The more things change, the more they stay the same. Following the first week of the 2020 season, the AFC East looks the same as it did at the end of the 2019 season, as the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills sit at the top while the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins sit at the bottom.
New England Patriots 1 – 0:
The new-look Patriots, led by Cam Newton, defeated the Miami Dolphins 21-11 in their season-opener. The Patriots were one-dimensional, gouging the Dolphins for 217 rushing yards. However, one dimension was all New England needed. Miami’s run defense could not stop the Patriots, as the “run-pass option” was executed flawlessly. This game-plan allowed for a successful debut for Newton, who rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns. He was also efficient in limited attempts when passing, going 15 for 19.
Next up for the Patriots:
The Patriots will be on the road to take on the 1-0 Seattle Seahawks in what’ll be a primetime contest.
The Sunday Night matchup will be a true test for New England. The same strategy that the Patriots used against the Dolphins isn’t expected to work against the Seahawks, who only gave up 72 rushing yards to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. On the other hand, the Seahawks did allow Atlanta to pass for 434 yards.
Newton was the last starting quarterback to join a new team and is still learning the playbook. New England will have to dig deeper into the playbook because even if the RPO is successful, it takes too long to move up and down the field running the ball so heavily. One surefire way to counter the RPO is to put up points. Seattle’s quarterback Russell Wilson has consistently proved that he can light the scoreboard up. In Week 1, Wilson went 31 of 35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns.
Buffalo Bills 1 – 0:
Many experts picked the Bills to win the AFC East this year, starting that quest with a delightful 27 – 17 victory over the Jets. This game was not as close as the final score suggested, with the Bills leading 21 to 3 at halftime.
There was some good in this game for the Bills and some bad. Buffalo added top wideout Stefon Diggs, who led the team with 86 yards on eight receptions. The Bills had three wide receivers with more than 50 yards for the first time since 2015. Josh Allen also threw for over 300 yards, something that hasn’t been accomplished by a Bills quarterback since 2016.
As good as those numbers are, Allen made some big mistakes in this game. Allen fumbled twice and the ball sailed on many of his pass attempts. The saving grace for Buffalo was that the Jets were not good enough to make them pay for these missteps.
Next Up for the Bills:
The Bills will travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins in a Sunday 1 p.m. game.
Similar to that of New England, the pass-heavy attack Bills will likely look to exploit the Dolphins’ poor run defense exhibited in Week 1. Allen has the ability to do some of the same things that Newton and the Patriots did against the Dolphins. If the Bills successfully implement this game plan, they could find themselves on top of the AFC East after two games.
New York Jets 0 – 1:
The Jets finished the 2019 season hot. Despite that, many expected the Jets to take a step back in 2020. Based on their performance against Buffalo, they appear to be proving the pundits correct. The Jets struggled all around in this game, starting with quarterback Sam Darnold, who seemed lost at times. Darnold’s final stat line was 215 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The running game was also dealt a big blow with Le’Veon Bell going out with a hamstring injury. Playing from behind and with the injury, the Jets were only able to muster up 52 yards on the ground.
Next Up for the Jets:
Things don’t get any easier for the Jets, who host the reigning NFC champs, the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are coming off of a tough loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are loaded with weapons, yet San Francisco was in this game until the end. The Jets will still be without Bell and will need Darnold to play much better to have a chance in this one.
Miami Dolphins 0 – 1:
The Dolphins are in the second year of the rebuild and invested heavily on offense and defense this year. Between free agent acquisitions and new rookie starters, Miami was expected to see significant improvements in the run game, pass defense, pass protection and run defense. While pass protection was solid, the Dolphins could not stop the run in their loss to the Patriots.
More concerning was that the Dolphins’ offense lacked any spark or creativity. One benefit of sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and adding Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator was that the Dolphins could go deep into their playbook and challenge defenses. However, Miami for whatever reason did not show anything new.
The Patriots had no problems going against Miami’s vanilla offense. Fitzpatrick had three interceptions in this game. While two of them were not necessarily his fault, the one where he stared down his receiver late in the second quarter was a game-changer. Miami was gaining momentum on that a drive and that could have been the spark that got the offense going. However, the turnover was a momentum swing in the Patriots’ favor.
Next Up for the Dolphins:
Miami will have their home opener in front of limited fans against the Bills. While Buffalo attacked the Jets through the air, expect them to test Miami to see if they figured out their run defense woes. Miami stacked the box often against the Patriots to force them to pass. This would be dangerous to try versus the Bills. Miami will need to be more creative on offense, limit the turnovers and stop the run in order not to fall way behind early in the race for the AFC East. By the same token, a win could find Miami in a tie for the division lead two weeks in.