It would be mad for someone to say that the two divisions that will be running the NFL in 3 years’ time will be the AFC and NFC East. They are currently 48-62-1 this year heading into Week 17. The AFC East consists of the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and the lowly New York Jets. The NFC East (known as the “NFC Least”) is filled by the Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. Only one of these teams, the Bills, are seen as a Superbowl challenger this year, yet I believe that at bear minimum 6 of these teams (not the Cowboys or Eagles) will be fighting for playoff spots and being legitimate Superbowl contenders heading into Superbowl 57 and 58. Let’s take a look at each of the individual teams that I believe have Superbowl aspirations within 3 years and their personal outlook.
(All statistics correct as of 27/12/2020)
The best team out of the 8 currently. They made a jump to true Superbowl contender a year earlier than my prediction. Sean McDermott has been a yearly coach of the year candidate and Brandon Beane has consistently been one of the best GMs in the league. Ever since their hiring in 2017 (McDermott in January and Beane in May), the Bills trajectory has been directly upwards, causing multiple tables to be smashed by the ever-loyal Bills Mafia. Josh Allen has been a fringe MVP candidate throwing to a true NO.1 receiver in Stephon Diggs (what a trade that was for both teams!) and a revitalised Cole Beasley. Dawson Know is capable of big plays from the TE position. Diggs is closing in on 1500yds and sits 3rd in the league in receiving yards – only 4 yards behind Travis Kelce (1318yds) and a game in hand on DeAndre Hopkins (1372yds). Beasley is only 50 yards off his first 1000yds career, obliterating the middle of the field. The running game hasn’t been as successful as hoped with no running back reaching over 644yds so far (Devin Singletary) but with so few holes to fill and RBs being a consistently deep position on draft day – I doubt that issue lasts much longer. However, it may not be Moss nor Singletary’s fault. The Bills have a subpar line. Cody Ford may well be improving and Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams performing averagely at tackle. However, they do need an upgrade. If it’s possible to land Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff then the offensive will be unstoppable next year. The only issue on this front is that the Bills are forecast to be $6.4 million over the cap next year, although that is comparatively low to other teams.
Then we get to the defence. The unit is 15th in both point and yards allowed per game. This is a bit of a surprise given its strength over the last few years. This issue is down to the pass rush. A secondary including Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is naturally elite (and underrated) but Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes and Vernon Butler have not been getting it done. The Bills hurry a QB on only 7.7% of snaps (27th in the league). This is not elite and is costing the Bills serious issues. Their offense is elite with a special teams of punter Corey Bojorquez and rookie kicker Tyler Bass, but their defense needs help (especially the D-Line), Jayson Oweh out of Penn State could be a very nice fit. They just need pressure and this team will be stacked for years to come. I have confidence Beane and McDermott know exactly what to do.
Brian Flores is one hell of a coach. No coach motivates his players more than the former Patriots defensive coordinator. The Dolphins sit at 10-5 after narrowly beating the Raiders and are the only team outside of the Bills without a losing record in the East divisions. Like the Bills, the Dolphins do need to add to the O-Line, Robert Hunt has been a surprise at tackle but Hunt and left Tackle Austin Jackson need time to mature. The inside of the O-Line is good enough but any improvement will help. The skill positions are deep, with DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant at WR, tall and athletic TE Mike Gesicki and breakout stars Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed at RB. The last remaining question is a QB. Tua is good but not yet in the league of fellow rookies Burrow and Herbert. To add to this, Tua has had time to sit and learn from magic man himself, Ryan Fitzpatrick before taking over the starting job in week 8. There’s no doubt that Tua has been carried to wins by the strong defense and was even benched for Fitzpatrick to return and win the game against the Raiders. Fitzpatrick is a bad aid, despite being beloved and entertaining. The only consistent part of his play is his inconsistency. Tua does need to improve, but he has not made any major mistakes. If it wasn’t for the insanely fast starts from Mahomes, Watson, Burrows and Herbert over the last few year, Tua’s performance would be likely be praised. He throws the ball accurately and has been protecting himself (needed due to his injury history). Add that to his coach being Brian Flores and I do believe he’ll improve. The offense isn’t necessarily dynamic but with a defence like the one they currently have residing in Miami, it can easily be good enough to go far into January … and just maybe reach February in a year or twos time.
