5 reasons the Dolphins still haven’t closed the gap with the Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Buffalo Bills
Sean McDermott, Bill Belichick (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

4. Don’t forget about New England … or the Jets

The Patriots were able to get back into the playoffs in 2021 on the strength of a good defense, a high-powered running game, and the steady eddy play of rookie QB Mac Jones. There have been some losses for the team in free agency, but New England still has the backbone of a good squad.

The losses were notable — J.C. Jackson, Ted Karras, Brandon Bolden — but there were other big names to re-sign with the team. Two of the biggest may be mainstays James White and Matthew Slater.

Trent Brown is back at right tackle after having what may have been his best season as a pro (finishing with a career-high 78.7 PFF grade) despite only playing nine games. Brown was not called for a penalty all 2021, has only been dinged for one total penalty since the 2020 season, and has not been called for holding since 2018.

Ja’whaun Bentley appears to be the team’s MLB of the future as he finished with career-bests of 109 stops, five tackles for loss, and five QB hits in 2021. He’ll be joined up front by Pro Bowler Matt Judon, the emerging Christian Barmore, and Davon Godchaux after they guided New England to the No. 1 rush defense in the league.

But the Pats’ secondary is where it’s at. Even with losing Jackson, the NFL’s No. 2 pass defense from a season ago will still have Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Devin McCourty, Kyle Duggar, and the returning Malcolm Butler.

New England will also be bringing back the RB tandem of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, as they lifted the offense to the eighth overall rushing attack in the game.

That complimented Jones tremendously — in the 12 games the team had over 120 rushing yards, the Pats were 8-4 with Jones posting 15 TDs and seven INTs. In those six games (including the playoffs) where New England couldn’t top 120 yards rushing? Mac had nine TD throws against eight INTs.

So it’s safe to say Jones isn’t a superstar. But his play in year one was more steady than anything Tua has done over the last two seasons. Outside of that, though, the Pats still have a lot going in their favor.

Yes, Josh McDaniels is gone as well, but the team will have a solid skill group to work with including Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, and Nelson Agholor. None of those guys scream No. 1 option, but we’ve seen the sum-is-greater-than-its-parts formula work for Belichick in the past.

I really don’t expect New England to be world-beaters this year, but they should be a thorn in the side of both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. With a potent running game, a quarterback that doesn’t turn the ball over, a stringent defense, and maybe the greatest football coach to ever do it, you can’t just count the Patriots out.

But even with the Jets, they should make it that much tougher to compete in the AFC East as well. Adding Laken Tomlinson, C.J. Uzomah, and Tyler Conklin could all help Zach Wilson make the jump in year two. Other notable names heading to New York include Jordan Whitehead and Jake Martin on the defensive side of the ball.

If the first six games played after his knee injury carries over to this year, Wilson could make that jump. In that stretch, the BYU product totaled eight TDs (4 passing, 4 rushing) with only three turnovers.

He might not be there yet, but if Wilson ascends, there could be a very real argument about Tua being the worst signal caller in the division. And even with a loaded roster, will that allow the lefty QB to be able to take this team to the heights it should go?

That’s the perfect segway into my last point.