When the New England Patriots face off against the Miami Dolphins later today, they do not only play for their 10th win of the season and to keep themselves in a good position in the playoff race: Bill Belichick’s team will also play for yet another AFC East title. If New England wins today in Miami, the team would capture its 10th straight division crown — extending its own NFL record — and 21st overall.
Safe to say that the Patriots are no strangers to finding themselves in a situation like today’s, playing in a so-called hat and t-shirt game. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to find out how they fared when playing for their last nine AFC East titles.
One year after losing Tom Brady to a torn ACL and the AFC East on a tiebreaker, the Patriots were back atop the division in 2009. New England’s first chance at clinching it against the competing New York Jets came in week 16 when the 9-5 Patriots — a team that had its fair share of issues — hosted the 7-7 Jacksonville Jaguars. The home team took care of business and blew out the visitors 35-7 to clinch its 11th overall AFC East title. The Patriots would later be eliminated in the wild card playoff round.
The Patriots entered their week 15 game against the Green Bay Packers with an 11-2 record and a chance at the division crown. The prime time matchup was a competitive one from start to finish, but ultimately saw New England prevail 31-27 — in part thanks to a 71-yard kickoff return by offensive lineman Dan Connolly. The victory gave the Patriots the division title over the Jets, but New York got the last laugh when it beat the heavily favored team in the divisional round in the playoffs.
En route to Super Bowl 46, the Patriots had a hat and t-shirt game in week 14. Just like one year earlier, the contest was close one — and one that ended in New England’s favor as the Patriots defeated the Washington Redskins 34-27. As opposed to the two previous seasons, the rest of the AFC East failed to send another team to the playoffs: while the Patriots ended the year with a 13-3 record, the Jets were out of the tournament at 8-8.
The Patriots’ first shot at clinching the division in 2012 came as early as week 13. All that was needed for the 8-3 team was a road victory over the 5-6 Miami Dolphins, who were New England’s closest competition that year. The Patriots won the game 23-16 and captured their fourth straight division title. New England would advance all the way to the AFC title game that year, while the Dolphins finished the season at 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
The 9-3 Patriots needed every second to defeat the 4-8 Cleveland Browns in week 14 of the 2013 season: the team was able to complete a ferocious fourth quarter comeback to win 27-26 and secure the division ahead of the Jets (the Patriots finished the season 12-4, the Jets 8-8). The win was a costly one, however, as New England lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season because of an injury. The injury-riddled team would ultimately run out of gas in the AFC championship game.
Coming off a two-week road trip, the Patriots had a chance at winning the division in week 15 of the 2014 season against the Miami Dolphins. New England left its visiting rivals no chance and won the game 41-13 to capture the AFC East for the sixth straight year. The Patriots would finish at 12-4 — ahead of the 9-7 Buffalo Bills, who did not make the playoffs — and cruise through the postseason all the way to Super Bowl 49; New England won the title in thrilling fashion that year.
After starting the season with 10 straight victories, the Patriots’ first chance at winning the AFC East came in week 12 against the Denver Broncos. However, New England lost 30-24 in overtime against the eventual world champions and had to take another shot one week. The Patriots again came up short and were upset at home by the Philadelphia Eagles 35-28. In week 14, the team finally added to its win column again — a 27-6 victory over the Houston Texans — to earn the division title.
One of the best teams in franchise history, the 2016 Patriots’ first hat and t-shirt game came in week 14: the 10-2 team hosted the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. New England jumped to a 16-0 lead and was able to fight off the Ravens’ comeback attempt to earn its eighth division title in a row — a new all-time mark, besting the Los Angeles Rams of the 1970s who had won seven straight. The Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl 51 two months later.
Just like this year, the Patriots had to go to Miami in 2017 to potentially win the AFC East. However, the 10-2 team delivered an uninspired performance and was defeated 27-20 by the 5-7 Dolphins. New England’s ninth consecutive coronation as division champions would have to wait until the following week, when the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 thanks to a last-minute interception.
As can be seen, the Patriots are typically strong when playing for the division title. They won seven of nine first attempts at earning the crown and are 9-3 overall since 2009 when the AFC East is on the line. Today, New England looks to improve this record to 10-3 — increasing its own record string of division titles.