It makes sense for a Flores led team to be strong on defence. They play as passionately as he acts on the sideline. They play in the classic style of bend but do not break, only 24th in yards allowed but 3rd on points allowed. The leader of this defense is defensive player of the year candidate Xavien Howard who is partnered by Byron Jones at CB. A top 5 CB due in the league, they led the defense to intercepting Patrick Mahomes 3 times. A strong LB corps of former Patriots (Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts) create havoc for opposing run games. The Doplhins are also getting to the QB, 40 sacks this season. This defense will be strong and well-run for years. It’s also worth noting the draft capital. Miami could potentially become the first team to ever make the playoffs and land a top 3 pick in the draft of that year. This is because they hold the Texans 1st round pick from the Laremy Tunsil trade. His should be used to get Tua the most help possible. CBS writer Josh Edwards has them landing the best WR prospect in years with Ja’Marr Chase. Expect interior O-Line with their latter pick. Wyatt Davis from Ohio State if he falls would be perfect. The Dolphins could well become the best AFC East team in 2-3 years which will leave them a Superbowl contender.
New England Patriots:
Some fall from grace the Patriots have had. From 20 years of dominance they fell back down to Earth. I expected them to do better – I envisioned a week 1-4 Cam Newton to continue, not the noodle-armed and panicked post-Covid Newton. This has led to an anaemic offense to say the least. However, winning 6 games with this roster shows two things. Firstly, Bill Belichick is the best to ever do it. Finding at replacements for all the free agency losses and the Covid opt-outs (most in the league). Scheming opponts and often showing his superiority as a coach (see win over Chargers). Secondly it shows the strength of the defense. JC Jackson is the largest pro-bowl snub in recent memory. He should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year and yet half the country don’t know he exists. Devin McCourty is one of the best safeties in the league. Chase Winovich is exploding and my personal pick for steal of the 2020 draft, Josh Uche, is already a polished edge rusher after only entering the line-up halfway through the season. They need an inside linebacker to partner Bentley after Hightower retires and they are desperate for a big run stopping nose tackle to take up space. Otherwise this defence is set. It’s also led by the greatest defensive mind in NFL history in Bill Belichick. Also, Jake Bailey (punter) is a weapon. Field position is important in the NFL (and undervalued) and Belichick has once again shown just how important special teams really are.
The outlook turns to the draft. With this comes the QB situation. Belichick wants a smart QB who’s not prone to turnovers. With this (and the fact that Wilson will be off the board by the time the Patriots are on the clock), I expect Belichick to select a QB from his old mate Nick Saban. Mac Jones has had an incredible season. Belichick has always liked Alabama prospects (Hightower, Jennings) so I fully expect this to happen. Losing Thuney will be a large blow to the O-Line but the rest is strong with Wynn, Andrews, Mason and “Big Mike” Onwenu. With their large cap space for the incoming year and the lack of opposing teams’ cap space (although, the Pats will likely use some of that money to resign current players) getting a WR will be top priority. Chris Godwin would be a ridiculously good get or Kenny Goliday if he somehow reaches free agency. Many people have written pieces about the Pats dynasty finally ending. Whilst, I doubt it will continue in the same vain as the Brady-Belichick era, Belichick is too good of a coach (and the surrounding coaching staff) to allow this team to miss the playoffs year after year. They will return and people are so desperate for the Patriots to finally fail, they are kidding themselves that this is the true end. The Pats will be back in a year or two.
New York Jets:
There’s no chance that the Jets can reach the Superbowl in the next 5 years right? WRONG. Let’s start at the receivers. Crowder is one of the best slot receivers in the league, Mims looks like a NO.1 in the making, currently playing like Marvin Jones in Detroit. The line is good. Becton is not just a physical freak but also a steal and will man the LT position for years to come. McGovern is an average centre and Greg Van Roten is a franchise right guard. They need a tight end and a running back but they are low priority needs for a franchise.
Move to the defense and the Jets are stacked for the future, yes, the Jets are going to be good and the average points scored in an all-AFC East matchup over the next few years might well be below 40. Williams and Shephard are powerful inside which is leading to a high pressure rate by the Jets (that may be down to recently fired defensive coordinator Greg Williams being blitz heavy). Fatukasi is a great run-stopping nose tackle. Bryce Hall is looking like a future starter at corner and safety Marcus Maye is ridiculously good and will cost less than traded star Jamal Adams. Think they’re light at LB? They get back CJ Mosely next year after he opted out this season. This team is good for the future; it may be 1-13 this year but hey will get better – quickly. There’s just 2 issues.
