Previewing the AFC East from a Betting Perspective
Once again, the AFC East looks like a one-team race. The New England Patriots are big favorites to win their 11th straight division crown and 16th in 17 years. The Jets and the Bills could be improved, but neither are projected to even finish at the .500 mark. Let’s take a look at the division odds and regular season win totals:
AFC East Division Odds; Regular Season Wins
New England –500; 11 wins (Over -140/Under +120)
NY Jets +600; 7.5 wins (Over -120/Under +100)
Buffalo +800; 7 wins (Over -125/Under +105)
Miami +6000; 5 wins (Over +110/Under -130)
New England Patriots
This year might pose the biggest challenge for the Patriots in quite some time. Losing future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski is massive and the coaching staff was rummaged again in the offseason. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores is now the head coach in Miami and he took some of the New England staff along with him. But the two constants for this franchise – Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – still remain and that means the Pats are a Super Bowl contender once again.
Brady didn’t have a great 2018 (just 12th in passer rating), but he is well-protected with a strong offensive line that brings back four starters. The receiving corps gets an upgrade with first round selection N’Keal Harry, and Josh Gordon is likely to see the field eventually as well. Not having Gronk as the safety valve can’t be overlooked as they didn’t attempt to replace him in the offseason.
Nearly the entire defense returns and that should bode well early on in the season given the continuity. The strength of the Patriots D is on the back end with a terrific group of cornerbacks and very smart safeties. Belichick likes to play only two linebackers so he can get three of his safeties on the field for most snaps. New England has been mediocre over the years covering between the 20’s, but they are always stingy inside the red zone. That shouldn’t change this season, even without a named defensive coordinator (Belichick will pick up the slack after Greg Schiano didn’t want the job).
Don’t be surprised if the Patriots get off to a patented slow start before making mid-season adjustments that have them peaking down the stretch.
New York Jets
Things are looking up in New York as the Jets now have hope. Quarterback Sam Darnold will be in his second season in the league and we typically see vast improvement for QB’s the second time around (top 15 picks are a combined 97-56 for a 63% win rate in their second season since 2012). Darnold was extremely inconsistent in his rookie campaign, but he has the arm strength and can make all of the throws. Darnold also had the best quarterback rating in the league during the month of December. Adding running back Le’Veon Bell is going make his job easier for 2019. Bell is obviously an exceptional runner, but he can also catch passes out of the backfield and be a nice easy option for Darnold. The Jets receiving group is underwhelming, but adding WR Jamison Crowder should help. The offensive line was admittedly a mess last year, but they acquired LG Keleichi Osemele from the Raiders and should have more consistency overall. Overall, we should see much better production from the offense throughout this season.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has had past successes, but his results have been very mixed. Overrated is probably the best way to describe him. The veteran DC is going to stay with the 3-4 scheme in New York, despite being a 4-3 guy historically. That at least shows he’s willing to be flexible. Nose tackle Quinnen Williams was drafted #3 overall from Alabama and is expected to be a difference-maker on day one (he should be). The Jets also signed linebacker C.J. Mosley from Baltimore and he’s going to make a world of difference in the run game. There’s still some uncertainty in the secondary, but this is definitely an improved defense.
New head coach Adam Gase is highly-respected around the NFL, but the jury is still out on whether he can have long-term success. The Jets haven’t made the playoffs in eight years, but they certainly have a shot in 2019 if Gase and Williams do their jobs effectively. This is the most talented roster the Jets have had in quite some time, so expectations are growing in New York. The bad news is the Jets have a brutal start to the season in their first six games, and that could put unneeded pressure on the team if they start 1-5 out of the gate. There’s a good chance we could find some value spots on the Jets after this tough stretch.
Can quarterback Josh Allen improve significantly in his second season? That’s the big question in Buffalo. If he can, this could be a playoff team as soon as this year. If not, they will continue their reign of mediocrity. Allen checked in with a meager 67.9 quarterback rating in his rookie season, marred by a 52.8% completion rate. Accuracy is a skill that can’t be taught and Allen has struggled with it since his college days. As a result, I think this Bills offense is destined to move sideways for years to come.
The Bills offensive line was inconsistent last season and they’ll likely have four new starters in 2019. While that could lead to improvement given some talented additions, there won’t be much chemistry early on in the season. Speaking of chemistry, there are also a couple of new wideouts that Josh Allen will need to get on the same page with – Cole Beasley and John Brown. The backfield is a weakness with veterans LeSean McCoy and Fran Gore both on the backside of their careers. 15 of the 19 offseason additions were on offense for the Bills, but I think that’s creating a lot of false hope.
The defense was the strength of the team as they rated in the top five in most defensive categories, including #2 in defensive DVOA. Head coach Sean McDermott really put his stamp on this unit last year and there are 10 starters back coming into 2019. That should be good news, especially with first round draft pick DT Ed Oliver (#5 overall) slotted to replace the departing Kyle Williams – the lone starter lost. The Bills run a 4-3 scheme that relies on pressure from the edges and they have the pass rushers to maintain that pressure.
The two areas that needs significant improvement from Buffalo are red zone defense and special teams. They had the third-worst touchdown rate (70.8%) defensively in the red zone last year. Special teams were ranked dead last (32nd), but they did acquire return man Andre Roberts from the division-rival Jets and he will make a difference. But with an offense led by an inaccurate passer and a defense that can only go down from here, I don’t see much upside for this Bills team overall.
Hopeless. That’s probably the best way to describe the Dolphins’ chances this season. This is definitely a rebuild in Miami as they have an all-new coaching staff and quite a bit of player turnover as they look to the future. The Dolphins are putting together the “Patriots South” as their head coach (Brian Flores), offensive coordinator (Chad O’Shea) and defensive coordinator (Patrick Graham) all come from New England’s staff. Unfortunately, none of Belichick’s proteges have had much success in the NFL.
NFL games are won by dominating the line of scrimmage and that spells trouble for Miami. The offensive line really struggled in pass protection last season (31st) and looks to be even weaker in 2019 as they lost two of their top three linemen. This year’s third round draft pick left guard Michael Deiter may be forced to start and clearly isn’t ready. That’s going to make things tough for the newly-acquired quarterback Josh Rosen. The second-year signal caller struggled in Arizona last season behind a terrible offensive line, and he’s going to be shocked to see that Miami’s is likely even worse. Rosen was the lowest-rated quarterback of all qualifiers in the NFL, completing just 55.2% of his passes with an 11-14 TD-INT ratio. He does have a relatively strong receiving group to throw to, but the running game is going to struggle with stacked boxes against them.
DC Graham is building a versatile defense that can shift between 4-3 and 3-4, man or zone, depending on opponent or situation. Unfortunately, they lost their three top pass rushers in the offseason. To give you an idea of how dreadful is has become, defensive end Jonathan Woodard may start. He played on the practice squad last season. The deep secondary is the strength of this Dolphins teams, but if the pass rushers can’t get to the quarterback, it makes their job incredibly tough.
Linesmakers aren’t expecting much from Miami in 2019, but they are lined at five wins, which seems a bit generous for a team that looks to be in full “tank mode” heading into the season.
AFC East Best Bet
New England to win the division at -500 seems like stealing, but we’ll focus on a wager that has more attractive odds. Getting plus money on the Buffalo Bills UNDER 7 wins is a strong wager. While they play an easier schedule, I don’t see Buffalo notching eight wins with a quarterback that relies more on his legs than his arm. The defense will keep them in many games, but they can’t play any better than they did last season when they finished 6-10 overall.
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