This season couldn’t have started more abnormally for the New England Patriots. Slapped with a four-game suspension over deflated footballs, Tom Brady sat out the first month of games after a prolonged legal battle with the NFL. While his teammates were pounding their heads in, he was sunbathing nude on the Italian coast. It was a weird scene indeed.
But on the field, nothing seemed amiss. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett quarterbacked the Patriots to a 3-1 record, leaving Brady in control of a first-place team when he returned Oct. 5. It seemed to only be a matter of time before another round of celebratory t-shirts were printed out.
That’s what happened Sunday, when the Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 16-3 and clinched the AFC East for the 13th straight season with Brady under center. Though the offense struggled, it was probably the most impressive win of the year. The Patriots’ defense dominated the second half of the game, at one point forcing five straight three-and-outs. It was only the third time in Brady’s career he walked out of Denver with a win.
With a victory against the lousy New York Jets Saturday, the 12-2 Patriots can secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They’ve already earned a first-round bye for the 11th time since 2001. All that stands between Brady and his 12th trip to the AFC Championship is a Divisional Round game against an inferior team. Ho-hum.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, it truly seems like Brady was never gone. He’s a favorite for MVP and seems primed for another Super Bowl run. The Patriots are once again on top of the AFC East, preserving their dominance over a sorry division that can’t even muster up enough competence to give them a scare. The three figures below illustrate what kind of run the Patriots have had over the years:
1) 182-72 (.720)
That’s the Patriots’ record since 2001, when Brady took over as quarterback. The Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, are a collective 345-417 (.450). Brady is 69-12 against those clubs and has a chance to close the season with wins over the Jets and Dolphins.
Every team in the NFL would have difficulty competing with the Patriots, but the other clubs in the AFC East don’t even put up a fight. The Jets, who are currently 4-10, have been the closest thing the Patriots have had to competition in the division in the Brady era, with their six playoff appearances and seven postseason wins. Think of that.
All three of the other teams are also routinely mired in staff turnover and chaos. That’s why they’ve never been able to cement a challenge against Brady and Bill Belichick: They can’t even get their own house in order. The number of starting quarterbacks in the division since Brady took over here is 38. The Dolphins have played 16 quarterbacks during this stretch.
There will almost certainly be more QB turnover in coming months. The Jets have nobody to play there right now and the Bills could decline Tyrod Taylor’s team option.
That number represents the number of coaching changes in the division since the Patriots hired Belichick in 2000. With reports about the Bills preparing to fire Rex Ryan when the season ends, this number could increase in just a couple of weeks.
Brady is nearing 40 and Belichick will be 65 in the spring, but their dominance over the AFC East probably isn’t going to wane any time soon. Their accomplishments together are historic, and a lackluster division only makes things easier.
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