First: Is Sam Darnold going to become that promised franchise QB? I believe he needs a new start; he has talent but going to a team such as the Patriots of 49ers could be a perfect new start for him. I expect he’ll have a Ryan Tannehill-esque career. That means they can turn to the draft. They may have lost Trevor Lawrence due to beating the Rams and likely losing the NO.1 overall pick (not as bad as it seems) but this is a STACKED class. If they are not sold on Wilson or Fields and prefer Trask or Jones they can move back and gain picks to fix more holes, or they get their passer early. Remember Darnold will still have trade value as well.
Second: The coach. Adam Gase will be gone at seasons’ end; at least he better be or not firing him will be the worst decision in the history of the NFL. He is awful and holding this team back, way back. If they can get Eric Bieniemy or Brian Daboll (personal favourite) then this team will blossom. Both have unleashed a rookie QB on the league before (Mahomes and Allen respectively) and both are well-respected. It may take 2-3 years for the culture to change but we’ve already seen how quickly fortunes can change with a good coach entering a bad franchise in the AFC East – see Brian Flores and the Dolphins. The Jets aren’t as bad as everyone thinks, they might just be lifting a Lombardi in a few years.
Washington Football Team:
In the space of a year, Washington has changed from a bottom-feeder no one likes to a plucky underdog everyone is (or should be) rooting for. Alex Smith has gone through hell to still be playing this sport and may well be starting in the playoffs after returning from that ridiculous injury. Ron Rivera has fought through cancer to change the culture of this team from one of losing to one of winning. With these two leading the team, it’s no wonder the players are playing so hard and tough against every single opponent. If they can retain Brandon Scherff, their O-Line is solid. They have found an absolute gem in 3rd round rookie RB Antonio Gibson and just need one more receiving weapon to partner Terry McLaurin and breakout TE Logan Thomas. They need to find a QB but luckily enough, this is the draft class for it. Plus, Jimmy G and Carson Wentz may be possible through trade and Dak Prescott potentially via free agency (and at a push a rejuvenated Mitch Trubisky? I know, I doubt he’ll keep it up as well). Then, partner that with a top 3 defense. The front 7 consists of Payne, Ioannidis, Allen, Kerrigan, Sweat and second overall pick Chase Young. That is just plain ridiculous. On the backend there’s Kendall Fuller, Landon Collins and surprise rookie Kameron Curl. If they can sign a WR in free agency and resign Brandon Scherff they are QB away from the Superbowl. That is not an exaggeration. They are playoff bound with a dink and dunk offense and only one year of River Boat Ron’s schemes. This is going to be a seriously good team if they can just find a QB.
New York Giants:
The final team that seems to be soon Superbowl bound is the Giants. Joe Judge (another former Patriots coach). Like the Patriots, Jets and Washington; the Giants are seemingly just a QB away. Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard are an undervalued one-two and if Evan Engram could consistently catch, he would be a top TE. They have a powerful O-Line which look to physically overpower their opponents – in line with Joe Judge’s philosophy. They will also get Saquon Barkley back from injury next year. Their defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season. Leonard Williams and Blake Martinez have had second lives with the Giants and Logan Ryan had earned his recent 3-year extension at DB. They could use that one great player, however. They need a Jamal Adams, Nick Bosa or Darius Leonard to put the fear into an offense rather than just be good. However, a QB is first and foremost on the list. Daniel Jones is NOT the answer, they swung and missed, otherwise this team has been built correctly. Despite all the negative reviews GM Dave Gettleman has received (including from myself) he has built one hell of a team. Joe Judge looks to be a great coach that has earnt respect from his players (look and learn Matt Patricia). This team will rival Washington for the next few years and be a Superbowl contender.
Conclusion: This in no way is meant as excluding the Chiefs nor Seahawks from future Superbowls, but a piece in support of two divisions that have been heavily criticised this year and in previous years for being weak. I see the Eagles as being consistently mediocre and the Cowboys needing a full rebuild due to cap issues (mainly caused by the Elliot deal). Other young teams are set to improve as well with the Chargers and Bengal leading the way but I see these divisions taking home the Lombardi in the next few years. Most of these teams is a QB away which is the hardest part of the roster to solve but with such a strong class incoming (and veterans potentially up for grabs) I believe most can solve that problem. Good luck to them, they will need it.