No one likes hearing “I told ya so” especially from someone who didn’t tell us any such thing. In the same vein, the flavor of this week’s Power Rankings is a “Don’t count the Patriots out” warning from the very same folks pretty much counting them out weeks earlier. Mike Florio’s comment was clearly the best:
The Patriots are werewolves and the playoffs are the full moon.
Sums up all you need to know about the situation. Even though the Pats kept their 6th place rank, the strong showing from the offense in the win over the Bills was a turning point towards a more optimistic outlook from the experts -“Will it be déjà vu all over again for this franchise?” but still with some misgivings.
It’s all good though. The Patriots officially clinched the AFC East, and are set to secure the No. 2 seed and a playoff bye week vs. the Dolphins on Sunday at Gillette. Everything else will sort itself out. Patriots are 16-point favorites and I’m predicting a double-digit win, although a tad closer than the 43-0 score from their Week 2 matchup in Miami. Brian Flores and his ex-Pat crew may want to play spoiler but if the Patriots stay focused, they’ll pull off an easy victory. Getcha recliner ready!
Around the AFC East:
2nd - Russell S. Baxter (Fansided): Recap: Dating back to head coach Bill Belichick’s arrival in New England in 2000, the Patriots own an overwhelming 34-5 record vs. the Buffalo Bills. And on Saturday afternoon at Foxborough, the Pats looked to make it seven straight win over their playoff-bound AFC East rival. It was a dogfight all afternoon but it was New England’ balanced attack that proved to be the difference. Belichick’s squad rolled up 414 total yards on 68 plays, including 143 yards on the ground, and Brady was not sacked. The opportunistic Pats did not come away with a takeaway but sacked Josh Allen four times and limited Buffalo’s ground game to 92 yards in clinching the AFC East title again.
Next Week: Thanks to a 43-0 victory back in Week 2 at South Florida, the AFC East champions can sweep the Miami Dolphins for the first time since 2016. Dating back to 2010, New England owns a 14-5 edge in this longtime rivalry. And the Patriots have won their last 10 home games in the divisional setting dating way back to 2009.
Playoff Hopes: Make it 11. Not only have Belichick’s Patriots been to the playoffs every season since 2009, their 11th consecutive division titles are four more than the previous records (Rams 7 straight from 1973-79). A year ago, the club overcame a shaky mid-December and won a title. Will it be déjà vu all over again for this franchise?
3rd - Tom E. Curran (NBC Sports Boston): AFC Rankings: Tom Brady gets better protection and the running game is effective and just like that, he puts up his best game in weeks. Funny how that works. Now that their road to a first-round bye is paved, the all-important chance to get healthy and put another week of chemistry class under their belts looms and that’s the most important thing about what happened against Buffalo.
3rd - Pat Yasinskas (TouchdownWire): The Patriots beat the Bills to clinch their 11th consecutive AFC East title and need only a win against Miami in the regular-season finale to clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. Business as usual in New England? Not quite. The Patriots revealed a new identity against Buffalo, and this is what they’ll need to do to get back to the Super Bowl. New England won with strong defense, a solid running game and some clutch chunk plays by quarterback Tom Brady. This isn’t the offensive machine we’ve gotten used to seeing in past years, but that’s reality. There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about New England’s lack of explosiveness at wide receiver, an area that remains a legitimate concern aside from Julian Edelman. But Brady and Bill Belichick have made some changes. The Patriots showed Saturday what they’re all about. Count them out at your own peril.
4th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): Are the Patriots getting it going at the right time? The offense looked much better against the Bills, and that’s a sign of progress.
4th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Tom Brady was sharp in Saturday’s triumph over the Bills that clinched an 11th straight AFC East title. Has a 12-3 team ever generated this much angst? No, the Patriots won’t be the favorite entering the AFC playoffs. But they certainly have a chance to be the last team standing again.
5th - Lindsay Jones (The Athletic): Just when our panel was starting to agree that the Patriots might actually be in trouble, they win their most important game of the season, 24-17 against Buffalo on Saturday, and can clinch the No. 2 seed with a home win against Miami on Sunday. Are the Patriots the favorite in the AFC? Nope. But we like their chances a lot more this week than we did last week.
5th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The New England Patriots are done. The dynasty is dead. The offense stinks. Tom Brady is old. The Pats are the worst 12-3 team ever. Wait, what?
