The Patriots still have to do their job on Monday Night Football against the Bills, but the rest of the league has handed the AFC to Bill Belichick on a silver platter.
The Bengals lost to the Cardinals, while the Broncos and Brock Osweiler defeated the Bears, to give both teams matching 8-2 records. The takeaway is that the two teams square off in week 16, which means that one of the Patriots key conference rivals will have three losses, minimum.
The Patriots have lost three or more games in the final seven games just three times under Bill Belichick:
2000: Pre-Tom Brady; 2002: Developing-Tom Brady; 2009: Healing-Tom Brady
That's it. The three worst seasons under Belichick and two seasons where Brady wasn't really Brady.
If the Patriots reach 11-0, that means the Broncos are guaranteed a minimum 3 losses. Tom Brady has never lost three of his final five games, and two of the three times he lost two games involved resting the starters in the season finale (2009, 2014). The other is 2002.
So you can definitely pencil in the Patriots for one of the bye weeks, but hold off from giving the Patriots homefield advantage until they square off against the Broncos in Denver in week 12. Even though the Broncos and Colts left with victories, both just turned their quarterback positions over to their back-ups. This week was great from a conference perspective.
It's even better from a divisional view as both the Jets (at Texans) and Dolphins (hosting Cowboys) lost.
New York lost to recently signed Texans quarterback T.J. Freaking Yates as their running game has completely evaporated from this dimension (Chris Ivory, where art thou?). Unfortunately for the Jets, Darrelle Revis suffered a head injury and his availability against the Dolphins is now in question. It's also important to note that center Nick Mangold injured his hand and required stitches, and will be day-to-day.
The Dolphins were absolutely spanked at home by the returned Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, as Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues to fluctuate from really terrible to viable football player between drives. With six losses on the season, a Patriots victory over the Bills would knock out the Dolphins from AFC East contention.
The Jets and the Dolphins head into a week 12 showdown for survival. If the Dolphins lose, they'll have seven losses and no prayer of clinching the wild card. If the Jets lose, they'll fall further behind in the playoff chase.
Oh, and if the Jets lose and the Patriots win, New England will clinch their record-tying 7th straight divisional title, tying the 2007 Patriots for earliest clinched division. That's a nice cherry on top.
Here's a rundown of the dates when Belichick's Patriots have won their 12 AFC East titles. pic.twitter.com/7DLH85tNKG— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) November 22, 2015