With Tom Brady leading their offense, the New England Patriots dominated their division in unprecedented fashion: the team won 17 AFC East championships after Brady took over as its starting quarterback in 2001, missing out only twice — on a tiebreaker in 2002 and in 2008, when Brady also missed almost the entire year due to a torn ACL. The other 17 seasons saw the future Hall of Famer lead the Patriots to division title after division title.
With Brady taking his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, New England’s streak of 11 straight AFC East crowns appears to be in jeopardy. While the team still is expected to feature one of the best defensive units in football, and also benefits from having the NFL’s premier coaching staff, the offense — routinely a strength over the last two decades and with Brady at the helm — is a major question mark not just at the quarterback position.
The door for another champion to emerge is therefore as open as it has not been since the early 2000s, and one team is already stating its claim: the Buffalo Bills, who finished second in the AFC East in two of the last three seasons and also made the playoffs each time. The Bills have quietly built a contending team under head coach Sean McDermott, and this year’s offseason acquisitions illustrate how they think that their opportunity has come.
This view is not just shared by pundits all over the nation, but also by at least one of Buffalo’s players as well. Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie recently posted a video on social media talking about how Brady’s decision to leave New England can shift the power balance in the division to a Bills organization that last won the AFC East back in 1995 (coincidentally also the final year that Buffalo won a playoff game, going 0-5 since).
“It’s a great situation,” McKenzie noted in his 20-second social media clip (via Thad Brown of WROC-TV). “I cheered [when Brady announced his departure], because he’s a great player. You can’t take that away from him. Just him leaving... our team is stacked. The last two years we’ve been giving him a run for his money. But now that he’s gone, it’s going to be the Bills’ time to take over.”
Buffalo certainly is a team on the rise. Not only has quarterback Josh Allen taken a noticeable leap forward between Year One and Year Two in the system, improving his statistics across the board, it also added talented wide receiver Stefon Diggs via trade. Furthermore, the Bills’ defense signed defensive linemen Mario Addison and Vernon Butler in free agency to boost a unit that was already among the best in the NFL in 2019.
Whether or not those new pieces can help lift the team to the top of the AFC East remains to be seen, but the Bills certainly appear to be in a prime position to take over in case the Patriots fail to properly replace Brady and fellow free agency departures such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. That said, New England has proven its resiliency time and again over the last two decades even though it never faced a challenge quite like this one.