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State of the Nation: Week 14

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NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

As the season winds down, I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at the AFC East as a whole. As this is the first article, I’ll be taking a broader look at the teams in the division. It’s an interesting year for teams as two teams are building for the future, one team is stuck in limbo, and the last one is an empire in the midst of decline. Let’s take a look:

Buffalo Bills 4-9

The Buffalo Bills are in a similar place as the Jets, not only in record, but also in team structure. The Bills loss to the Jets dropped them to 4-9 and showcased the similarities between the two teams. The Bills offensive line makes the Jets line actually appear competent, as they gave up pressures on nearly every dropback. The Bills also lack talent at wide receiver and have not seen much out of their young tight ends and running backs either. Josh Allen has had a comparable year passing to Sam Darnold, but once again showed his excellent scrambling ability, breaking contain regularly and rushing for over 100 yards. This gives him a ridiculous 335 rushing yards over the last 3 games, and although his passing has been poor this season, his athleticism and arm talent have proven his ceiling is through the roof if he can be developed. With one of the best defenses in the NFL and an offense totally lacking in talent, their future is entirely in the hands of their young quarterback.

Miami Dolphins 7-6

If you haven’t watched the end of the Dolphins-Patriots game, I highly recommend checking it out. This was one of the wildest finishes I’ve ever seen to a game that was also a delight to watch from start to finish (despite the teams involved.) Not only did the game end on an incredibly unlikely hook and ladder play, but it also featured the most lead changes in a game this season. The main takeaway from Miami Dolphins games this season is that this is a mediocre team that manages to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in odd games and might be able to sneak into the playoffs. Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, the talent really isn’t there to make a push in the playoffs on the road. Ryan Tannehill has been up and down, the skill players are mostly average, and the defense has some serious holes that a more talented offense could exploit. With 3 games to go, they may need to win out just to get the chance to play a wildcard game, though technically the division is still not off limits.

New England Patriots 9-4

While the New England Patriots remain the class of the AFC East, the end appears to be within reach. Though a lot has been said about Tom Brady’s decline this year, he’s on pace for around the same number of yardage, completion percentage, and yards per attempt. That said, he’s on pace for fewer touchdowns and more interceptions, dropping that ratio from 4-1 last season to about 2.8-1 this season, despite such improved passing stats this season. To explain just how nuts this season is for passing, Aaron Rodgers is considered to be having a bad year along with the Packers despite a 23-1 ratio. As a whole, the Patriots have been terrible on the road with their only wins on the road coming against the Jets, Bills, and Bears in a squeaker. The defense’s strongest players are all either aging or entering free agency and the offensive line has taken some hits over the last few years as well. Belichick’s coaching has also been suspect at times this year, making essentially every aspect of the team appear suspect at times. While the team remains dominant in comparison to its division rivals, questions about the future will only intensify as time and some poor management have chipped away at the empire.

New York Jets 4-9

The New York Jets finally ended their losing streak this week with a sloppy comeback win against the Bills. While it may not have helped their draft position, this season is all about Darnold and he showed up in the 4th quarter. While a lot of fans would like the Jets to end up with the #1 overall pick, it would likely mean that Darnold completely collapses down the stretch. No prospect the Jets could draft next year would come even close to being as valuable as Darnold panning out as the QB of the future. You could probably say that the next several drafts are irrelevant by comparison in this QB-driven league. A few draft spots don’t matter nearly as much as seeing positive development from Darnold and fans finally got to see him back on the field and back in the win column.

The Jets and Bills both have their chips in the pot on future QBs, and their development could determine the balance of power in the division for years to come as Miami’s quarterback situation remains unclear and Father Time begins to nick away at the Patriots.