The New England Patriots have won the AFC East for an NFL-record 8th consecutive year. They’re the first franchise in NFL history to win their division in 13 out of 14 seasons. They’ve earned a first round bye for the 7th straight year, extending their NFL record.
The Patriots are going to savor the milestone, but they won’t linger. There are bigger fish to fry.
“It's a huge accomplishment,” head coach Bill Belichick said about winning the division. “It's a lot of hard work going all the way back to offseason program, OTAs and training camp. A lot of tough games. We've won a lot of games on the road, which is always hard to do. This is another one. We still have more we can accomplish. Our goals can now be reset, that was the first one, to win the division. It's something to be proud of, we accomplished it. But it's time to reset and accomplish more this year.”
The Patriots set out to win the division every season and they’ve accomplished that for most of Belichick’s tenure. The two times the Patriots have failed to win the division since Tom Brady became quarterback in 2001 involved tying for the division lead, but losing out via tiebreakers. This year, there are no such concerns.
Even for first-time winners, the divisional crown is a nice touch, but it’s not the ultimate goal.
“Kinda slept in that hat,” TE Martellus Bennett said on Twitter. “I'm over it now. I enjoyed it, it's one of those things that make you aware of the possibilities. I want more.”
With the division title and first round bye in the bag, the Patriots are turning their focus to a bigger prize: homefield advantage. And for this, the Patriots will be rooting for the Indianapolis Colts in week 16.
If the Patriots take care of business and beat the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium, where the Jets have beaten Tom Brady just twice dating back to 2003, and the Colts beat the Raiders in Oakland, then the Patriots will earn homefield advantage.
But the Patriots won’t leave homefield advantage up to the Colts. The Patriots will work to beat the Jets, and then beat the Dolphins in the season finale because the offense needs to produce consistently without TE Rob Gronkowski and the defense needs to continue to play at a high level.
“[Winning the division] means a lot,” edge defender Chris Long said after the game. “To me, it's just a big team win here on the road in December against a really good team in a tough place to play. That's what this means to me. The [AFC East division champions] hat is cool and everything, but this was a great team win, and we've got more work to do.”
The Patriots haven’t won anything yet.