I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time this summer breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective for the 2021 season. It’s a good way for me to put a bow on the season that just finished while also getting a leg up on my early research for the 2022 season.
1. Buffalo Bills
Record (ATS): 12-7 (10-7-2)
Season Win Total: 11 (push)
One-score Record: 0-5 (0-1 postseason)
Division Odds: -150
Over/Under record: 10-9
PPG: 28.4 (3rd)
PPG Allowed: 17.0 (1st)
Point Differential: +194 (1st)
The Bills have vanquished the Patriots the last two years and they’re starting their own run of dominance in the division with their second consecutive AFC East title. Buffalo hasn’t won consecutive division titles since it claimed four straight titles in 1988-91 when the AFC East also had the Colts in its ranks. The Bills experienced a two-win dropoff from 2020 but they still reached the playoffs for the fourth time in Sean McDermott’s first five seasons, which the franchise hadn’t done since 1995-99. They entered the playoffs with the league’s best point differential at +194 by allowing a league-low 17.0 points per game while scoring the third-most PPG (28.4). All 12 of Buffalo’s victories came by double-digit margins, which included their 30-point beatdown of the division nemesis Patriots in the Wild Card Round.
The Bills handed Bill Belichick the largest playoff defeat of his Patriots’ tenure by becoming the first team in NFL history to never punt, kick a field goal, or turn the ball over in their victory. Josh Allen set a Bills’ playoff record with five touchdown passes against the Patriots, and he finished with more TDs than incompletions (4). The Bills also had more touchdowns (7) than third downs (6) and they had 484 yards on 51 plays (9.5 YPP) before three kneel-downs at the end of the game. Allen played like a superhero again in the Divisional Round, but the Bills dropped to 0-6 in one-score games with Patrick Mahomes outdueling Allen in a heart-wrenching loss to the Chiefs. The Bills defense allowed a league-low 272.8 yards per game despite losing top CB Tre’Davious White (ACL) late in the season, but they got ripped for 552 yards and 42 points in their second consecutive playoff loss to the Chiefs. Allen still had a memorable season overall, finishing as fantasy’s QB1 with 23.7 FPG thanks to 36 passing TDs and six rushing TDs.
What to look for this off-season
The Bills have established themselves as a yearly fixture atop of the AFC as long as Allen is in the picture, and they head into the off-season with few holes to fix. They loaded up on pass-rushing help in last year’s draft by selecting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham with their first two picks, but they once again failed to get past Mahomes and the Chiefs in the postseason. The Bills need to decide if they’re ready to roll with Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, and Basham as their top pass rushers, or do they bring back free agents Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison who will each be in their mid-30s in 2022. Buffalo could look to get younger at WR with Emmanuel Sanders hitting free agency and they could get out from Cole Beasley’s $7.6 million contract for next season with a cap hit of just $1.5 million. Allen is set to count just $16.4 million against the cap next season before his hit swells to $39.8 million starting in 2023 so the Bills are running out of opportunities to make multiple big moves in free agency. Buffalo’s biggest off-season spending will likely come along their offensive and defensive lines, and they’ll look to keep CB Levi Wallace in the fold to keep their secondary strong heading into 2022.
2. New England Patriots
- Record (ATS): 10-8 (10-8)
- Season Win Total: 9.5 (over)
- One-score Record: 3-3
- Playoff Odds: +115
- Over/Under record: 10-8
- PPG: 27.2 (6th)
- PPG Allowed: 17.8 (2nd)
- Point Differential: +159 (3rd)
New England’s second season in the post-Tom Brady era went much better with rookie Mac Jones taking over at quarterback after the franchise suffered its first losing season in 20 years with Cam Newton at the helm. The Patriots controlled their destiny in the AFC East after beating the Bills with just three pass attempts in a Week 13 game that was played in a windstorm. That game capped a seven-game outright and ATS winning streak and the Monday Night Football victory would be the high point of the season. The Patriots went 1-4 outright and ATS after their Week 14 bye with their defense allowing 27+ points in each of their losses. Big free-agent signee Matthew Judon failed to register a single sack in their final five games after racking up 12.5 sacks in his first 13 games with the Patriots. Jones threw seven INTs and averaged 6.7 YPA in those final five games after posting eight INTs and 7.5 YPA in his first 13 games of his rookie campaign.
