(CBSNewYork) — The AFC East is going to look a whole lot different when football resumes this fall. The New England Patriots are no longer the presumptive division winner, especially without Tom Brady. The Buffalo Bills are coming off a 10-win season and boosted their offense by acquiring wide receiver Stefon Diggs and drafting running back Zack Moss. The Miami Dolphins, who have turned over much of their squad via free agency and the NFL Draft, are poised to take another step forward under Brian Flores.
The New York Jets, for their part, will also be better, barring one of those weird occurrences that seems to routinely befall the team. Free agency seems to have solidified their porous offensive line and added some defensive depth. The ageless Frank Gore can still be productive as a change of pace from Le’Veon Bell.
The Draft filled still more of the team’s needs. Mekhi Becton, the gargantuan tackle out of Louisville, should be an upgrade at left tackle, even over the recently signed George Fant. Denzel Mims will add some speed to a mediocre receiving unit that suffered the departure of Robby Anderson.
Let’s not forget that last year’s squad was probably a little better than their final record might suggest. “They won seven games last year, which might surprise some people because they started off so bad,” SportsLine senior analyst Larry Hartstein reminds us. “C.J. Mosley only played two games. Sam Darnold had mono.”
The Jets won six games in the second half of the season, with Darnold showing marginal improvement when he was on the field. Better protection (and fewer sacks and hits) should allow him to continue to grow. The team should be capable of exceeding seven total wins this season.
“They had a very good draft,” said Hartstein. “They got a massive tackle in the first round to protect Sam Darnold. They got a speedster from Baylor, Denzel Mims, who runs a 4.38 40 to help in terms of the wideouts. I think, with their win total at six and a half, that’s a lean to the over for me.”
Another factor is the evening out of the division overall. Every team is projected to win somewhere between six and nine games. That’s a narrow margin given that any of the four teams will be capable of beating the others.