New York Jets Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Sam Darnold
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

With Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots, the New York Jets and Sam Darnold have an opportunity to hold sway over the AFC East.

Danny Small

The dynasty in New England is finally over—well, maybe. Tom Brady is leaving the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and for the first time in forever, the AFC East is up for grabs. The last time the New York Jets took home the AFC East crown?

2002.

Since that year, the Pats have won the division 16 of 17 years. The Miami Dolphins took the AFC East in 2008 when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury after just 11 pass attempts. Other than that, it’s been wall-to-wall dominance by the Patriots.

Football is a team sport, but it starts and ends at the quarterback position. Simply put, the Jets have the best quarterback in the division—Sam Darnold.

It might be hard for Jets fans to remember what life is like without having to face Brady twice each season. Obviously, the future Hall of Famer is not the same quarterback he was 10 years ago, but he was still good enough to lead the Pats to a 12-4 record in 2019.

Now, for the first time in nearly 20 years, the Patriots are facing long-term uncertainty at the quarterback position. Jarrett Stidham, the second-year man out of Auburn, and Brian Hoyer, a long-time Pats backup, are the two likeliest candidates to start Week 1 next season.

There’s still a chance that Bill Belichick figures out a way to bring a veteran like Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, or Cam Newton into the fold. However, New England’s current salary cap restrictions make that unlikely.

Meaning, Belichick is likely going to roll out Stidham or Hoyer for 16 games next season. It’s safe to say that the AFC East is wide open.

Although the Jets have been relatively quiet during free agency, there’s no reason to believe Gang Green can’t compete for a division title. Of the few moves general manager Joe Douglas has made this offseason, rebuilding the offensive line for Darnold is a clear priority.

Darnold has insane arm talent and can make all the throws when he has a clean pocket. Giving him the support he needs could propel the Jets to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

The Buffalo Bills shouldn’t be overlooked. Josh Allen made strides in year two and played well enough to lift the Bills to a playoff berth. But let’s be real. Darnold is just the more talented quarterback.

Buffalo’s strong defense and consistent running game were the driving force behind the franchise’s second playoff berth this millennium. The Bills are a solid team, but the Jets have no reason to fear the “only New York football team.”

The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, are still trying to build a winner down in South Beach. After looking like one of the worst NFL teams of all time towards the beginning of last season, Miami rebounded to win five of its final nine games.

They still need a long-term answer at quarterback and could fill that hole in the draft. Regardless, the Dolphins are going to be scrappy, but won’t be a legitimate contender to win the division.

But let’s circle back to where this whole conversation started—New England. Tom Brady’s departure is a crack in the foundation of Belichick’s dynasty. But again, it’s only a crack for now. Will the entire operation come crumbling down without Brady in the fold? Possibly.

However, Belichick is still the most successful NFL coach in history and he’ll have his defense among the best of the best in 2020. The Pats are vulnerable and the Jets have never had a better opportunity to take control of the AFC East, but it won’t be easy.

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