AFC East Fantasy Division Preview: Tom Brady is gone — are the Bills now the team to beat?

Yahoo Sports Fantasy Staff
·11 min read

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all eight NFL divisions during the 2020 fantasy football draft season. Here, we’ll tackle each team’s most pressing fantasy question, and team win totals. Be sure to also check out each team’s full preview linked up below. Next up, the AFC East.

New England Patriots: Considering Cam Newton is on a new team coming off an injury, what is his ceiling in an offense that lacks talent around him?

Dalton: Cam Newton has never been the most accurate quarterback (career -3.3% CPOE) and is coming off a couple of major surgeries, one of which could affect his running ability (Lisfranc). He’ll also be learning a new system during a shortened offseason and competing against someone the Pats are seemingly sold on in Jarrett Stidham, so I don’t view this QB situation quite the same way as the rest of the world. Newton’s ADP is a hard pass for me, and in Superflex leagues, there isn’t a better sleeper/target than Stidham (who’s free).

Liz: For a deep dive on Cam as well as his shoulder/foot issues check out my Rest vs Rust series. Per the reasons outlined in the article, I’m not particularly worried about his health. In fact, I’m expecting Cam to pick up where he left off in 2018. He is, lest we forget, on a one-year bare-minimum deal. And to that end, the Patriot Way certainly includes squeezing every ounce of upside out of veteran players. Cam’s mobility — which Belichick has oft-praised — provides the football genius with the one modern era advantage he’s been lacking for the last 15-plus years. Cam will carry this squad because Belichick (and Josh McDaniels) will orchestrate it accordingly. He's a low-end QB1 for fantasy purposes.

Scott: I’m unlikely to draft Newton. The Patriots have a mess at the skill positions, and Newton’s body has been through the ringer. It was a reasonable low-cost gamble for the Patriots to take, but fantasy players will put a tag on Newton because of his rushing upside — perhaps ignoring his checkered history as a passer. And this offense doesn’t have skill talent to elevate him.

OVER/UNDER on 9.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: Most pundits and players are forever petrified to go against Bill Belichick, and I understand that angle. Belichick has won double-digit games an astounding 17 years in a row, and he’s posted a winning percentage of .683 in New England. He’s even covered an obscene 59.4 percent over that span (with a much tidier number if you start the grading after Brady emerged). Normally, when you bet against Belichick, you set your money on fire.

But most things in life end badly, or else they wouldn’t end. Not that the Patriots have to collapse to miss this number; even a 9-7 season won’t feed the cat.

The Newton signing plays well on the front page, but look at the depth of the team — a ton of defensive talent has left the club or opted out for 2020. There are cracks in the interior here. Belichick is a history buff and mindful of his own legacy, even as he'd never admit that second thing. Belichick probably has more glory ahead in New England, but it's unlikely to come this year. UNDER.

(Click here for our full, in-depth New England Patriots team preview)

Buffalo Bills: Stefon Diggs was Buffalo’s big offseason acquisition. Does he produce similar numbers (WR21 last season), make a leap, or take a step back in 2020?

Andy: First of all, Diggs is great. He’s a technician, a Reception Perception legend. Sure, he may have some diva-receiver tendencies, but he’s a massive talent. Fantasy wise, however, Diggs landed in a brutal spot. His new quarterback isn’t even close to league-average in terms of any passing stat that matters. If you want to get the most out of an elite NFL route-runner, it’s probably not best to pair him with one of the league’s least accurate passers. An abbreviated offseason does him no favors, either. Do not want. I’ll be surprised if he finishes as a top-24 fantasy receiver.

Matt: The move from Minnesota to Buffalo is a net-neutral for Diggs’ fantasy value. We know the talent remains the same. He’s a true No. 1 receiver and the best route-runner in the NFL (shoutout to Andy and his shoutout of me above). Just like in Minnesota, he will share targets with another 1B receiver in John Brown. That’s how Brown was used last year and he crushed it. The Bills, just like the Vikings, are a run-heavy team. The Vikings were fourth and the Bills seventh in run play percentage in 2019. Both the Vikings and Bills have quarterback questions, but this time instead of a quarterback with questions about how often he’ll check down instead of looking for Diggs when he’s open downfield, it’ll be a quarterback with questions about how often he’ll hit the target when he does let it rip. On a surface level, that’s identical. So Diggs is likely to be exactly what he was last year: A WR2 who has big spike weeks but may frustrate with some low outputs.

Scott: Diggs can be the dreamiest route runner in the world, but will Allen consistently deliver an accurate, catchable pass? And how long does it take for a new receiver to get comfortable in a new city? It’s not that every notable wideout changing teams is a bad initial bet, but that’s the way I’ll generally lean unless I see something to push me out of it. To be fair, fantasy players seem to grasp this concept; Diggs is currently the WR27 in Yahoo rooms and WR26 in NFFC formats. That’s fair for his services. But I’ll wait a year before I chase Diggs again.

OVER/UNDER on 8.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: The obvious call is OVER, but it’s not easy to play it; you have to lay -182 of juice. Perhaps I could interest you in Exactly 9 Wins (+275) or Exactly 10 Wins (+325)? Propped up by its defense and stable coaching, Buffalo is the AFC East’s best team entering 2020.