Jones still played much better than expected as the 15th overall pick, and he has the potential to be the team’s long-term solution. He needs to improve his arm strength and downfield passing as his physical limitations were evident when the Patriots played from behind. The Patriots were in unfamiliar territory entering the postseason as a Wild Card team opening the playoffs on the road. Bill Belichick’s first 17 postseason appearances with the Patriots came after New England won the AFC East. The Bills emphatically stated who runs the AFC East right now with their 30-point victory over the Patriots, which was Belichick’s largest playoff defeat in his Patriots’ tenure. The Patriots were the first defense in NFL history that failed to force a punt, a field-goal attempt, or a turnover on downs in their loss to the Bills after they allowed the second-fewest points per game (17.8) and the fourth-fewest yards per game (310.8) in the regular season. The Patriots leaned heavily on their defense and their rushing attack to win games last season, which helped Damien Harris to finish behind only Jonathan Taylor with 15 rushing touchdowns.
What to look for this off-season
New England has a pretty strong roster overall with no major glaring weaknesses after they spent an NFL record $163 million in guaranteed money in unrestricted free agency in 2021. New England’s aggressive spending will limit their opportunities to compete for free agents this off-season. They still failed to add a truly dynamic receiving weapon in 2021 despite spending big money on Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith. Jones showed signs of being the team’s long-term solution at quarterback, but he needs a dynamic wide receiver to help him take his next step in his sophomore season. The Patriots will be regretting their decision to draft N’Keal Harry at the end of the first round in the 2019 draft for years to come, which looks even worse since Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown were the next two WRs drafted after him. J.C. Jackson, Trent Brown, Dont’a Hightower, and Devin McCourty are the team’s biggest priority free agents, and Jackson is a primary target after they moved on from Gilmore last season.
3. Miami Dolphins
- Record (ATS): 9-8 (9-7-1)
- Season Win Total: 9.5 (under)
- One-score Record: 4-3
- Missed Playoff Odds: -145
- Over/Under record: 7-10
- PPG: 20.1 (22nd)
- PPG Allowed: 21.9 (t15th)
- Point Differential: -32 (21st)
The Dolphins fell below their win total — by half a game — for the first time in Brian Flores’s three-year tenure, which was apparently enough for owner Stephen Ross to head in a new direction yet again. Dave Wannstedt was the last Dolphins’ head coach to make it through four seasons back in 2000-03, who resigned nine games into the 2004 season. Miami was headed toward a disastrous season with seven consecutive losses after beating the Patriots in the season opener, but they righted the ship by winning seven consecutive games. The Dolphins became the first team to lose seven straight games and to win seven straight games in the same season. As soon as Miami got back above .500, they couldn’t stick the finish with a humbling 31-point loss to the Titans in Week 17. The Dolphins became the first team to win seven straight games and miss the playoffs since Washington did it back in 1996 — 79 teams won 7+ games and made the playoffs between 1996-2020.
The jury remains out on Tua Tagovailoa’s viability as a franchise quarterback through two seasons, and the Dolphins certainly did their part to undermine him at times with their pursuit of Deshaun Watson hanging over the team last season. It didn’t help that Tua fractured his ribs early into the second game of the season, which sent the Dolphins spiraling in the wrong direction. He averaged just 6.8 YPA despite completing 67.8% of his passes as he finished with a higher aDOT (7.4 yards) than just Jared Goff, Ben Roethlisberger, and Daniel Jones. It didn’t help that his receiving corps went from a potential strength in the preseason to a major weakness with Will Fuller (finger) and DeVante Parker (hamstring/shoulder) registering just 12 games played. It also didn’t help that he had one of the league’s worst backfields behind him and the league’s worst offensive line in front of him, according to PFF. The Dolphins have whiffed on selecting linemen in recent drafts, but they crushed it by selecting Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland with their first three picks last year. Waddle re-wrote the NFL’s rookie record book with 104 receptions, Phillips recorded 8.5 sacks in his final 14 games, and Holland finished with 69 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions.
