Ever since Tom Brady was elevated to the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback position early during the 2001 season, he and the team dominated the AFC East. With a healthy Brady leading the way — he missed virtually the entire 2008 season due to a torn ACL — New England won its division 17 times in 18 attempts, including 11 straight between the 2009 and 2019 seasons. This level of success was unprecedented and unheard of.
With Brady leaving the Patriots in free agency, however, the door appears to be open for another team to finally capture the AFC East crown again. The best bet to take over in case New England fails to properly rebound after losing long-time starting quarterback, is the Buffalo Bills. Finished second in the division in two of the last three seasons and also made the playoffs each time, Buffalo has quietly built a contending team.
Led by head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane, this year’s offseason acquisitions — the team was aggressive in free agency and also acquired wide receiver Stefon Diggs via trade — further illustrate that the organization thinks that its time to strike is now. That said, Beane sang a slightly different tune during a recent press conference when talking about the Patriots and his own team’s place in the AFC East race.
“I did not expect Tom to leave,” Beane said about Brady’s free agency departure. “It’s one of those things, all sorts of rumors and speculation. You know, obviously I’m on the outside looking in, but what a pro. What a legend he is. I’ll miss us playing against him. I go back and forth. You always want to take down the best and, you know, that’s probably the disappointing thing as I sit here; in my time we didn’t beat Tom Brady.”
“But New England’s still gonna be very good,” continued Buffalo’s GM. “I mean, you look at what Bill Belichick did in 2008… They got robbed of a playoff [spot]. They were 11-5 with Matt Cassel at the helm. So I think it’s funny, and comical, that people are writing them off and labeling whether it’s us or another team as the team to beat in the East. The team to beat in the East is the Patriots until somebody beats them.”
Beane does have a point. Even when Brady was out — he missed a combined 19 starts since 2001 — the Patriots have proven themselves as a team capable of competing week-in and week-out. That said, even though they went 13-6 without the greatest passer in league annals, the times have changed quite a bit: Buffalo has a strong roster in all three phases, while New England is facing questions at more positions than just quarterback.
Still, the Bills’ general manager is convinced that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will have his team ready to make a run at a 12th straight division title: “They are the team to beat as long as Bill Belichick’s there. You’re talking about, probably the greatest head coach of all time that was paired with the greatest quarterback of all time. So, until we beat him, you know, we’ve done nothing and we got our work cut out for us.”