1. AFC East
The Bills had one of the best defenses on paper in 2022, but the injury to Von Miller severely crippled the pass rush. Although both are 32 years old, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer represent the scariest ball-hawking duo in the NFL.
Buffalo has pumped draft capital into the pass rush, but has struggled with developing consistent playmakers. 2019 ninth overall pick, Ed Oliver, has registered just twelve sacks in the past three seasons. However, 2021 first-rounder Gregory Rousseau did have a breakout year in his sophomore campaign, registering nine sacks and an excellent 83.6 grade on PFF. If Von Miller can stay healthy and Rousseau can continue to develop, this defensive front will be hard to counter.
The Dolphins were another team with a consistently good defense that lacks household names. However, they made a move to acquire former three-time All-Pro safety Jalen Ramsey in the offseason. Mike McDaniel is coaching this team in the right direction, as Miami is continuing to reinforce an already good unit.
For years, an all-star New England defense helped Tom Brady lift the Lombardi trophy six times. After Brady retired from football with a Super Bowl-winning stint in Tampa Bay, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick still touts one of the league’s toughest defenses.
Edge Matt Judon brought down opposing quarterbacks seventeen times, good for the fourth most in the league last year. Rookie from Oregon, Christian Gonzalez, was regarded as a steal from where the Patriots drafted him. Gonzalez will lock down a secondary that has seen the departures of Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson in the past few seasons. The Patriots face Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and an elite cast of weapons in Miami twice a year, meaning that their defense better shape up or ship out.
Rounding out this division is the most explosive defense in the NFL, belonging to the New York Jets. 2022 rookie Sauce Gardner is in contention for being the best cornerback in the NFL after an elite rookie season, earning him an exceptional 87.9 grade on PFF.
He is supported by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams who notched a 90.1 grade on PFF and 13 sacks, an absurd number for a defensive tackle. Other pieces such as Carl Lawson, Quincy Williams, and Chuck Clark make this entire defense strong.
The Jets, 49ers, and Eagles are all in the conversation for the best defense in the NFL, but young superstars Garner and Williams give New York fans much hope for the future.
Although the Bengals do not play in the league’s best division, they still play in a gritty AFC North that has seen chippy play increase in recent years. Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt meet Joe Burrow twice a year, and the Bengals' hope to three-peat for an AFC North division crown was never going to be easy.
A return to the AFC Championship and hopefully Super Bowl could also be contested by stellar defenses from Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. The Bengals have been drafting a new secondary to accommodate for the hefty contracts for Burrow, Chase, and Higgins, while also adding high-motor players to get another sack or two on Mahomes.
The AFC race is shaping up to be a hotly contested battle in 2023, and I am here for all of it