After dispatching the Ravens and Broncos, the sons of Belichick once again demonstrated how they are built for December football. Two teams that wanted the NFL world to know they were neither 'intimidated by the Patriots' [Ravens] nor 'scared of Tom Brady' [Broncos], saw their playoff chances weaken with each loss.
Next up for the Patriots will be the Jets in Foxborough. With so many teams still fighting for position, Weeks 16-17 should have a lot of meaningful games and some pretty competitive football to watch. One good change the league instituted back in 2010 was in scheduling division games for the last weeks of the season. For a season like this, it's fantastic.
The Patriots have earned a division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs, but will be playing for that number one seed, and the assurance of home-field advantage throughout. That means not even a thought of coasting or a Jimmy G. sighting against the Jets this week. Sixty-minutes, fellas... unless, of course, the Jets quit first.
Around the AFC East:
New England (12-2) vs. NY Jets (4-10)
Miami (9-5) at Buffalo (7-7)
Oakland (11-3) vs. Indianapolis (7-7)
Pittsburgh (9-5) vs. Baltimore (8-6)
Houston (8-6) vs. Cincinnati (5-8)
Kansas City (10-4) vs. Denver (8-6)
Tennessee (8-6) at Jacksonville (2-12)
San Diego (5-9) at Cleveland (0-14)
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Tom Brady and the offense found the going tough in Denver, as always, against the Broncos’ still-rugged defense. But Brady and Co. did enough and the defense took care of the rest. The Patriots secured yet another AFC East title but the goals are far bigger, of course. Getting the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs is vitally important, given how difficult it will be for anyone to go to Foxborough, Mass., during the postseason and win. Just-added wideout Michael Floyd was on the inactive list Sunday and it will be interesting to see what role, if any, he has in the final two regular season games.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The defense may not be as bad as believed, but it still needs plenty of work.
1st - Chris Burke (SI): The dominant, Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers won about 57% of their regular-season games during their heyday from 1981-92. The Yankees teams of the mid-’90s/early 2000s—six World Series trips and four WS wins in nine seasons—won at approximately a 60.5% clip. Michael Jordan’s Bulls, during a stretch of six titles in eight years, posted a 74.6% win percentage. Since 2003, their first of 14 straight double-digit win seasons, the Patriots have won 78.4% of their games in the regular season.
1st - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): The Evil Empire has now won eight consecutive AFC East titles. The scariest part? Bill Belichick's defense is getting better by the week.
1st - Cameron DaSilva (Fox Sports): Guess which team has the No. 1 defense in the NFL when it comes to points per game? That’s right, the Patriots – the same team that traded Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in the past year. Their defense has been underrated all season, overshadowed by the sheer dominance of the offense and Tom Brady. This is a Super Bowl team from top to bottom, and there aren’t many other rosters close to theirs.
1st - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): Simple directive for the Patriots on Christmas Eve: Ground the Jets. If New England does that, and those pesky Colts so happen to upend the Raiders, the Pats get to open quite a present on the night before Christmas: home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. By stifling the Broncos 16-3 in Denver on Sunday, the Patriots clinched their eighth straight division crown -- a new NFL record, snapping a tie at seven with the 1970s Los Angeles Rams. The coach for the first five of those Rams titles was Chuck Knox -- "Ground Chuck," as he was known. He certainly would have approved of the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense the Patriots employed on Sunday (39 carries for 136 yards). That game wasn't about the running backs, though, or even Tom Brady exorcising his Denver demons. This was about the league's top scoring defense controlling the engagement from stem to stern.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): Spread it and throw it around with Tom Brady? Sure. Ground it and pound it with LeGarrette Blount? OK, then. The Patriots have been impressive moving the ball by whatever means necessary without Rob Gronkowski. This week: vs. Jets, Saturday.
1st - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They clinched their eighth straight division title and the defense is getting better.
1st - Paul Chartier (WEEI): Sunday’s win over Denver validates the return of Dante Scarnecchia. Less than a year ago, Marcus Cannon was getting embarrassed by Von Miller in the AFCCG. It’s been a different story for the O-line in 2016, as it’s given Tom Brady enough time in the pocket to chase his third MVP trophy. The Patriots defense now ranks first in the league in points allowed per game (16.6) but Russell Wilson might be the only QB New England plays all season who makes the playoffs. The Pats’ first real test might not come until this year’s AFCCG.
1st - Lorenzo Reyes (USA Today): The latest feather in collective Belichick/Brady tricorn? Pats are first ever to win eight consecutive division crowns (and 13 of 14).
1st - Adam Stites (SB Nation).
1st - Luke Miller (Metro): The Jets and the Dolphins are all that stand between New England and home field advantage through the playoffs. But while the Patriots are 2-0 so far against those teams this season, neither victory came easily. The Jets had one of their few strong performances this season in New York, and the Dolphins almost rallied from a 31-3 hole after Jimmy Garoppolo got injured. Just hang tight and hope that scenario doesn’t repeat itself with Tom Brady, Pats fans.
1st - Rick Gosselin (Dallas News): Since Tom Brady took over at QB in 2001, the Patriots have annually posted or matched the best record in the AFC East. That's 16 consecutive seasons at the top, including 14 division titles.
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).
2nd - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): The defense is coming on. It has forced eight turnovers the last four weeks and hasn’t given up more than 17 first downs in four straight games. It seems Jamie Collins’ departure didn’t matter.
2nd - Experts (ESPN): The Patriots have allowed 16.6 points per game this season, best in the NFL. The Patriots' offense has averaged 117 rushing yards per game this season, seventh best in the NFL. The Patriots ranked in the top seven in both categories only once previously during the Tom Brady era: 2004. They should have no problem with the Jets in Week 16.