Bedard: Ranking the AFC East (Defense) – Patriots fall behind Bills as division tightens overall

(Adam Richins for BSJ)

Way back in April … before the draft and before Covid opt-outs, we broke down the personnel among the AFC East teams by offensive and defensive positions.

At the time, it looked to us like the Patriots and Bills (slight edge) were fairly even offensively (that was with Jarrett Stidham being the worst QB in the division due to his lack of experience), but New England had a decided advantage on defense to hold a decent overall lead heading into the season.

Between the draft and personnel changes, a lot has changed.

And it hasn’t been good for the Patriots, especially on offense.

Well, after digging into the defenses, the news isn't much better.

The Bills, partly due to the Patriots losing Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung to opt-outs, have made up the deficit on defense and inched ahead of New England. That's not all: the entire division has tightened up on that side of the ball — the Jets finished first with five first-place rankings — to the point it's almost a coin flip among all four teams.

Basically, the message here, as we learned this season, is that the Patriots are not just going to be able to beat the other divisional teams with great defense and average offense because their long-held advantage on that side of the ball is over, and may not get better when you consider that Lawrence Guy, Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty could possibly not be back next season (along with the possibility of Hightower and Chung just opting to retire).

A breakdown of exactly where the Patriots stand compared to the new Kings of the East, the Buffalo Bills, and the hard-charging Miami Dolphins, starting with where we (along with input from NFL personnel executives) saw things early in the offseason: