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Crystal Ballin 2022: AFC East Edition


The AFC East division is quite unique in how the outlook has changed over the last few years. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have absolutely dominated their rivals since the turn of the decade. From 2001-2019, the Patriots have won the division 17 of those 19 years (the Jets in 2002 and Dolphins in 2008 were the only exceptions).

Buffalo has taken charge in the last two seasons (the first non New England team to do so since the Bills did so from 1988-1991) and established the start of their own run.

Some of the other teams this year have potential for sure, but rely on young quarterbacks for their breakout.

That being said, I will now be taking out my crystal ball and informing you all precisely how this upcoming season will play out.

If you guys enjoy this series, please let me know! I'd love to see any sort of feedback - be it questions, critique or suggestions! Thanks for reading and have an awesome day!

Note: All win totals are current as of the time of this writing via DraftKings Sportsbook


4. Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa has a lot of pressure on his shoulders - his left shoulder to be more specific. He is a highly accurate passer to be sure (66.2% completion for his young career), but no defensive coordinator will lose sleep over a deep ball threat. The 24 year old passer had put up plenty of solid stats in his two year career thus far but taking deep shots has not been a part of his game. Miami signed Teddy Bridgewater in free agency to provide a veteran presence behind Tua. Ironically he has never been known for his deep ball either.

The Dolphins have completely overhauled the ground game through free agency this offseason. Signing Arizona's Chase Edmonds, San Francisco's Raheem Mostert and LA's Sony Michel are now on the roster and are damn near guaranteed those top three spots on the depth chart, and they all compliment each other well. Edmonds is the young pass catching back who never received the featured role with the Cardinals. Mostert is injury prone, but was once graded as the fastest running back in the 2020 season. His explosiveness is always a threat to defenders. Michel is a veteran who performed well during his opportunity with the Rams, and will provide good depth.

The Dolphins made one of the many huge splashes during this insane offseason when they traded for Kansas City's Tyreek Hill back in March. His arrival adds to a receiving group that already has speed threat Jaylen Waddle, slot receiver Cedric Wilson, and a couple of depth guys in Preston Williams, Trent Sherfield, and rookie Erik Ezukanma. If Tagovailoa can't put up numbers and points with these guys (not to mention the beast Mike Gesicki and Hunter Long at tight end), then I believe Miami will look to move on from him in 2023. The signings of former Saint Terron Armstead at offensive tackle and former Cowboy Connor Williams on the interior can only improve the line going into 2022. Tua has no excuses.

The Dolphins defense was the definition of average in 2021, but should improve this year as their young guys gain experience. With Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis on the front line, that's a solid group. Those guys combined for 15 sacks last year and could be even better moving forward.

Edge rusher Jaelan Phillips is an incredible young talent who will continue to improve. He was disruptive in his rookie year with 8.5 sacks as the 18th overall pick in 2021. Andrew Van Ginkel is a decent rusher opposite Phillips, who notched 4.5 sacks on his own. It'd be nice to see Miami target another pass rusher next offseason to take some focus off of Phillips, but Van Ginkel is fine for now.

Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts are a solid pair as inside linebackers. They are a nice duo in the middle of that defense as run stuffers and it will be interesting to see how they utilize third round pick Channing Tindall from the Georgia Bulldogs.

Xavien Howard is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, and he forms a really good team with Byron Jones. They are a lockdown tandem who has combined for 17 interceptions in their two seasons together (although 15 of those were from Howard). There is some really good depth behind the pair as well with Nik Needham, Noah Igbinoghene, Eric Rowe and Keion Crossen. Igbinoghene is a great young talent, who should hopefully develop well behind those stars.

Jevon Holland is a very good young safety, paired with a player in Brandon Jones who is excellent in rushing the quarterback from the position, but played pretty poorly in coverage - although he is focused on improving that fact.

2021 Record: 9-8

The Dolphins nearly made the playoffs last season, with a 9-8 record as the AFC's 10th seed. Very similar to the Saints, they finished just below the 9-7-1 7th seeded Steelers record wise. One would assume the additions of Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson and the trio of running backs can only improve the 25th ranked offense.

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2022 Key Performer: EDGE Jaelan Phillips

As I mentioned earlier, Phillips had an excellent rookie season. His 42 tackles, 8.5 sacks and fumble recovery came when he only started 5 of his 17 games. He should take the next step toward putting his name out there as one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL.

57 Tackles, 12.5 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles

2022 Over/Under: 9

It is assumed that Miami will improve over last year, but with the 14th most difficult strength of schedule, I don't believe head coach Mike McDaniel will be ale to take Tua Tagovailoa and this Dolphins team to the next level.

Crystal Ball Says: 5-12


3. New York Jets

The Jets are one of the teams I'm most excited to watch in 2022. Obviously quarterback Zach Wilson didn't have a good rookie year. His 55.6% completion number, 9 touchdown to 11 picks and 69.7 Quarterback Rating were abysmal numbers. The front office have added a boatload of help for Wilson, however in the offseason.

