New year, same story: Patriots make off with bulk of AFC East awards

Tom Brady and the Patriots got a big contribution from rookie Sony Michel and won their 10th consecutive AFC East title. Charles Krupa/AP Photo

The New England Patriots won the AFC East for the 10th consecutive year, and two of the other three teams in the division are looking for new coaches. Unsurprisingly, the Patriots dominate the division awards again this season. This year's winners, as voted upon by ESPN reporters Rich Cimini (Jets), Mike Reiss (Patriots), Mike Rodak (Bills) and Cameron Wolfe (Dolphins):

Rookie of the year: Sony Michel, Patriots

After being drafted in the first round (No. 31 overall), the University of Georgia standout led his team in carries and rushing yards in his first season. He battled knee injuries suffered at two different points of the year -- first in training camp, and then in an Oct. 21 game at Chicago -- that sidelined him for four games. Nonetheless, Michel found a way to make up for lost time with hard-charging running and vision that had the team’s offensive linemen saying it was fun to block for him. Michel has also impressed teammates with his maturity; they say he isn’t a typical rookie. Michel edged out Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in a close vote (Michel’s two first-place votes were the clincher), and Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was also in the mix. -- Reiss

Offensive MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots

Although he did not play at an NFL MVP level in 2018 -- in part due to changes in the personnel around him -- Brady still put together the season the team needed from its quarterback to be positioned for a potential deep playoff run. Perhaps most impressive is how Brady adapted to all the changes around him. For example, he helped bring along receiver Josh Gordon after a mid-September trade. Gordon became a key contributor on offense before leaving the team due to an indefinite NFL suspension. Brady also navigated a challenging four-game stretch to open the season with Julian Edelman serving an NFL suspension. Brady remains as mentally sharp as ever, which is reflected in his ability to get the Patriots out of a bad play before the snap -- something that doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet. Oh, and he finally hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career. -- Reiss

Defensive MVP: Jamal Adams, Jets

Whenever opposing coaches were asked about the Jets’ defense, Adams was the first player they mentioned. A sampling of the comments: “A dynamic player … [No.] 33 jumps off the tape … A real aggressive safety.” Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien went so far as to call him one of the best players in the league, regardless of position. Yes, Adams was that good in his second season. Drafted sixth overall in 2017, Adams made his first Pro Bowl this season, as he predicted he would. He’s confident, energetic and instinctive, and he's the lifeblood of the Jets’ defense. He was a force as a “box” safety, dominating against the run (nine tackles for loss) and making plays as a blitzer (3.5 sacks). His eye discipline improved from his rookie year, which allowed him to be better in pass coverage (12 passes defensed). He had only one interception, but that could be attributed to positioning. He was mainly deployed near the line of scrimmage, not in deep-safety looks. Adams is still on the rise, and he should be one of the best defensive backs in the league next season, if he’s not there already. If the Jets had a few more players like Adams, who hates losing, they wouldn’t be a bottom-feeder. -- Cimini

Coach of the year: Bill Belichick, Patriots

Belichick had to manage multiple challenges throughout the season, starting with Edelman’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. The Patriots opened the year 1-2, then had a rare two-game losing streak in December that included an uncharacteristic end-of-game coaching miscue in Miami, but Belichick’s consistency through adversity helped the Patriots to a 10th straight division title. The creative usage of wide receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson qualifies as some of Belichick’s best work, which is also a reflection on his solid coaching staff. Belichick didn’t have the stiffest competition among his AFC East brethren, with Miami’s Adam Gase, Buffalo’s Sean McDermott and New York’s Todd Bowles all having their teams fall short of goals. Gase and Bowles were fired. -- Reiss