What to look for this off-season
Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross shockingly fired Flores at the end of the season, and they’re moving forward with Kyle Shanahan’s right-hand man Mike McDaniel as the new face of the franchise. McDaniel became the team’s fifth different head coach since 2011, following in the steps of Tony Sparano (2008-11), Joe Philbin (2012-14), Adam Gase (2016-18), and Flores (2019-21) before him. It appears the franchise will stick it out with Tua at quarterback, but they do have three first-round picks over the next two seasons if they want to continue to test the waters on Deshaun Watson or on another top quarterback.
No matter what they do at quarterback, the top offensive priority has to be to upgrade their pitiful offensive line. The Dolphins should consider turning to free agency to upgrade the unit after finding very little success in the draft in recent seasons— they selected four O-linemen in the first three rounds of the last three drafts. The Dolphins have one of the biggest available budgets entering the league’s new year so they could be one of the most active teams in free agency. Miami also needs to upgrade the weapons around its quarterback after Will Fuller vanished last season. Mike Gesicki is a candidate to be franchise tagged this off-season after 2021 third-round pick Hunter Long did little to show he’s ready to be the team’s top tight end. Emmanuel Ogbah is the top free agent priority on defense after he paced the Dolphins in sacks in each of the last two seasons with nine sacks in each season.
4. New York Jets
- Record (ATS): 4-13 (6-11)
- Season Win Total: 6 (under)
- One-score Record: 4-5
- Missed Playoff Odds: -900
- Over/Under record: 10-7
- PPG: 18.2 (28th)
- PPG Allowed: 29.6 (32nd)
- Point Differential: -194 (31st)
The Jets had nowhere to go but up in 2021 after winning just two games under former HC Adam Gase, which secured the second overall pick in last year’s draft. New York hired Robert Saleh as their new HC and they used their top pick on Zach Wilson, but last season looked eerily similar to Jets’ football from the past decade-plus with just a two-win improvement from 2020. The Jets missed the playoffs for the 11th straight season, and they have the NFL’s longest active playoff drought after the Browns and Buccaneers each snapped their droughts in 2020. New York owns just one winning season in that span and they’ve finished in last place in the AFC East in five of the last six seasons. The Jets experienced three different three-game losing streaks, but they flashed some potential with victories over the Titans, the AFC’s top seed, and the Bengals, the AFC champions. But, for the most part, New York’s inexperienced coaching staff looked in over their heads with the Jets finishing with the second-worst point differential at -194, ahead of only the lowly Jaguars.
Saleh cut his teeth as the coordinator of San Francisco’s top defense from 2017-20, but he failed to work any magic with New York’s defense in Year One. The Jets were already running low on defensive talent heading into the season before they suffered a big blow when top free-agent signee Carl Lawson ruptured his Achilles tendon in August. Saleh’s defense was a target for fantasy players all season long with the Jets finishing dead last in both points per game allowed (29.7) and yards per game allowed (397.6). Wilson had a rough first season overall, finishing with fewer TD passes (9) than interceptions (11) while averaging an ugly 6.1 YPA. He showed some improvement once he returned from his knee injury in Week 12 before the Bills held the Jets to a franchise-low 53 yards on 46 plays (1.2 yards per play) in the season finale. Jets’ fans should at least be excited about the young offensive talent they collected in last year’s draft in WR Elijah Moore, OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, and RB Michael Carter, but the progress of this franchise will hinge on Wilson’s development.
What to look for this off-season
The Jets did well to upgrade their pathetic roster last off-season, but they still have a ton of work to do to get into playoff contention this season. The good news is that they have the resources to potentially do it if they crush it in the draft and in free agency. The Jets have four picks inside the first 38 picks in this year’s draft, including picks No. 4 and 10, and they’re flush with available cap space to make major improvements to their roster across the board. New York could also look to trade their first two picks from the 2020 draft in Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims. Both players don’t appear to be in the plans for Saleh and OC Mike LaFleur, but they’re intriguing talents who could fetch some additional assets.
The Jets have major holes all over their roster but New York’s defense took major steps back in their first season under their defensive-minded head coach. The Jets need to address all three levels of their defense after ranking in the bottom-five against both the pass and run last season. GM Joe Douglas also wants to make life easier for Wilson heading into his second season, and he should aggressively target a wide receiver and/or a tight end to pair with Elijah Moore and Dorey Davis at receiver. The Jets don’t have any true priority free agents with the likes of Marcus Maye, Morgan Moses, and Jamison Crowder headlining their top players hitting the market.