Throughout the offseason, Fan Nation will conduct an AFC East Roundtable discussing various issues involving each team in the division, with publishers Nick Fierro of Bills Central, Alain Poupart of All Dolphins, Devon Clements of Patriot Maven and Max Goodman of Jets Country.
In this edition, we examine the three biggest on-field stories for each team in the 2020 season.
1. Quarterback Josh Allen took a major step forward in his evolution to become a bona fide MVP candidate. He threw for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns and ran for 421 yards and eight TDs as the Bills became the second-highest-scoring team in the league.
2. One of the reasons for Allen’s surge was newcomer Stefon Diggs playing with a vengeance and delivering a career season following his arrival in a trade with Minnesota. The veteran wide receiver set a franchise record with 127 catches, which produced 1,535 yards and eight TDs.
3. The Bills finally broke through with their first playoff victories of coach Sean McDermott's tenure. Even more important, they won despite not playing their best. Of course, two infinitely more difficult steps remain: winning playoff games on the road and then at a neutral site.
1. The Dolphins took a major step in their rebuilding project, going from 5-11 to put themselves in position to land a playoff berth with a victory against the Bills in the regular season finale. That they came up short in that game (and badly) shouldn’t diminish what they were able to accomplish in 2020.
2. Tua Tagovailoa was in the spotlight from the time the Dolphins selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and that only intensified once he was put into the starting lineup after two consecutive victories evened the team’s record at 3-3 heading into their rescheduled bye.
3. The biggest reason for the Dolphins being able to double their victory total from 2019 was a defense that led the league in turnovers and was first in scoring defense until the disaster at Buffalo in Week 17. Leading the charge was cornerback Xavien Howard, who became the first NFL player since 2007 to reach double digits in interceptions.
1. The Patriots didn’t find their quarterback of the future in 2020. Cam Newton, who signed with the team on a one-year, prove-it deal last June, struggled mightily in New England. That was the primary factor in the team falling below .500 for the first time since 2000. Second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham couldn't capitalize on a struggling Newton, doing nothing to earn a start during the season despite Newton being benched on three separate occasions.
2. Second-year running back Damien Harris burst onto the scene this season, averaging 5.0 yards per carry (691 yards on 137 carries) and becoming one of the most efficient backs in the entire league. Sony Michel's job was projected to be in jeopardy based on how strong a training camp Harris had before Harris landed on injured reserve to begin the regular season. Once Harris hit the field again in Week 4, he didn't look back on his way to the top of the depth chart.
3. The AFC East may be out of New England's hands for quite a while moving forward. 2020 was the first time since 2008 the Patriots didn't win the AFC East. Buffalo is now an AFC juggernaut, and the Dolphins came in hot with double-digit wins, a second-place finish in the division and a near playoff berth. With many holes on the roster and Tom Brady gone, it can't come as a complete surprise the Patriots are only above the Jets in the division right now.
1. In his third season, Sam Darnold didn’t just fail to develop, he regressed. The 23-year-old finished last in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 40.2 QBR and 72.7 passer rating. He battled a shoulder injury for much of the season as well, only throwing for 2,208 yards across 12 games.
2. The Jets may have had the worst offense in the league, but rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton proved he’s capable of being a franchise cornerstone in New York. Becton routinely held his own against talented defensive linemen and he’s poised to protect the blind side of whoever is under center for the Jets for years to come.
3. Lastly, in his second season in the league, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams had a tremendous season. The 23-year-old led the team in sacks (7.0) and tackles for loss (10) while playing in 13 games. While this franchise has plenty of work to do to improve their defense, especially in the secondary, they’ve got a rising star up front.