a challenge with a desperate Buffalo team seeking a win to keep playoff hopes alive.
Prediction: The Patriots and Bills split the season series, 1-1.
Home: December 29, 1 p.m. (Week 17); Away: September 15, 1 p.m. (Week 2)
It was an interesting weekend in South Beach and not just because of the impending hurricane. The Dolphins parted ways with several key players including Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, and Kiko Alonso. Stills shredded the Patriots in his nine career games against New England, making 29 catches for 453 yards and four touchdowns – his highest yards total against any team.
The Dolphins, under first-year coach Brian Flores, are largely in rebuilding mode. Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the starting quarterback while Kenyan Drake, currently working back from a foot injury, will see the bulk of the carries. Without Stills, the Dolphins still have DeVante Parker and Allen Hurns as top targets.
That’s where things start to get dicey. The offensive and defensive lines are both extremely young and relatively untested. The rest of the defense is also pretty raw, especially at linebacker. The secondary has some talent with safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Reshad Jones along with corner Xavien Howard. Four former Patriots fill secondary spots as well – Ken Webster, Jomal Wiltz, Eric Rowe, and Johnson Bademosi.
OUTLOOK: Fitzpatrick has been relatively good against the Patriots in his career but he doesn’t exactly have the protection this season. The Patriots always struggle down in Miami, especially early in the year. But a late December home game for New England should be a guaranteed victory. As for the Week 2 affair, it’ll be proving time for a former Belichick disciple.
Prediction: New England goes 2-0, including an overtime win in September that could go either way.