There’s been plenty of hand-wringing regarding the Patriots this season. And some of it has been justified, as there’s no denying that the offense has struggled mightily at times this year. But we’re still talking about a 12-3 team that just won the AFC East for the 11th straight season. The Pats have represented the AFC in four of the past five Super Bowls and have appeared in the AFC Championship Game in each of the last eight seasons.
”Is this the most dominant Patriots team of the Brady/Belichick era? Hardly,” Davenport said. “But New England is the team no one wants to face in the playoffs. The Pats will lock up the AFC’s No. 2 seed next week. They’ll then play in their umpteenth straight AFC title game. And much to the chagrin of everyone outside of New England, they quite possibly could wind up in the Super Bowl...again.”
5th - NFL Nation (ESPN): Team MVP: Stephon Gilmore. A top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore has six interceptions and his excellence in man coverage against a wide variety of receivers has been instrumental in the success of the defense, which has been been the backbone of the team. Gilmore has two pick-sixes, which are exclamation-point plays in his stellar season.
5th - Mike Cole (NESN): Well, that’s more like it. The Patriots played the hits Saturday, establishing the run game and using that to hit on some big play-action passes over the middle. That, paired with the defense, is a reminder of the Patriots’ potential.
5th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): A win that provides hope and a blueprint that these Patriots have more glory in their bones. A game Bills team came to Foxborough on Saturday, but the Pats would not be denied in a 24-17 comeback win that clinched yet another AFC East title for the home team. The Pats looked functional on offense because the running game set the tone (143 yards, including 96 from Sony Michel) and Tom Brady kept an excellent Buffalo defense off-balance with a crisp and efficient performance. It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of those from No. 12. With the offense in sync, the defense did what it does best: close out the game. (The Pats outscored the Bills 11-0 in the fourth quarter.) New England can secure an unprecedented 10th consecutive postseason bye with a win over the lowly Dolphins on Sunday.
5th - Peter Botte (NY Post): For all of the banter about Tom Brady and the Patriots finally slipping, the defending champs will secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs with a win Sunday over Dolphins. (A loss by Kansas City also will do the trick). The Belichicks clinched their 11th consecutive division title — and 16th in 17 years — with Saturday’s win over Buffalo. Their defense still ranks first in the NFL in yards allowed per game (268), points allowed per game (13.2) and takeaways (36).
5th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): The mental toughness of the Patriots is unmatched. Even when they trailed the Bills, it didn’t bother them. They never panicked. This is part of the reason they’ll still be so dangerous in the playoffs.
6th - Dan Parzych (NFLSpinzone): Over the last month or so, the New England Patriots have received all sorts of criticism due to the fact the team just didn’t seem like a top contender in the AFC, especially with some of the struggles on offense. But after watching the Patriots fight their way to a victory over the Buffalo Bills Saturday night, this was the kind of statement win New England needed to show there’s no reason for concern once the playoffs get underway in January. If anything, the story seems all too familiar when it comes to New England since there have been numerous occasions throughout the Bill Belichick era in which the Patriots quickly eliminate any concerns once January rolls around.
During the win over the Bills, thank goodness the Patriots found a way to kick things up when it mattered the most by outscoring their rivals 11-0 in the fourth quarter before securing the 24-17 win in Week 16 to improve to 12-3 on the year. Most likely, there will still be plenty of critics pointing out concerns over New England come playoff time, but as usual, New England will be another one of those teams no one should want to face in a few weeks from now.
6th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The Patriots are werewolves and the playoffs are the full moon.
6th - MMQB Staff (SI): The best offensive outing of the season for the Patriots came at the perfect time against a playoff-caliber defense as New England locked up their 17th AFC East title this century. Tom Brady cut down the incompletions on a 26-of-33, 271-yard, one-TD outing that saw him find five receivers for at least 24 yards apiece. Sony Michel (96 yards on 21 carries) bounced back, but Rex Burkhead chipped in 97 all-purpose yards of his own and a touchdown.
6th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): There go the Patriots, figuring out a few more things offensively while still dominating on defense and special teams. Everyone should know by now not to write them off until time runs out in a playoff game in which they are trailing.
7th - Nate Davis (USA Today): Throw out Julian Edelman’s 97 grabs, and no New England wideout or tight end has more than 28 receptions this year. But it’s really Tom Brady’s fault ...
AVERAGE RANK: 6.1 (no change)