In the backfield, Iowa State's Breece Hall joins Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman to help stabilize the ground attack. Carter is a solid change of pace/pass catching back, but Hall looks to be the full package.

New York's receiving core has potential as well, with Corey Davis as the veteran possession guy, young slot wideout Elijah Moore for explosion and the great route running first round pick Garrett Wilson form a trio with great and diverse talent. Even behind them, Braxton Berrios and Denzel Mims provide some nice depth as a slot a deep threat, respectively.

Some other intriguing options include the signings of tight ends C.J. Uzomah (from the Bengals) and Tyler Conklin (from the Vikings) to group with rookie third rounder Jeremy Ruckert. Even more so than Tua in Miami, Zach WIlson has a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed this year - and I believe he will thrive.

Offense isn't the only side of the football with upside, as their defense looks to be improved as well. They were literally the worst defense in the NFL in 2021, so of course there's nowhere to go but up.

With Carl Lawson returning from his ruptured Achilles, he joins Quinnen Williams (6 sacks), John Franklin-Myers (6 sacks), new addition Jacob Martin (4 sacks in Houston), Sheldon Rankins (3 sacks) and explosive rookie Jermaine Johnson II as the 26th overall pick. This could develop into an elite Carl Lawson/Jermaine Johnson II pass rushing tandem, and that means great things for the future of the New York Jets.

The linebackers here are decent, with stud C.J. Mosley but Hamsah Nasirildeen and Quincy Williams have some of their game to improve.

Fourth overall pick Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner comes into this secondary and improves it exponentially. He is probably going to end up as the best cornerback from this class. Gardner should provide this defense with their best corner since prime Darrelle Revis. He will be the number one and shut down most opposing receivers. Alongside him is D.J. Reed Jr. who is a solid defender in his own right. Bryce hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II and Javelin Guidry make some great depth in the cornerback room as well.

Jordan Whitehead comes in through free agency from Tampa Bay and provides stability at one safety spot, joining Lamarcus Joyner who is coming off of a torn tricep which forced him to miss the entirety of last season. He is healthy for the 2022 season, but veteran Will Parks and Ashtyn Davis are good backup options if they are needed.

2021 Record: 4-13

Zach Wilson's rookie struggles and overall lack of weapons and terrible defense lead to the Jets having that fourth overall pick mentioned earlier. It was a bad situation all around and a lose-lose for everybody involved.

2022 Key Performer: QB Zach Wilson

I mentioned all of the new additions to this offense, and the offensive line looks pretty solid. Despite his bad showing last season, Wilson has plenty of talent. A strong arm and nice mobility should help keep plays alive and threaten the defense in multiple ways on any given play. Between a route runner, veteran possession receiver, slot guy, pass catching backs, a couple of reliable tight ends and an improved line, there is just too much offensive talent on this New York offense to fail.

328/535 (61.3%) 3,424 Yards 29 TDs 9 INTs

310 Rushing Yards 3 TDs

2022 Over/Under: 5.5

A lot of people don't give the Jets a second look. Most don't want to give Wilson and this new-look offense a shot. I believe we will see opposing teams think the same way, and New York will make them pay with a few upset wins. They won't make any sort of playoff run, but the Jets will put the league on notice that this is a team to take seriously.

Crystal Ball Says: 7-10


2. New England Patriots

Bill Belichick in the eyes of many is on the hot seat when it comes to keeping up with Tom Brady's success. New England made a step forward last season, making the postseason as the 6th seed and they hope to improve this year.

Mac Jones was solid and reliable as a rookie. His numbers (67.6%, 3,800 yards 22 scores to 13 picks) was by far the best for first year passers. He gained the respect of many, despite only two games of 300+ passing yards and two showings of 3 touchdowns (four separate games). He gets more weapons, as the Pats signed wide receiver DeVante Parker from the rival Dolphins as well as (surprisingly) drafted Tyquan Thornton in round 2. They join presumed WR1 Jakobi Meyers and veterans Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor to form a decent receiver group along with the dynamic duo of tight ends in red zone threat Hunter Henry and the versatile Jonnu Smith.

If you play fantasy football, you know how unpredictable running backs on the Patriots are. As of now Damien Harris slots as the starter, but with bulldozer Rhamondre Stevenson and rookies Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris behind him, I don't know if even Belichick knows who will see the bulk of the workload... not to mention veteran receiving back James White (who could potentially open the 2022 season on the PUP list).

The front seven isn't anything really special if we're being honest. Mathew Judon did rack up 12.5 sacks, but that number is more than double the next highest sack total (5.0 for Kyle Van Noy). Mack Wilson Sr. comes over from Cleveland to join forces with Judon and Ja'Whaun Bentley in that linebacking group. Christian Barmore had a very good rookie season as a run defender but only picked up 1.5 sacks as a pass rusher.

