The New England Patriots have bossed the AFC East for over a decade. Both the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have shown flashes of promise over those years but neither could sustain their momentum. The division has felt particularly lopsided over the past few years.
But, with attention-grabbing deals for Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley, the Jets are trying to change that. New York are clearly determined to put top notch talent around quarterback Sam Darnold, and a difference-maker on both sides of the ball is a good place to start under new head coach Adam Gase.
The Patriots could be vulnerable too, which feels like an odd thing to say about the Super Bowl champions but reflects some of their key defensive departures. We might just get a divisional race in the AFC East for a change.
A new era?
Bell’s deal with the Jets is reportedly $52.5 million over four years. That is a hefty price to pay, but every down running backs of his calibre are rare enough to justify it (Todd Gurley’s deal with the Los Angeles Rams was fractionally higher). Bell should certainly be fresh after sitting out the 2018 campaign in pursuit of a long-term deal. He likely hoped for a higher offer but should be motivated to put all the negative attention behind him.
His ability to shred defenses as a rusher and a pass catcher will take some of the pressure off Darnold. Bell is a weekly threat to have 100 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards, and will be the perfect safety valve in the passing game for short dump offs. It may take a little time for his new offensive line to adjust to his patient running style but look for most of the kinks to have been ironed out by Week 1 in September.
Meanwhile, linebacker Mosley earned rave reviews with the Baltimore Ravens and will be asked to set a defensive tone in New York. Comfortable against the pass and the run, there is little he cannot do, hence his $85 million contract. The Jets ranked in the bottom third in the key defensive categories in 2018, giving up 380 yards a game. Mosley should elevate the whole unit.
Continuing their spending spree, New York added receiver Jamison Crowder, an expert out of the slot. They will otherwise have much the same receiving core, headlined by Robby Anderson and Quincy Onunwa.
Looking around the AFC, the Jets have a decent shot at a wildcard spot even if overpowering New England is too big an ask in Bell’s first year. The oddsmakers see this team as a work in progress (80/1 to win the Super Bowl) which is fair, but their run of disappointing seasons could be about to come to an end. If Darnold takes his play to the next level, this team could make some noisy in January.