2024 AFC East race: Will Bills, Jets or Dolphins win division title? Reasons why each could prevail (2024)

In the AFC East, some things change but still remain the the same.

The division was once dominated by a dynamic quarterback, Tom Brady, and a defensive head coach, Bill Belichick, as the New England Patriots dynamic duo led their squad to win 17 of a possible 20 division crowns from 2000-2019. However, New England is now on the bottom of the pack in the midst of a rebuild after parting ways with Belichick to hire first-time head coach Jerod Mayo, a former Patriots player and assistant coach from the glory years, and to select North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye third overall in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Parity did not take hold in the division despite Brady's departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 because a newer combination of a dynamic quarterback in Josh Allen and defensive head coach in Sean McDermott have powered the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive AFC East championships to start the 2020's. Obviously, the Bills will once again contend for the division as will the Miami Dolphins, who finished 2023 with an identical 11-6 record after losing their regular season finale 21-14 at home against Buffalo. That's the closest a team has come to wrestling the division crown away from the Bills. The New York Jets with a retooled offensive line in front of Aaron Rodgers should also threaten for first place as long as the four-time NFL MVP quarterback remains upright.

Here are the ways the three non-Patriots squads could take home the 2024 AFC East title.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills are a unique group. They lead the NFL in scoring offense (28.6 points per game) and scoring defense (19.1 opponent points per game) in the regular season since 2020, but they haven't been able to break through and reach the Super Bowl, losing to either the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals in the postseason.

That makes them the first team since the 1990-1993 San Francisco 49ers to lead both categories in a four-year span, and they too did not reach the Super Bowl during those years. They did, however, win the Super Bowl in the 1994 season, the year after this four-year run of dominance.

In 2024, Josh Allen's receiving core will look noticeably different. Buffalo traded four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans along with a 2024 fifth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick in exchange for a 2025 second-round pick.

The Bills then imported an entirely new group around wide receiver Khalil Shakir and tight ends Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox: rookie wide receiver Keon Coleman (33rd overall pick in 2024 NFL Draft out of Florida State), wide receiver Curtis Samuel (three-year, $24 million contract with $15.02 million in guarantees), wide receiver Mack Hollins (one-year, $2.6 million contract), wide receiver Chase Claypool (one-year, $1.225 million) and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (one year, $2.25 million contract).

Good thing for the Bills that Allen is a touchdown machine: he set the NFL's all-time record for the most passing plus rushing touchdowns in a four-season span to start the 2020's with 173 touchdowns from 2020-2023 (137 passing and 36 rushing), six more than the previous record of 167 set by Drew Brees from 2011 to 2014.

Buffalo's defense did undergo massive personnel changes as well, losing edge rusher Leonard Floyd (49ers), cornerback Tre'Davious White (Rams), cornerback Dane Jackson (Panthers) and safety Jordan Poyer (Dolphins). McDermott will be relying on rookie second-round pick Cole Bishop at free safety and for his talented front seven of edge rusher Greg Rousseau, edge rusher A.J. Epenesa, defensive tackle Ed Oliver, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, edge rusher Von Miller and linebacker Matt Milano to get the job done while protecting leads Allen creates.

That's been a winning formula for four years, and it could very well be again in 2024.

Miami Dolphins

2024 AFC East race: Will Bills, Jets or Dolphins win division title? Reasons why each could prevail (3)

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The Miami Dolphins narrowly missed out on snatching the AFC East crown off of the Buffalo Bills head in 2023, but instead they became jus the fourth team in NFL history to blow a three-game division lead with five or fewer games left in a season. The other three are the 2022 Tennessee Titans, the 2008 Denver Broncos and the 1973 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Their big issue in 2023 was their inability to beat eventual playoff teams: they went 1-6 against playoffs teams and 10-1 in all other games last season. Miami's -110 point differential against playoff teams was the second-worst ever by a team that made the playoffs in NFL history, ahead of only the 1994 Chicago Bears -112 point differential against teams to make the postseason.

