For many fans, the NFL preseason is the most wonderful, and hopeful, time of year. With that in mind, before the crushing reality of the regular season sets in during the bleak mid-winter, let us bask in the warm optimism of the preseason and list one reason to be excited about each team’s chances ahead of the 2021 regular season: AFC East edition.
The race for the Lombardi trophy is a marathon, not a sprint. Over the past couple of seasons, the brain trust in Buffalo has been putting together a tough and competent organisation and football team. And while the Bills seemed a tad outclassed by the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional game, their progress these last few seasons has been encouraging to witness.
If I had to pick one reason for Bills fans to get excited about this upcoming season, it would have to be the quarterback — Josh Allen.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) July 21, 2021
Allen took a tremendous leap last season, becoming one of the premier passers in the game and forcing us to re-evaluate how we analyse and talk about quarterbacks. I honestly believe that with his combination of size, arm talent and another year of sharpening the tool above his shoulders, Allen will come back even stronger next season. Especially with building more of a rapport with Stefon Diggs.
Adam Gase is gone! After toiling away in the darkness for two long, long seasons, the Jets can feel the sunny glow of that Californian sun on their skin. Former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was appointed new head coach by the Jets in January and since then, there’s been a cautious sense of optimism surrounding the gang green.
Not only a tremendous defensive mind, Saleh is also an invigorating character. In a game that requires an extreme amount of sacrifice, pain and commitment, Saleh is the type of figure that players will go to war for.
Leader of the defence and best linebacker in football, Fred Warner, told GMFB “I have the utmost respect for this guy… he’s such an intelligent mind… he’s hard on us but he does it with love.”
Head Coach Robert Saleh said Jets rookie WR @e_moore03 was "dynamic" and "there's not a lot of things he can't do."
No. 8 had nearly 11 catches and 150 Yds/G in the country's best conference last season.
He'll be one to watch in camp and beyond… https://t.co/lsym7sAHeH
— Eric Allen (@eallenjets) July 22, 2021
While the team may be lacking real, proven talent in some areas, the team has direction, has a clear philosophy and has guidance. Even if the Jets only win four games this season, the future is bright and the air is lighter for the Jets and their fans.
In 2020, Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker accumulated 793 receiving yards. The second closest receiver to Parker’s output was Preston Williams. Williams finished the season with 288 yards receiving. Outside of Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki, the Dolphins had no urgency or talent in the passing game. Step right up, Jaylen Waddle.
The Dolphins drafted Waddle with the sixth pick of the 2021 NFL draft. Possessing immense speed (Waddle’s unofficial 40 time is 4.37 seconds) and playmaking ability, Waddle is hoping to reconnect with former college teammate Tua Tungovialoa and help the sophomore quarterback elevate his game.
A list of all NCAA WRs with at least 25 targets and a perfect passer rating when targeted (158.3) in 2020:
— PFF MIA Dolphins (@PFF_Dolphins) July 22, 2021
Waddle has the potential to be a real special talent in Miami. If Tua can take a step up this year along with with Brian Flores’ Dolphins defence continuing their 2020 form, Miami has a great chance at making the postseason for the first time since 2000 in 2021.
The Patriots missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008. If you’re willing to overlook the 2008 miss due to Brady missing the season with an ACL injury, the last time the Pats missed the postseason was in 2002. Bill Belichick will do everything in his power for that to not happen again. A key element in Belichick’s revenge will be the re-building of his front 7.
A key component in the rebuilding of the Pats front 7 is the return of Dont’a Hightower. Hightower opted out of the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns, leaving a giant hole in the centre of the Patriots defence. The impact his return will have on this defence cannot be overstated.
The future is bright for Leonidas 🥺
Also, tell us more about that shoe collection, @man_dammn 🔥
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) July 19, 2021
Speaking at a press conference in June, Pats inside linebackers coach Jarod Mayo spoke about Hightower’s return. “He’s one of the smartest players that I’ve been around and had the pleasure to coach. He knows all the Xs and Os. He’ll probably be a coach one day, honestly.”
Possessing incredible range, near-perfect tackling technique and the cerebral skills required to command a Bill Belichick defence, Hightower is back and ready to lead this revamped front seven.
Along with the returning Hightower (as well as the development of young talents such as Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings), the Pats acquired tenacious defensive lineman and two-time Pro Bowler Matt Judon.
In five seasons with Baltimore, Judon accumulated 34.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss and 104 quarterback hits earning him a reputation as a formidable defender in the process. Belichick is sure to adapt his defensive scheme to get the best out of the versatile Judon. Expect to see Judon lineup at various spots across the line – impacting both the running and the passing game.