The AFC East has essentially been run by the same team for over 15 years. The New England Patriots have dominated the division season after season, riding on the success of the most prolific quarterback this league has ever known and a head coach who always seems to be three steps ahead of the rest of the NFL.
That being said, each team in the division, the Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and our Miami Dolphins, have their strengths and weaknesses. Over the offseason, I’ll be giving an overview of each team at each position, and ranking them according to skill and depth. Today, we review the quarterbacks.
4) New York Jets
As we all know by now, the New York Jets’ roster is nothing short of an absolute mess from just about any perspective, and their quarterback depth chart is no exception. At the position, the currently employ two passers who had a combined quarterback rating (QBR) of 66.2 last season, and a third who has never thrown a pass during a regular season NFL game.
While Josh McCown might be one of the more serviceable backups in the league, he is not a starter by any stretch of the imagination. By joining the Jets, he’s now been rostered by exactly one quarter of the league’s teams, and during his 15 year career, he’s earned an 18-42 record as a starting quarterback.
Bryce Petty isn’t any better. In six games and four starts last season, Petty completed just 56.4% of his passes, throwing 7 interceptions while only scoring 3 touchdowns. Despite the fact that the roster around him was playing at a substandard for most of the year, those numbers are simply not indicative of a player who can be counted on as a leader for the future.
At this point, I don’t see any reason as to why the Jets should not start Christian Hackenberg to open the season. He may not have a plethora of playmakers around him, but if the team is going to invest a high draft pick in a 2018 quarterback class that looks to be deep at the position, they may as well know what they have in the second year player who they kept in bubble wrap for his entire rookie season. Some may say it’s unfair to throw Hackenberg into the fire, but he’s had two offseasons and an entire regular season to acclimate to the big leagues. It’s time for him to sink or swim on his own.
3) Buffalo Bills
Nathan Peterman (R)
You can argue over whether or not Tyrod Taylor has a brighter NFL future than Ryan Tannehill until the cows come home. But the fact is, Tannehill outperformed his AFC East counterpart last season in completion percentage, QBR, sacks taken, and yards per attempt behind an inferior offensive line. In addition, even Taylor’s own organization questioned whether or not he was their quarterback of the future, as they reportedly pressured former head coach Rex Ryan to consider starting Cardale Jones multiple times last season to see what they had in the untested QB.
There’s also the fact that Miami has an obvious advantage over the Bills at the backup quarterback position. Matt Moore is widely recognized as one of the most capable and reliable backups in the NFL, and he proved as much by guiding the Dolphins to the playoffs in the wake of Ryan Tannehill’s injury last season. Neither Jones, T.J. Yates, nor rookie Nathan Peterman would be prefered by any NFL team should an emergency occur at the quarterback position. That, along with the fact that I see Tannehill as a superior player to Taylor, means Miami gets slight edge in these rankings.
2) Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins seem more settled at the quarterback position and more certain about Ryan Tannehill as their quarterback of the future than they have since they drafted him back in 2012. After trudging through the mess of coaching that were the Joe Philbin and Dan Campell years, Tannehill’s career was finally pointed straight upward under Adam Gase. Prior to his knee injury late last season, the 6th year quarterback was putting up career high numbers in completion percentage (67.1%), QBR (93.5), yards per attempt (7.7), and a career low in sacks (29). With more weapons than ever and another offseason to tune the finer points of Gase’s offense, there is no reason to believe that upward trend will do anything but continue in 2017.
As stated above, the Dolphins are better off at the backup quarterback position than almost any other team in the league. Matt Moore has starting experience with both the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, and has the ability to play at a moments notice and perform like he’s been starting his entire career. That’s not to say that Moore is a top tier NFL quarterback, but he certainly is beyond serviceable in an emergency such as the one the Dolphins faced last season. When Tannehill went down with an injury, Moore played admirably well, completing 63.2 percent of his passes on top of 8 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions, leading the Dolphins to a playoff berth.
Behind Moore sit David Fales and Brandon Doughty, each of whom will attempt to convince Miami’s coaching staff to reserve a roster spot for a third string QB. If they fail to do so, the better training camp performer will likely find themselves on the Dolphins’ practice squad.
1) New England Patriots
Anyone surprised to see the Patriots atop these rankings has been living under a rock for the past 16 years. New England boasts the best quarterback of all time as their starter, a player who holds the third best quarterback rating of all time and who, like a fine wine, seems to only get better with age. In his 17th NFL regular season, Brady recorded the best touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history (28-2), after which he led the Patriots to the greatest Super Bowl comeback the world has ever seen. No matter who he’s throwing the ball to, Brady gets the job done each and every time. Going into his age 40 campaign, Brady finds himself surrounded with one of his best supporting casts on offense since he almost went undefeated during the 2007 NFL season, and he appears to be in hot pursuit of of repeating that magical year once again.
The Patriots know that Brady can’t play forever though, and they’re preparing for his eventual departure with the grooming of Jimmy Garoppolo. During Brady’s four-game suspension last season, Garoppolo appeared to have the talent and football acumen to be Brady’s eventual successor. He started two games before enduring an injury, but during that short stint, he completed over 70 percent of his passes and threw 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. If the Patriots can keep Garoppolo around until Brady retires, they may not see a drastic decrease in performance under center. What remains to be seen however, is whether Belichick can convince Garoppolo to stick around that long.