The New England Patriots sat at home this week and rested their bumps and bruises while the rest of the league played and somehow the Patriots managed to find themselves as the big winners in the AFC.
In the Patriots own division, the New York Jets toppled the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night with a 34-21 final score that wasn’t as close as it suggests; the Jets led 34-7 halfway through the fourth quarter. The Bills are now 5-3 and the sixth seed in the AFC, and the loss gave the Patriots some extra breathing room atop the division.
The Jets are 4-5 and playing themselves out of a top 10 pick that could be vitally important to finding a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft.
On Sunday Night, the Miami Dolphins lost 27-24 to the Oakland Raiders to fall to 4-4 and to the 7th seed in the AFC. In a not-super-meaningful metric, but still slightly surprising, no other team in the AFC is 4-4. The Dolphins have been playing as poorly as their point differential suggests.
The Patriot were also winners around the rest of the AFC, too. The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Tennessee Titans 23-20, as the Ravens are jockeying for a wild card spot. The Titans are 5-3 and lead the AFC South, which is what the Patriots would prefer with the Jacksonville Jaguars also 5-3. The Jaguars defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-7, despite making an example of Leonard Fournette as a healthy scratch for breaking team rules. The Jaguars are better than the Titans, so the Patriots would rather Jacksonville take a wild card than a home game in the playoffs.
And the Ravens loss keeps them further away from the postseason, to the Patriots relief. The Pittsburgh Steelers could also be considered big winners this week as they were also on a bye and their lead in the AFC North grew considerably.
As for the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs have lost three of their last four, including an ugly 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys where the Chiefs struggled mightily on both offense and defense. The Chiefs have a legitimate case for having a worse defense than the Patriots, having allowed 28 or more points in four of their past five games.
The other three teams in the AFC West have 5 losses on the year as some of the worst teams in the conference. The Patriots play back-to-back games against the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, with the Broncos ranking bottom 10 in the NFL in both points scored and points allowed per game, and the Raiders infuriatingly inconsistent.
The Patriots are currently the second seed in the AFC and in control of their playoff seeding and homefield advantage, so long as they take care of business against the Steelers in week 15; if New England wins out, they will have the #1 seed.
When you add in a San Francisco 49ers loss to boost the draft stock of the Patriots new second round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s difficult to imagine a better bye week for New England. Hopefully key players like WR Chris Hogan, RT Marcus Cannon, DT Malcom Brown, LB Shea McClellin, CB Stephon Gilmore, and CB Eric Rowe continued to heal and get back to their respective playing ability, because their return to full strength is the only way this week could be any better for the Patriots.