The AFC East didn’t sit out of the action during an offseason that saw a number of blockbuster trades and signings go down. The Buffalo Bills — the current favorite to win the Super Bowl this season — made the surprise signing of pass rusher Von Miller in free agency, and the Miami Dolphins pulled off one of the biggest trades of the spring as they dealt for former Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots traded for receiver DeVante Parker and the Jets made several moves throughout the draft, bringing in three first-rounders.
Naturally, those moves along with the maturation of everyone else on their rosters will make this division even more competitive in 2022. As training camps open up across the league, let’s dive into three questions each team in the AFC must answer before the start of the regular season.
- What is Tre’Davious White’s timeline to return? The Bills are coming off a 2021 season where they had the No. 1 ranked pass defense in DVOA, and that was without White for the last chunk of the year, after he suffered a torn ACL on Thanksgiving. When healthy, he’s an All-Pro corner for a secondary that has Super Bowl aspirations, so getting him back on the field will certainly help Buffalo in that quest for a championship. His level of participation during camp will create a clearer timeline as to when we’ll see him during the regular season.
- How will the change from Brian Daboll to Ken Dorsey change the offense? Arguably the biggest change in Buffalo comes at the offensive coordinator spot. Daboll was widely considered to be one of the better offensive play callers in the NFL during his tenure and credited for helping Josh Allen ascend to an MVP-caliber quarterback. So, what does this change to Dorsey do to this high-powered unit? This is his first crack as an OC, so it’ll be fascinating to see what the offense will look like with his fingerprints on it.
- Who will play opposite Von Miller? The addition of Von Miller was Buffalo’s biggest splash of the offseason and presents a changing of the guard at pass rusher, especially with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison departing. While Miller will come off one side of the Bills defensive line, who’ll be the other? Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, A.J. Epenesa and Shaq Lawson will be duking it out for that spot.
New England Patriots
- Will Joe Judge or Matt Patricia call plays on offense? This has been the biggest question in New England since Josh McDaniels accepted the Raiders head coaching job. With Mac Jones heading into a pivotal second year in the league, having a capable play caller is paramount to his development. While Bill Belichick could have a heavier hand in the offense, it seems like it’ll be either Judge or Patricia holding the play sheet on game day. Neither choice particularly instill a ton of confidence given their prior histories on offense in their head coaching stops, but a clear masthead would make things streamlined for the second-year QB.
- Who is the passing down back? James White is still recovering from a hip injury that erased effectively all of his 2021 season, and it’s no sure thing that he’ll be ready to go when camp opens. Given that Brandon Bolden — New England’s most targeted running back last season — departed in free agency, there is some uncertainty in what has been a massive piece to the Patriots offense. It’s possible carryovers like Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and J.J. Taylor could take on more targets, but another candidate could be rookie Pierre Strong Jr.. The South Dakota State back ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which was the fastest at his position.
- Is there enough at corner? New England has seen quite the talent drain at corner over the past calendar year. Heading into camp last season, the team had J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore atop the depth chart. Now, Gilmore has since been traded and recently signed with the Colts, while Jackson inked a monster deal with the Chargers. That leaves the Patriots with not a lot to work with as Malcolm Butler and Jalen Mills are the top two options on the outside. It’s possible that rookie Jack Jones could factor into that conversation as well. That said, in a division that has Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs, the Patriots will need to be strong at this position to stand a chance.
- Is Tua Tagovailoa ready to lead this high-speed offense? Miami went all in on improving the roster this offseason to give themselves a fair and honest look at Tagovailoa. The addition of Hill and star left tackle Terron Armstead are just some of the moves that should allow the quarterback to have success in first-year head coach Mike McDaniel’s system. How quickly he can get a rapport with these new weapons and grasp this new offense will be an important hurdle for him to impress out of the gate and prove to the organization that he is the guy to build around.
- How quickly can the offensive line mesh? Armstead and Connor Williams are the offseason additions who will immediately slot in at the left tackle and center spots, respectively. Meanwhile, Miami has left guard Liam Eichenberg entering his second season and right tackle Austin Jackson entering his third. While there is an improvement on paper, it’s another thing entirely for them to work like a cohesive unit. Jackson, a 2020 first-round pick, is of particular notice given he is technically the blindside tackle with the lefty quarterback in Tagovailoa.
- What is the pecking order in the backfield? The running back room has seen an overhaul as the Dolphins added Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel while carrying Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed over from the 2021 squad. That’s a lot of mouths to feed in the backfield, and a pecking order is likely needed before they reach Week 1.
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New York Jets
- Who will start at safety alongside Jordan Whitehead? Whitehead was the big addition at safety for the Jets, but he’ll need another body next to him in the backend of this secondary. After missing the bulk of last season with an elbow injury, Lamarcus Joyner could get back into the conversation, but the 31-year-old isn’t a long-term answer, either. 2020 third-rounder Ashtyn Davis is a candidate to emerge here along with Jason Pinnock, who played well down the stretch in this spot last season.
- Will George Fant or Mekhi Becton play left tackle? Becton arrived in New York as the No. 11 overall pick in 2020 and was hoped to be the anchor at left tackle for years to come. However, injuries have recently derailed his career, which leaves the question of whether or not he’ll hold onto that spot going forward. After missing almost all of last year, Fant has proven to be a reliable option at blindside tackle. He may very well retain that left tackle job for 2022, which could leave Becton learning the right tackle spot and competing with rookie Max Mitchell.
- Is Zach Wilson showing he is ready to take a Year 2 leap? The Jets brass would rather see their former No. 2 overall pick make headlines for his improvement on the field rather than the ones he’s been making the offseason. Once New York opens camp, Wilson can continue building a foundation for a critical second season in the league. While the expectations for the Jets as a team are not particularly high for 2022, his development is center stage. If he puts together a mediocre camp, that could start the year off with the young QB facing some serious questions asking if he is the one to help bring New York to relevancy.