The New England Patriots are undefeated against the AFC East this year, but that’s not very impressive. They’ve played just one game- a 24-17 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium back in week 6- since the league made the curious decision to stack the schedule with divisional games at the end of the year.
The Patriots close out the season with five of their final six games against divisional opponents. A possible theory from the league was that keeping divisional games at the end of the year could allow for some interesting playoff races and competitive games down the final stretch. Instead, the Patriots get to play against three of the most confounding teams in the NFL, and then the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Buffalo Bills had a winning record and were on pace to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and then benched their quarterback; his replacement promptly threw five interceptions in his first half as a starter. The Miami Dolphins are the only team in the NFL to rank in the bottom five for both points scored per drive and points allowed per drive and rank 32nd in point differential per drive. The New York Jets are 4-6 and coming off a bye week, but they just finished the easy part of their schedule.
And these three teams represent five of the Patriots final six opponents. Yikes.
But before we use a permanent marker to give the Patriots at least five more wins this year, it’s important to note one key and kind of surprising fact: it’s incredibly rare for the Patriots to go 6-0 against the AFC East.
Under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have gone undefeated in divisional play just twice: 2007 and 2012. Doesn’t that just seem factually incorrect? It’s true, though.
In 2016, the Patriots were 5-1, losing 16-0 to the Bills with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. In 2015, they lost their final two games of the year against the Jets and Dolphins, costing the Patriots homefield advantage and probably another trip to the Super Bowl.
In 2014, the Patriots bookended their season with losses to the Dolphins and Bills, albeit the finale with New England resting their starters. And in 2013, the Patriots lost to the Jets in overtime and to the Dolphins at the end of the year, again costing the Patriots homefield advantage.
So from the five seasons from 2012-16, the Patriots lost an average of 1.4 times. Sure, injury and suspension played a big role, but there are other times where the Patriots simply came out flat. I’m just saying that despite the quality of opponents, 6-0 in the AFC East is far from a given.
Oddsmakers project the Patriots to win 4.2 of their five divisional games, so 4-1 is the most likely outcome; they could also go 5-0 or 3-2 and it wouldn’t be strange.
So hope for, and even expect, the best over the next five divisional games. But just remember that it’s rare for the Patriots to go undefeated against the AFC East.