It has become a yearly tradition. The New England Patriots check off a series of accomplishments as they inevitably march towards another AFC Championship Game appearance. It is around Thanksgiving that these team goals begin to be knocked off one by one.
With their dominating win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, the Patriots clinched their 17th straight winning season. The last time they failed to win fewer than nine games came in Bill Belichick’s first season as head coach in 2000. This week another goal is within their grasp… the division.
In an odd scheduling scenario, the Patriots game against Miami was only their second division game of the season. However, the game also began a run of three straight divisional matchups before a date with the Steelers. The Patriots then end the season with back-to-back games against the Bills and Jets. With that said, a win on Sunday would, for all intents and purposes, end the race for the AFC East crown. Not that it wasn’t “over” before the season began.
|New England Patriots||9||2||.818||325||220||105||9.5||-0.4||9.2||7.0||2.2|
|New York Jets||4||7||.364||228||257||-29||-2.6||-2.0||-4.6||-2.0||-2.6|
Had the Bills lost last week, Sunday could have been a “hat and t-shirt” game for the defending Super Bowl Champions. For that celebration, they will have to wait a week. Although, just a few weeks ago, the Bills looked like the surprise team. They were poised and ready to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East crown. However, it was not to be as the Bills stumbled through a few losses and a puzzling quarterback change and have now reclaimed their spot with the rest of the division.
That’s not to say this game will be easy. Quite the contrary. Although the division is likely out of reach, the dismal AFC has opened the door for teams like the Ravens and Bills to compete for the final wild-card spot. So the Bills will come to play, especially in front of their home crowd. A more motivated Tyrod Taylor could be a problem for the Patriots. All season they have struggled against mobile quarterbacks.
“Yeah, a big challenge, a huge challenge,” said Belichick on Bills quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. “This guy is really a good football player, very competitive, smart, tough. He’s got a good feel for the pocket and He’s, obviously, very athletic, hard to tackle, hard to contain. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got good balance. Taylor’s a good football player and, like I said, a very competitive guy, so in critical situations, he makes a lot of the right decisions and does a lot of the right things.”
Don’t expect Belichick and the Patriots to overlook Taylor in the Bills. While Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are thinking about their big matchup in just a few weeks, the Patriots are locked in on the Bills. And after Sunday, they will be playing for the right for yet another AFC East Division championship.
Then they will handle the Steelers.