What makes a football team better? A coach and a quarterback. In New England, we’ve had the best of both for nearly two decades. During that same period of time, the Patriots’ AFC East brethren have been distant also-rans, going through coaches and quarterbacks like Depends and hand sanitizer in a nursing home. However, as the 2019 season begins to come into focus the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills each have young and talented quarterbacks as well as younger, fresher faces leading their teams at head coach. There are questions aplenty on all six of these guys, but for the first time in a long time not all the questions are bad.
My question is this: will one of these coach/quarterback combinations finally hit for these woe begotten franchises?
With three highly drafted and highly touted quarterbacks coming out of the 2018 draft, now all playing in the same division, the odds are good that one of these quarterbacks will make the leap. The door in the AFC East will eventually open as the Patriots begin to transition to the post-Brady/Belichick era. The Jets, Dolphins and Bills are building with that opportunity in mind. Which one has the best chance?
Let’s break it down ...
I like the coach. Brian Flores immediately put his stamp of the Patriots defense when he took over the reins as the defensive play-caller last season. As soon as the Patriots defense was first on display in last year’s pre-season it looked different, more aggressive and that trend never stopped. His imprint on the defense was immediate and noticeable. What the Patriots defense accomplished in Super Bowl LIII is unforgettable, particularly given the era of football they performed so dominatingly in. Miami noticed and jumped early on Flores as the choice to lead their organization. Can Flores be a head coach? Tough to tell. Is he ready? Equally tough to tell. We know this, in his first major NFL assignment he rose to the occasion and flourished. The players spoke highly of him the entire season and their defensive performance was the best we’ve seen in several years. Miami has been searching for a long time and made a reasonable gamble on Flores. His biggest problem and adjustment will be on offense which leads me to his quarterback.
Taken 10thin the 2018 NFL Draft, so far Rosen is “the other guy” of that highly touted draft class. He’s got the arm talent and has the benefit of the requisite chip on the shoulder one gets when your draft stock drops and you lose your job all in one year. However, this is the guy I’m betting against of the AFC East’s young core of QB’s. New coach, unsettled offense and an underwhelming ownership group led by Stephen Ross who’s flanked by a couple of C-list stars like Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and Fergie. It doesn’t feel like a winning formula yet. My feeling on Rosen is that we won’t get the chance to properly evaluate him until it’s too late. Just an instinct. He’s talented but he’ll need to be a lot more than that if it’s going to work in Miami. This organization pulled the plug on Adam Gase after just two years, but kept Joe Philbin in for over three. As I wrote above, I like Flores but wish for his sake that he went somewhere else.
I want to start with the quarterback here. Josh Allen is interesting. He’s big, mobile and he’s got swagger. He’s also inconsistent with his passing accuracy, but in fairness had little to throw to last season. I’m a believer in Allen. I’m not sure he’ll ever be amongst the top passers statistically in the league but there is plenty there to build around and dare I say, win around. Allen has the makings of a winning football player and is the type of player that can quickly energize a rabid football loving fan base like Buffalo. The organization needs to put a team around him, particularly on offense, but there’s something there with Allen for sure.
Coach Sean McDermott
He’s the ‘other Sean’ in terms of the new wave of NFL coaches, but may prove to have more substance than sizzle. Belichick totally undressed and unmasked the more ‘sizzly’ Sean McVay in Super Bowl LIII, but at least he made the playoffs. McDermott did lead an upstart Bills team to the playoffs in 2017 during his first year, but took a big step back last year. Like his quarterback there is plenty to prove with McDermott, but there is evidence that he can lead a team. McDermott comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree too which lends credibility. I give the Bills a significant leg up on Miami at this stage of the building process.
And, saving the best for last ...
New York Jets
Yeah, I said it. Saving the best for last. No, the Jets are nowhere near being the best. Not even close. However, when analyzing the AFC East competition they’ve got the building blocks. The top block is the quarterback, Sam Darnold. I think gang green got the real prize of the 2018 QB draft class. My show co-host Pete Davidson (a lifelong, suffering Jets fan), will confidently tell you that the Jets will screw him up and there’s plenty of evidence throughout Jets history to merit such thinking. Knowing the Jets he’s probably right, but if the Jets can just find a way to operate like a normal franchise, they may have actually found the gem they need. Darnold looks to me like the real deal. Now they have some weapons in New York to complement him as well. Le’Veon Bell will make an immediate impact and Jamison Crowder was a sneaky good pick-up. Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa are legitimate and young weapons at wide receiver.
As the Jets are getting more talented on the field, wholesale and necessary changes were made in the front office. The question to me is with the coach, Adam Gase. If you can get past the weird-eyed press conference you may see a viable head coach. He’s an offensive minded guy with an emerging offense and a young quarterback to groom. Though I’m unsure that Gase will be the long-term coach in New York, I don’t think he will slow Darnold down in any way and there’s a path for the two to work well together.
In summary, none of the three AFC East opponents have the hope for greatness or continuity that the Patriots have with Brady and Belichick, but each have some interesting building blocks to watch as the eventual transition for the Patriots nears. I’m betting that Darnold and the Jets along with Allen and the Bills will become a growing nuisance because of what they have at the quarterback position and I welcome the competition. It’s been way too long since the AFC East foes posed any threat. My guess is that the competition will start to rise. My eyes are on Darnold and Allen. In that order. How do you see them?