(Click here for our full, in-depth Buffalo Bills team preview)

New York Jets: Le’Veon Bell failed to live up to most expectations in 2019. What is the percentage chance he returns to his 2017 form this season?

Matt: Zero percent. For starters, running backs rarely turn the clock back in time once it starts ticking toward their decline. Even if Bell does look better this year and 2019 was mostly about his one-year absence, the improved form will still, at best, be 80 to 75 percent of his peak. And then it’s worth noting that nothing about the situation is as good as his Steelers data. The Jets’ offensive line is in the middle of a makeover, not loaded with studs. There are no Hall of Famers at outside receiver, just a rookie and journeyman veteran competing. Sam Darnold might be good this year, but he’s unlikely to be Ben-Roethlisberger-in-his-prime good. It’s just not going to happen.

Le'Veon Bell #26 of the New York Jets
Can you trust Le'Veon Bell in 2020? (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Dalton: Less than 1%. Since 2017, he’s sat out a season, massively downgraded situations, and is coming off a year in which he got 3.2 YPC and ranked 44th out of 45 backs in rushing DVOA (and also graded very poorly as a receiver), with only the incomparable Peyton Barber below him. Bell no doubt had to deal with a poor offensive line that the Jets addressed during the offseason, but he has a coach who didn’t even want to sign him but does want to “lessen his load.”

Bell was one of the most dynamic and fun backs to watch of his generation, but he’s also played 16 games and recorded double-digit TDs only once throughout his career. At least Bell’s ADP is cheaper this season, when he’s not coming off holding out and with a better situation at O-line and a healthy Darnold (Frank Gore is 37 years old), but Bell isn’t going to approach 2017 production at this stage of his career.

Liz: It’s 100% likely that Bell will be better than he was in 2019. But it is 0% likely he will be as productive as he was in 2017. Joe Douglas has worked hard to improve the Jets offensive line, reworking the unit via free agency and the draft. Still, how much can a unit improve in one year, especially given an abbreviated offseason?

At the close of 2019, NYJ’s run-blocking unit was ranked 31st in the league and came in dead last in open field success. In turn, Bell managed just a single breakaway run all season and averaged 3.0 YPC when facing base fronts (37.8%). So, yes, assuming the line gels even a little bit, Herndon makes his way to the field, and Mims proves worthy of the hype, then the improved protection — in tandem with a slight stretching of the field — figures to give Bell some running room. But Darnold isn’t good enough yet nor is the offense potent enough to create a situation for him to return to peak production.

OVER/UNDER on 6.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Dalton: Fade Gase and get juice? Sign me up. It’s not exactly ideal when your team’s strength is at linebacker and you traded away your star safety. While I expect Darnold to undergo real growth this season, this is a team that scored an NFL-low 25 touchdowns on offense in 2019, so they have a long way to go and are facing the third-toughest schedule when it comes to Vegas’ forecasted win totals. The Jets’ real turnaround is likely a year away and with a new regime.

(Click here for our full, in-depth New York Jets team preview)

Miami Dolphins: Matt Breida and Jordan Howard head a revamped backfield. Pick one to draft or are you simply fading?

Liz: Breida is the flashy pick with high-end speed and fire burst coming from an uber-friendly scheme and (brief) postseason appearance. Howard is the dull plodder with bad hands who’s now on his third team in five years. And yet … give me Howard.

Limited to a max of 15 carries (Weeks 1 and 9), Breida averaged just 10 totes per contest in 2019, forever in a timeshare with a banged-up (or bad) Tevin Coleman. Howard, on the other hand, not only touched the ball with more frequency last season but also posted at least six goal-line attempts and cleared seven scores for the second straight season. Players who “fall into the end zone” may not be explosive or exciting, but they put up points. At this point their ADPs are very similar, which makes this a much closer call than when Howard was going three rounds later than Breida in drafts.

Scott: Typically I sing Breida praises in this spot, but I actually like Howard as a “nobody likes this guy” fantasy value. He has a very clear path to 250 or more touches and should be the goal-line option.

Dalton: Breida. Howard is the goal-line favorite, but he’s a pedestrian runner and horrific as a receiver (although a terrific blocker), while Breida is the NFL’s fastest running back with a SPARQ-x in the 89th percentile who got the seventh-most yards-per-touch among backs in 2018 and owns a career 5.0 YPC mark (Football Outsiders has also graded him extremely favorably as a receiver in limited work over the last two seasons). He has a long injury history and briefly battled fumbling issues last year that resulted in him being lost in SF’s shuffle, but Breida has good skills and is suddenly looking at a major opportunity on an improving team, making him the RB to target in Miami.

OVER/UNDER on 6 Win Total from BetMGM

Dalton: Although quarterback is a bit of a wild card, the way I see it, either Tua Tagovailoa is healthy and provides strong QB play for years to come, or he sits this season and watches a perfectly fine backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick perform capably. In a division featuring Josh Allen at QB in Buffalo, Tom Brady gone in New England, and Adam Gase existing in New York, Miami suddenly might have the fewest questions in the AFC East. Given how quietly impressive Miami was down the stretch last season, a favorable looking schedule, loading up in the draft (while adding Byron Jones in free agency), a vastly improved offensive line and sneaky high upside at the skill positions (Parker, Gesicki, Breida, and Tua), this is an OVER for me.

(Click here for our full, in-depth Miami Dolphins team preview)

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