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How will the AFC East shake out in the coming years?

And who will serve as the Fins’ biggest rival and challenge to the division crown? For me, it’s Buffalo.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

There’s little doubt there’s a changing of the complexion of the AFC East in the works, at least to the extent many teams will either look different or will have some level of experience and stability going into 2020 from their 2019 selves. Miami, wrongly considered at the beginning of 2019 as a potentially historically bad team by some talking heads, changed that narrative with an impressive run to end the year. They’ve followed up on that with a barrage of free agent signings and sit in the cat bird’s seat with a load of picks for next week’s draft. As Timbuk 3 would say, the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

And with Tom Brady now living in Derek Jeter’s mansion in Tampa, the New England Patriots will be looking for a new franchise quarterback for the first time in almost two decades. Will their grip on the division loosened such that the Dolphins and the rest of the division will finally catch up? And which team could pair with Miami to form the best rivalry and threat to the division title over the next several years?

For me, it’s Buffalo. I’ve always been fascinated by the Buffalo-Miami rivalry, both geographically and historically. Their distance in miles was only matched by the difference in their respective climates and cultures. It was like watching the polar opposites of each other every time they took the field. Growing up watching football in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Marino vs. Kelly was appointment television. Two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game squaring off twice a year, with playoff implications on the line every single time for one or both. Buffalo undoubtedly has caused some significant what-if moments for Miami, including the 1993 AFC Championship Game, a 29-10 Bills win.

Flash forward to 2020, and that rivalry might be ready to take off again at a meaningful level. The Bills and Dolphins have each finished second in the division twice in the past four years, with the Bills making the playoffs twice and the Fins once. Buffalo has a championship-caliber defense, and while it takes more than defense to win championships, the Bills’ group is good enough to win games by itself and cover for what’s been a lesser offense. I’m not sold on Josh Allen as a true franchise QB until he shows better accuracy, but he’s young and certainly a physically-gifted, bona fide dual threat player. Now he has Stefon Diggs to throw to, who can’t be understated as huge addition to Buffalo’s passing game. If the Bills can add some more quality pieces to their offense, yikes. In any event, I think they’re the most likely of the three opponents to constantly challenge for the division and form must-see matchups with the Dolphins.

As far as the rest of the division, I suppose the Pats and Belichick should be still considered the prohibitive favorite until someone knocks them off. I just think they’re a team that’s trending down right now, given their anemic offense and having to replace Brady. They’ve drafted well for so long that it’s stupid to look at anyone else as being the better, younger long-term contender, but hey, I’ve been called stupid before and will again, so I’m fine with it.

The Jets are the Dolphins most bitter rivals, but they’re a rudderless organization with probably the least promise moving forward. I guess the best thing I can say is they have a year of Gase’s system under their belt and Darnold is entering year three, so maybe there’s a chance they right the ship. They’ll have to do it without Robby Anderson to throw to, and without much help from its 2019 draft class, with Quennin Williams proving to be the only potential impact player. They finished 2019 decently well after starting 1-7, but their list of wins did not include one single playoff team, except the Bills in Week 17 who had already clinched a playoff spot. Although Williams, C.J. Mosley, and Jamal Adams give them a solid defensive core at all 3 levels, their offense is a mess, and Darnold hasn’t been consistent enough to make me think he’s going to merit his top 5 draft status.

So how do you see the AFC East looking in the coming years? Which team do you think becomes Miami’s most intriguing rival? Let’s hear it.