The Patriots took a big gamble when they allowed an arguably top 5 cornerback to leave in free agency. J.C. Jackson signing with the Chargers was a major move, as he signed a 5 year $82.5 million deal with $40 million guaranteed. This departure hurts the secondary big time, as they are now starting Jalen Mills, 32 year old Malcolm Butler and Jonathan Jones, who is coming off a shoulder injury. The safeties are really deep, with Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabril Peppers... but you can only do so much on the back end when the rest of your defense is lacking.

2021 Record: 10-7

New England's playoff run was stifled immediately as they traveled to Buffalo to get trounced, 47-17. They stood no chance no the opening whistle and learned just how dangerous their rival really is.

2022 Key Performer: WR Jakobi Meyers

Meyers has been an underrated receiver for a couple years now. He finished last season with 83 receptions for 866 yards but only 2 scores (along with 59 catches for 729 yards in 2020). While not eye popping numbers, he has been a solid target in this offense. I don't think Mac Jones will put up 40 touchdowns or anything, but Meyers will score more times this year than he ever has in his career (obviously not hard, as he only has 2 scores in his 3 year career).

131 Targets, 90 Receptions 1,036 Yards 5 TDs

2022 Over/Under: 8.5

Nothing but average here, as I don't believe the 2022 Patriots will be anything special - especially considering how talented the AFC conference is. I was very tempted to drop New England down to third below the Jets, but this is the record the Crystal Ball came up with.

Crystal Ball Says: 8-9


1. Buffalo Bills

Buffalo fans are ecstatic about then outlook of their team in the present and for the future... and for good reason. The Bills have looked incredible over the last two seasons and they have their franchise quarterback. Josh Allen's first two seasons looked awful, but he has turned it around miraculously in the recent two. He threw for the 7th most yards last season and put up 36 touchdowns to go along with 763 yards and 6 scores on the ground. This kind of dual threat ability makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game... although it might not be that way for much longer.

After the botched signing attempt of J.D. McKissic in free agency, the Bills went out of their way to draft a player with a very similar skill set in the second round in Georgia's James Cook. When you look at what the Buffalo front office has been attempting to do there, you do notice the determination to acquire a pass catching running back. When the quarterback runs, those types of backs are almost useless. I believe the Bills want to keep their franchise player as healthy as possible.

Cook joins a mediocre at best backfield consisting of the average Devin Singletary and Zack Moss.

Everyone is pumped for the receiver duo of Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis. Diggs is on a streak of four straight seasons of 1,000+ yards and 6+ scores (he has averaged 115 catches for 1,380 yards and 9 touchdowns since joining Buffalo) and Davis put up a decent season, but broke out in the AFC title game with the lights on brightest (8 catches on 10 targets for 201 yards and an NFL record four trips to the end zone).

The team also released productive slot receiver Cole Beasley, but replaced him in free agency with a similar player in veteran Jamison Crowder. Dawson Knox and O.J. Howard provide threats at tight end and round out an incredible group of offensive weapons for Josh Allen.

An up and down defense has been the weakness for this team for awhile now. At times they step and make plays (10 games of allowing under 20 points, including two shutouts) but they've been really inconsistent and unreliable (four games they allowed 30+ points) not to mention that three play, 13 second drive in the divisional round game against the Chiefs.

To their credit, the Bills have made an effort to improve this side of the football. Buffalo drafted cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford to join the elite Tre'Davious White, Taron Johnson, Cam Lewis and Dane Jackson in the secondary. Of course Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are one of the best and most consistent safety tandems in the league.

There is plenty of potential on the front seven, with the beast Gregory Rousseau (4 sacks in his rookie year), Ed Oliver (4 sacks last year), Daquan Jones and Shaq Lawson. Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are a great linebacking duo, as they combined for 194 tackles last season.

Of course the big story was the signing of former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller to a 6 year, $120 million deal. Of course it's not quite as large of a deal as it sounds, but adding Miller is still a huge boost to this pass rush.

2021 Record: 11-6

Buffalo arguably should be Super Bowl champions. The ending of that 42-36 Bills/Chiefs game could have gone either way. They very well could have won out and taken home the Lombardy Trophy last year.

2022 Key Performer: EDGE Von Miller

I touched on him a bit earlier, but I can't stress enough how much of an impact Miller is going to have on this defensive unit. If he stays healthy, the 2x Super Bowl champion will put up double digit sacks and teach the young guys everything they need to learn.

Miller seemed to be rejuvenated following the trade from Denver to Los Angeles in the beginning of November (9.0 sacks in the 8 regular season games and four postseason games combined). He should continue to thrive and help bolster that Buffalo defense.

72 Tackles, 14.0 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 Interceptions

2022 Over/Under: 11.5

The Bills offense should remain status quo (ranked 3rd in total offense) if not see improvement due to the breakout and bolstered target share of Gabriel Davis. If the defense see as big of an upgrade as I'm expecting, Buffalo will be a major force in the league, despite playing in the tough AFC conference.

Crystal Ball Says: 13-4

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