The worst that can be said for the idle New England Patriots on Sunday is that the New York Jets are now only 5 1/2 games back of the AFC East lead.
The Patriots, of course, now have a stranglehold on the division, one the team earned without even playing a down of football on Sunday. The Buffalo Bills Buffalo Billed their way to a 17-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and are now two games back.
The Miami Dolphins suffered a 20-16 heartbreaker at the hands of the Detroit Lions, who beat the Fish on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford in the game’s final minute. The Dolphins are also two games back, but with a head-to-head advantage against New England. They also lost offensive lineman Branden Albert with a knee injury in the process. He's likely done for the season.
Hell, even the Oakland Raiders nearly gave Patriots fans reason to wave their pompoms in earnest, taking an early lead on the Denver Broncos before the Patriots’ main rival for playoff home field advantage woke up and remembered where they were and whom they were playing.
No matter. The division is all but locked up for Bill Belichick and his team with a date at Indianapolis (also on a bye this week) looming in six days time. The Jets were the only team in the division to emerge victorious on Sunday, 20-13 winners over a Pittsburgh Steelers team that gagged upon stepping foot in MetLife Stadium. If Rex Ryan’s boys win out, they’ll be 8-8. Neat.
What else could have possibly gone right? The Chiefs look better and better each week, but we saw how this script played out last season. The Cincinnati Bengals are a mess, the Browns are a fun story set to expire with Kris Kringle, the Baltimore Ravens, with a 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans, seemed to have emerged from their hibernation the last fortnight, and we’ll see about the Colts next weekend.
But please. We didn’t learn anything new about anyone on Sunday because we already know the bottom line. It’s the Patriots. It’s the Broncos.
Then there’s everybody else. And nobody else is as pretty.
The 6-3 Colts look formidable, but isn’t that what we said about the Chicago Bears and the Broncos the last two weeks? The Patriots won those two contests by a combined score of 94-44. Next.
After the Colts come the Lions, who looked like a bit more than the fantasy team some naysayers like to boil them down to, with a stifling, play-making defense. They've also got a quarterback in Stafford who has his main man back with a healthy Calvin Johnson, not to mention a landmark moment for his resume with the win over Miami. The Lions are now 7-2, same as the Patriots, a mark they haven’t boasted since 1993, when "In Utero," "Vs.," and "Siamese Dream" were all fresh out of the grunge oven.
They have two weeks to feel good about themselves. The Lions come to Foxborough on Nov. 23. We’ll likely feel pretty differently about them come Nov. 24.
The one hurdle that might remain between the Patriots and 14-2 lies in Green Bay on Nov. 30. The Packers, like the Patriots before them, completely embarrassed the Bears, 55-14, on Sunday night. Even Adrian Gonzalez is in awe over just how badly the Bears have quit.
The last time New England traveled to Lambeau Field though back in 2006, it resulted in a 35-0 whitewashing of Brett Favre and the Cheeseheads. Ho-hum.
Then it’s the San Diego Chargers, paper tigers who were exposed in a shutout in Miami last weekend. Layup.
The Pats close out the season with the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills. They will have clinched the division by Thanksgiving, a first-round bye by the beginning of Hanukkah, and home-field advantage soon after.
The one concern is that the Patriots are only 2-2 on the road this season. Four of their seven games remaining are away from the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. But by the time the Pats kick off in Indy, they won’t have played on the road in over a month. The team that dropped two road games in September is a thing of the past, gone with New England’s Indian summer and pumpkin beer.
The Patriots we watched beat the Broncos last weekend won’t lose again. The rest of the AFC we watched on Sunday won’t stand a chance.
“The New England Patriots have been anointed AFC heavyweights following their impressive dismantling of the Denver Broncos, but Bill Belichick's bunch might not even be the best team in the AFC East,” Bucky Brooks wrote in a passage that somehow slipped by his editors at NFL.com last week. “The Miami Dolphins (5-3), who beat the Pats in Week 1, look like a true contender in the division race -- and could be a scary team to face in January, based on the emergence of a young, dynamic quarterback and a championship-caliber defense that could spark a postseason run.”
Sorry, Miami. It will be a fun chase for a wild card though.
The AFC East once again belongs to the New England Patriots, now six years in a row and 12 out of the last 14. The Patriots have never won the division more than five years straight, a feat they’ll accomplish in only a few weeks time. Should make for a nice T-shirt. Maybe a new banner to accompany “16-0.”
Everything is coming up Milhouse. Sunday was just one more example of how the Patriots just never lose, leaving everybody else trying to catch up to play second-best.
In other words, nothing has changed.
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