These longtime AFC East rivals renew acquaintances Sunday and appear to be two franchises headed in different directions, at least for now.
They were the defending NFL champions after a victory over the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII. They were off to an 8-0 start and showed few signs of being upended anytime soon. But then came a prime time loss to the Ravens and what would be the start of a 4-4 finish, along with a first-round playoff exit at home to the upstart Tennessee Titans.
There was another team that opened 2019 in a dramatically different fashion. The club lost its first seven games and most of them in an ugly way. The club opened the season with home losses to the Ravens (59-10) and Patriots (43-0) by a combined 102-10 score. But a franchise some accused of the dreaded “tanking” word finished with seven wins in their final nine games. That included a home victory over the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles and a stunning upset of the New England Patriots in Foxborough that proved to be detrimental to that club’s chances of getting back to the Super Bowl.
Hence, Bill Belichick’s team is a combined 10-12 in its last 22 overall outings – including a wild card loss to the Tennessee Titans – since winning their first eight games last season. The club is 6-7 this season and there are two things that are certainties that weren’t the case for more than a decade. The Pats won’t win the AFC East for the first time since 2008. And even if they win their final three games, the franchise won’t win at least 10 games for the first time since 2002.
The Miami Dolphins are a combined 13-9 in their last 22 contests, including a solid 8-5 in 2020. The club comes off a rough 33-27 home loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs in which Brian Flores’ defense was lit up by Patrick Mahomes but also picked off the strong-armed signal-caller three times.
Of course, the Patriots have been the AFC East’s dominant team for nearly two decades. And while it’s been a down year for the club, they kicked off this season with a 21-11 win over Miami at New England in Week 1. But it’s been a different story for both clubs after the early stages of ’20. The Pats are 4-6 in their last 10 games after a 2-1 start. The ‘Fins are 7-2 in their last nine outings since losing three of their first four contests.
Are these franchises actually headed down opposite paths? The Patriots have seen plenty of players depart for various reasons, most notably quarterback Tom Brady. Belichick’s team needs a win to complete a season sweep and keep alive the chances of a 20th straight winning campaign, which would tie an NFL record (Dallas Cowboys from 1966-85). Meanwhile, the culture in South Florida is certainly changing and so has the personnel. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out the next three weeks…and beyond.