Five weeks into the season, the five-time world champion New England Patriots are tied atop the AFC East with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills at 3-2. And don’t forget about the 2-2 Miami Dolphins. Yes, the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But the Patriots also have one of the worst defenses they’ve had in years. Can New England hold off the Bills, Jets and Dolphins? Here’s a closer look:
New England Patriots (3-2)
Why they’ll win division: If history is any indication, the Patriots we’ve seen through five weeks will ultimately become a better when it counts. They always seem to improve under Belichick. As it stands now, they are probably still the best team in the AFC East, although not as convincingly as many figured at the start of the year. Then, when factoring in projected improvement, the Patriots should remain the favorite. Furthermore, if it comes down to the wire, it should help that they finish the season with back-to-back home games against the Bills and Jets.
Why they won’t win division: Injuries already have taken their toll, and Brady is being hit at an alarming rate. It’s a 40-32-16 combination that could potentially be trouble: The 40-year-old Brady has been hit 32 times and sacked 16 times. That’s a lot for him to sustain if continues. — Mike Reiss
Buffalo Bills (3-2)
Why they’ll win division: A lot of defense and a little luck. Buffalo has not had much of the latter over its 17-year playoff drought, so it will need to find some good fortune in order to capture its first division title since 1995. A great place to start would be winning one or both games in December against the Patriots, who have a 29-5 record since 2000 against Buffalo. The Bills have the defense this season to slow down Brady, but Buffalo will need a few breaks on offense to have the result go their way. Getting swept by the Patriots would probably wipe out the Bills’ chances of a division crown.
Why they won’t win division: The floor for the Bills’ offense is alarmingly low and could get worse if tight end Charles Clay’s knee injury keeps him out long term. RB LeSean McCoy is on pace for the worst rushing average (3.2 yards per carry) of his career, while the Bills’ wide receivers are averaging 4.8 receptions and 63.2 yards per game, which would be NFL worsts since at least 2001. — Mike Rodak
Miami Dolphins (2-2)
Why they’ll win division: If the Dolphins pull this off, it will be because of their vastly improved defense. Miami hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game all season, and its run defense is allowing 3.2 yards per carry. When the team needed points in Sunday’s win against the Titans, the Dolphins’ defense recovered a fumble and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. It also caused a fumble that led to another field goal. Defense is the primary reason the Dolphins are at .500. However, it remains to be seen if this will hold up for 16 games.
Why they won’t win division: The Dolphins’ offense is last in scoring at 8.5 points per game. They have multiple deep-rooted issues on that side of the ball that won’t be fixed anytime soon. Miami’s offensive line is inconsistent with run and pass blocking, the Jay Cutler experiment isn’t working at quarterback, and the receivers and tight ends aren’t getting much separation and are dropping passes. It’s extremely difficult to win a division with all of these problems. Add in the fact that Miami lost its bye week due to Hurricane Irma, and it appears there are too many factors for this team to overcome. — James Walker
New York Jets (3-2)
Why they’ll win division: Come on, let’s be realistic. The Jets are a nice story, but it would require an utter collapse by the Patriots for the Jets to capture their first AFC East title since 2002. It would take a serious injury to Brady or another Deflategate suspension for the Jets to steal the title. Or maybe they could do it if Belichick suddenly decided to resign. Otherwise, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Jets could pull it off. It would be one of the greatest upsets in football history.
Why they won’t win division: The Jets don’t do anything particularly well. In other words, they have nothing to hang their hat on. Their defense, supposedly the strength of the team, is too inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense, which has yet to score more than 23 points in a game. Quarterback Josh McCown has exceeded expectations, but you get the feeling he’ll turn into a pumpkin at some point soon. And let’s not forget about the schedule: The Jets still have nondivision games against the Falcons, Chiefs, Broncos and Panthers. — Rich Cimini