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Week 1 AFC East Preview: Tua takes on Mac

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Are you ready for some football?!

Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Season has finally arrived, and with it comes the football action we’ve been craving since Tom Brady lifted yet another Lombardi Trophy back in February. His former team, the New England Patriots, are taking on your Miami Dolphins in Foxborough this coming Sunday. It’s a classic AFC East rivalry nearly as old as the Super Bowl itself.

Over the next 18 weeks (that still feels weird to type), I’ll be previewing all the AFC East action and reviewing the week’s news from the around the league’s most intriguing division. Will Josh Allen lead the Bills to a second consecutive crown? Will it be Mac Jones or Zach Wilson who is the more impressive rookie gunslinger? Will Tua make the leap? This will be your weekly column for all those answers and more. A companion column will be released regularly on Tuesdays to review the previous weekend’s games.

Without further ado: let’s get ready for the action!

AFC East Standings

  1. Buffalo Bills (0-0) overall; (0-0) division
  2. Miami Dolphins (0-0) overall; (0-0) division
  3. New England Patriots (0-0) overall; (0-0) division
  4. New York Jets (0-0) overall; (0-0) division

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots - September 12th at 4:25pm ET

The Dolphins travel to Foxborough to take on rookie Mac Jones in his first NFL start. The storyline of this game is unequivocally centered around the two quarterbacks. Mac Jones succeeded Tua Tagovailoa at the University of Alabama following the later’s catastrophic hip industry and subsequent 5th-overall selection in the NFL draft. While Tagovailoa navigated a rookie season that included incredible highs (comeback win against the Arizona Cardinals) and disappointing lows (twice being unceremoniously benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick), Jones lit the collegiate scene on fire en route to being selected in the first round by the Patriots.

The keys to this game for both teams will be supporting their young passers with a solid running game, stout defense, and sound fundamentals. Whichever team makes the fewest mistakes is likely to return home victorious. Don’t expect a barn burner in this one.

Score prediction: Miami 23 - 20 New England

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills - September 12th at 1:00pm ET

The Bills enter this game with a target on the team’s preverbial back. Buffalo handily took the division crown last season and nearly reached the Super Bowl with an impressive postseason run that displayed why Josh Allen should be one of the top MVP candidates this season. Allen took a monstrous leap forward in his development and nearly his entire supporting cast is back.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, seems to be a team clinging for dear life to an era that’s past the them by. Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer and deserves a great deal of respect for his football prowess, but at times last season, he seemed like a shell of his former self. Despite adding Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and despite the level of firepower in the team’s receiving corps, I don’t see Pittsburgh keeping up with Buffalo, especially if the former team’s best player continues to hold out in a contract dispute.

Score prediction: Buffalo 31 - 24 Pittsburgh

New York Jets at Carolina Panthers - September 12th at 1:00pm ET

Talk about juicy storylines... We get a Sam Darnold revenge game right off the bat! After New York fell into position to acquire Zach Wilson with the 2nd-overall pick back in April, the team shipped Darnold off for a chance at a career renaissance with the upstart Panthers. Carolina has plenty of talent on offense, a young and well-respected coaching staff, and a chance to take another step in a division that is sorely lacking a second-best team behind the reigning Super Bowl champs.

Though the game won’t get much national media attention due to the respective teams’ lackluster 2020 records, Wilson’s debut, Darnold’s first look in black and blue, Christian McCaffrey’s return, and a whole bunch of young talent will make this game one of the week’s under-the-radar best viewings.

Score prediction: Carolina 27 - 21 New York

Follow Justin Hier on Twitter @HierJustin.