Good news is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made it through the 2023 season healthy, and he led the league passing yards (4,624) en route to his first career Pro Bowl selection. Much of that production went 2023 First-Team All-Pro Tyreek Hill's way as he led the NFL with 1,799 receiving yards and co-led the league, along with Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, with 13 receiving touchdowns. Hill has eclipsed 1,700 yards in both seasons in head coach Mike McDaniel's offense catching passes from Tagovailoa, making him the first player in NFL history with multiple seasons of 1,700 or more receiving yards.

Hill's wide receiver running mate Jaylen Waddle will remain in South Florida long-term after signing a three-year, $84.75 million contract with $76 million guaranteed back in May. He has totaled over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons, and the Dolphins signed three-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year, $3 million deal after he averaged a career-high 16.1 yards per catch with the Ravens in 2023, the seventh-best figure in the NFL. OBJ figures to be the best No. 3 receiver of Tagovailoa's career, something the offense has sorely needed when defenses focus on Hill and Waddle.

Running back De'Von Achane enters his second season coming off a year in which his explosive run rate, the percentage of his carries gaining 12 or more yards, of 15.5% led the entire NFL, and was just over 2.5% higher than 2023 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey's second-place figure of 12.9%. Achane also led the NFL in yards per carry (7.8) among the 53 players who totaled at least 100 carries last season.

Fellow running back Raheem Mostert was the team's thunder at the goal line with an NFL-best 18 rushing touchdowns and co-league-leading 21 scrimmage touchdowns (21) along with Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey. His 25.8% tackles avoided rate was the third-best in the NFL, and his 4.6 yards per carry ranked as the sixth-best among running back. The Dolphins offense, whose 29.2 points per game ranked as the second-best in the NFL last season, should soar once again.

Their defense underwent a massive overhaul. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has departed for the Philadelphia Eagles, and he has been replaced by Ravens defensive line/associate head coach Anthony Weaver, something Dolphins defensive players have raved about. Miami also brought in a big crop of veterans, including defensive lineman Calais Campbell, cornerback Kendall Fuller, edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, linebacker Jordyn Brooks and safety Jordan Poyer.

Miami should be primed for another tooth-and-nail battle with the Bills in 2024.

New York Jets

2024 AFC East race: Will Bills, Jets or Dolphins win division title? Reasons why each could prevail (5)

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Everything about the New York Jets' contention in 2024 revolves around how Aaron Rodgers, who turns 41 on Dec. 2, bounces back from the torn Achilles he suffered four snaps into their 2023 season. That's why they wisely went all in on reinforcing their offensive line in front of him this offseason as you can see below.

Jets' offensive line investments this offseason

  • Signed eight-time Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith
  • Signed Baltimore Ravens offensive guard John Simpson
  • Traded for Baltimore Ravens right tackle Morgan Moses
  • Drafted Penn State All-American left tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu 11th overall

However, a lot of this team's success hinges on a number of key vets besides Rodgers staying healthy too, like the aging Tyron Smith, wide receiver Mike Williams, right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, running back Breece Hall and safety Chuck Clark to a name just some of New York's players who are projected to be starters that have a notable injury history.

The good news is the Jets do have a solid young core on both sides of the ball. Hall totaled the fourth-most scrimmage yards (1,585) in the entire NFL in his return from a torn ACL suffered in his 2022 rookie season, and he remained elusive with the second-most tackles avoided in the entire NFL (79) in 2023. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson become the first player in Jets history with 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons despite playing with six different quarterbacks in his career.

Cornerback Sauce Gardner earned his second First-Team All-Pro selection in as many years thanks to allowing the fewest yards per target (4.6) in the entire league since 2023 among those with at least 100 targets thrown their way. Head coach Robert Saleh's defense allowed the fewest yards per play (4.6) and the third-fewest total yards per game (292.3) last season despite their floundering offense with Zach Wilson filling in for an injured Rodgers.

Better health across the board and getting recently acquired edge rusher Haason Reddick to show to training campshould have the Jets as postseason and division contenders in 2024.

2024 AFC East race: Will Bills, Jets or Dolphins win division title? Reasons why each could prevail (2024)

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