Will Bills' AFC East title be first of many? Buffalo faces slipping Patriots on Yahoo Sports app

Frank Schwab

The Buffalo Bills hadn’t won a division title since 1995, but approached the offseason like they were ready to break that streak.

They paid a lot to get receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings in a trade. The Bills made several shrewd free-agent moves to help depth. They drafted players who could help right away, like running back Zack Moss, receiver Gabriel Davis and kicker Tyler Bass.

Presumably, two basic factors went into their decision to be aggressive. They liked their core. And they knew the New England Patriots were vulnerable.

When the Bills face the New England Patriots on Monday night, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app, they will do so as AFC East champions. They are 11-3 and clinched the division last week. The Patriots are 6-8, and won’t go to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Given the state of both franchises, it might be the start of another streak in the AFC East.

Quarterback Josh Allen (17) is a big reason the Bills are AFC East champs. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes )
Quarterback Josh Allen is a big reason the Bills are AFC East champs. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes )

Patriots’ streak ends

The Patriots fell hard and fast. They struggled late last season after a good start. They were one-and-done in the playoffs. Tom Brady left in free agency. The defensive players who signed elsewhere didn’t get a fraction of the attention as Brady, but they were big losses too. The Patriots were also the team hit hardest by opt-outs due to concerns over coronavirus.

The cracks were already showing. New England has consistently made the wrong choice drafting skill position players the past few years. They haven’t drafted a star on defense in many years. They have held it together the past few seasons through aging veteran stars, key free agency additions, fantastic coaching and Brady’s greatness.

Bill Belichick is still getting the most out of what he has, but he doesn’t have much. The Patriots will have another quarterback question next offseason since Cam Newton is on a one-year deal and hasn’t played well. Their bad drafts have led to an extreme lack of impact players. For any other franchise, we’d view this as a multi-year rebuild. Because Belichick is still there, the Patriots get a bit of a benefit of the doubt. But Belichick will be 69 years old next season, and very few coaches keep going into their 70s. When Belichick retires, there likely won’t be many news leaks and certainly no yearlong retirement tour. He’ll just leave. Given the history of NFL coaches and how long they keep going, that day might be coming sooner than Patriots fans hope.

New England building up quickly and taking back the AFC East next season seems unlikely. Especially with how well the Bills are set up for the next few years.

Bills’ foundation is solid

Josh Allen is 24 years old. Both of the Bills’ top running backs are 23. Stefon Diggs is 27, which means he should have some good years left. The Bills’ Pro Bowlers on defense, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and cornerback Tre’Davious White, are 22 and 25 years old.

The Bills will have to keep retooling their roster around their core, but that’s true for any NFL team. The core is good. Coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have proven to be more than capable. Things change quickly in the NFL for practically every team — that’s the main reason the Patriots’ streak of dominance is so impressive — but there’s no reason to believe the Bills are going to quickly fade. If Allen’s improvement sticks, they should be contenders for a while.

There will be challenges from a Miami Dolphins team that is also improving. The New York Jets are a mess but it’s easier to turn things around quickly in the NFL than any other sport.

It’s weird to talk about the AFC East with someone other than the Patriots being on top. It might be that way for a while.

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