Oh, how quickly things can change.
A mere four weeks ago, the Patriots suffered a last-minute loss in Seattle. That day, the Jets crushed the Colts, 35-9; the Dolphins beat the Rams, 17-14; and the Bills beat the Cardinals, 19-16.
When New England returned from the West Coast, every team in the AFC East was 3-3.
Not only was it the first time since NFL realignment in 2002 that all four teams in a division were tied as late as Week 6, it gave the other teams in the AFC East, namely the Bills and Dolphins, who had finished third and fourth in the division each of the previous three years, hope they might unseat the Patriots from their lofty perch.
At the time, Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill said his team was “in a good spot . . . I think it’s in our hands now. It’s all on us if we want to go out and make a run at this thing or not.”
Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick felt similarly.
“All of a sudden you start looking at it, and we have 10 games to go. We have a real shot at this thing,” he said. “We have to come out and play.”
Rex Ryan said, “It goes through New England . . . I think the team that can stay consistent, stay the course, hopefully that’s us.”
Given all of his Super Bowl proclamations, few would confuse the Jets coach with Nostradamus.
But in this case, that statement to New England media members in the days before his Jets traveled to Foxborough seems darn prescient. There has been a team that’s achieved some consistency, but it isn’t New York.
For as flawed as the Patriots have been, as teams begin preparations for Week 11 games, they have once again taken control of the AFC East, building a two-game lead on the Dolphins.
Since Oct. 14, New England is 3-0 while Miami is 1-2 and New York and Buffalo are 0-3.
There are seven regular-season games to play and all hope may not be lost, but those teams that felt their fate was in their hands are quickly losing their grip on a potential division title.
The Patriots haven’t beaten a team with a winning record during their three-game streak, but they dominated the Rams in London and did just enough to squeak out home wins against the Jets and Buffalo.
Miami beat the Jets at home coming off its bye, lost a close game on the road to the Colts, and were embarrassed by the Titans Sunday. Buffalo also lost at home to Tennessee, as well as in Houston and New England.
After scoring 26 points against the Patriots, the Jets have scored just 16 in losses to Miami and Seattle.
The road from here is not easy for New England. Andrew Luck and the Colts come calling Sunday, then a short week to prepare for the rematch with the Jets on Thanksgiving night, followed by their first meeting with the Dolphins in Miami.
Houston and San Francisco, a combined 14-3-1, visit Gillette Stadium in back-to-back weeks before the Patriots close out the season in Jacksonville and at home with the Dolphins.
Assuming the Patriots win their fourth straight division title and ninth in 10 years, who could they face in the postseason?
If the playoffs started tomorrow the Patriots would be the third seed and AFC West-leading Denver the fourth by virtue of New England’s head-to-head win, since both are 6-3.
Houston (8-1) would be the No. 1 seed with Baltimore (7-2) second. The wild-card teams would be Indianapolis (6-3) and Pittsburgh (6-3).
That means the Patriots would host the Steelers in the wild-card round. Pittsburgh is a team New England has had mixed results against in recent years, losing in Pittsburgh last year and winning there in 2010.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who left Monday night’s 16-13 victory over the Chiefs with a right shoulder injury, has not lit up the Patriots in terms of yardage, but he has been effective, with 12 touchdowns against three picks in six career games.
The Steelers entered the weekend ranked a more-than-respectable 11th in total offense, but the unit doesn’t have to do too much: Pittsburgh leads the league in total defense, is tops in pass defense (allowing a paltry 174 yards per game), and fourth against the run (88.6).
Pittsburgh is also the only team in the current AFC playoff picture the Patriots won’t face in the regular season.