Well here it is, the final week of the 2018 regular season. We knew it was coming but oddly it still seems as if it arrived much too soon. If all goes according to plan the Patriots will once again finish the year with a first-round bye (2009 was the last Pats Wild Card game), the number 2 seed in the AFC and the only team this year to have an 8-0 record at home. I’m okay with the average ranking too, putting the team somewhere between fifth and sixth.
Taking care of business last week against the Bills mattered. For Bill Belichick, winning the division is a ‘Do Your Job’ check-the-box requirement as a head coach. I believe that’s why he looked truly happy in the post-game locker room. Contrary to some of the ranking experts ‘yawning’ and ‘ho-humming’ over what they deem a given for New England, it is a big deal. You can bet the coaching staff will be pounding the importance of finishing strong into the players’ heads all week long. I pick the Pats to do just that, and win by 14. Then it’s on to the playoffs.
Around the AFC East:
4th - Expert Consensus (Bleacher Report): On one hand, the Patriots did what they needed to do in Week 16. In doubling up the hapless Buffalo Bills, they put the brakes on their two-game skid and won an NFL-record 10th straight AFC East title.
But if anything, the level of concern surrounding these Patriots may be even greater than it was after last week’s loss to the Steelers...even with this win (and Houston’s loss in Philly) moving the Patriots back to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Patriots just didn’t look especially good in beating the Bills. Tom Brady had a terrible game by his standards, completing just over half his passes and throwing a pair of interceptions against a stout Buffalo defense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continued his recent disappearing act, going catch-less on three targets.
... Still, for all that hand-wringing, these are the defending AFC champs. Until someone knocks them off that perch in the postseason, the Pats have earned a measure of the benefit of the doubt.
4th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): Please, keep writing them off.
5th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): With one more victory, they will earn a bye in the AFC. Ho-hum, they did it again.
6th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): Here we go again. The Patriots are sending thank-you messages to Nick Foles, because amid all their issues, they are still positioned for AFC No. 2 and a first-round bye, and they have a shot at No. 1. It’s not a full deck for Tom Brady, but everyone knows he can pull out a winning hand when it counts.
6th - Joshua Schrock (NESN): Tom Brady was bad (and might be hurt), but the Pats snapped their two-game slide by beating the Buffalo Bills and won their 10th straight AFC East title in the process. A win over the 4-11 New York Jets in Week 17 will give New England the wild-card round off for the ninth straight season.
6th - Experts (ESPN): Non-QB MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore, and it’s a fairly easy choice. The team’s only other Pro Bowler alongside Tom Brady, Gilmore has consistently provided lockdown coverage in a variety of challenging matchups, making the team’s five-year, $65 million investment in him as a free agent in 2017 look quite shrewd.
6th - Russell S. Baxter (Fansided): Next Week: The Pats play host to the New York Jets and look to extend their current winning streak in a divisional rivalry that has been extremely one-sided as of late. With a 27-13 win back at MetLife Stadium in Week 12, the Patriots have won five straight and are 13-2 in their last 15 meetings in this series dating back to 2011. ...
Playoff hopes: Make it 10 consecutive AFC East titles for the Patriots, who once again extend their own record. But this consistent franchise is now the first in league history to reach the playoffs 10 straight years. And with a 10-5 record, Belichick’s team has reached double digits in the victory column for the 16th consecutive season.
6th - Staff (AP Pro32).
7th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots are back in business with the AFC’s second seed now within their grasp. But the on-field ramifications of wide receiver Josh Gordon’s latest-off field issues are significant. The Patriots’ wide receiver situation has regressed to where it was early in the season, with a lack of receiving help for quarterback Tom Brady.
7th - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): The Patriots slid into the second seed in the AFC by controlling the day against the Bills defensively, though their pass offense appeared out of sorts. They also clinched their 10th straight division title, a rare feat that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other team in the four major professional sports leagues has accomplished: the Atlanta Braves. ... More importantly, a playoff bye is now the Patriots’ to lose. Given that the offense has been off-kilter as of late (Tom Brady was mum Monday about the specifics of a left knee injury that appears to be affecting his play), a week off to sort things out sure would help. They will need to beat a Jets team that has been a tough out the last couple of weeks first.
8th - Nate Davis (USA Today): Josh Gordon is gone. Rob Gronkowski has disappeared. Tom Brady seems to be fading. They may need to keep rushing for 273 yards to win in January.
9th - Bryan Fischer (Athlon Sports): Ten straight division titles is an incredible accomplishment in today’s parity-filled NFL. Thanks to the Eagles, the Pats also are back in the running for a first-round bye in the playoffs to boot. That will help quiet the critics who rightfully note that Tom Brady has been off for several weeks now.
Week 17 Average Rank: 5.9 (+1.7)