Despite their disappointing 24-3 loss against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday, the New England Patriots still had a theoretical albeit minimal chance at not just making the playoffs but eventually winning the AFC East as well entering the weekend. While the former is still in the realm of possibility after Sunday’s slate of games, we now know that the Patriots will not win their division in 2020.
With the Buffalo Bills beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night to improve to 10-3 on the season, there is no chance the 6-7 Patriots will catch up to them over the three games remaining in the regular season. The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, are also still alive in the race for the division crown despite dropping to 8-5 with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots, on the other hand, will finish outside of first place for the first time since 2008 — a season that saw Tom Brady go down with a torn ACL on opening day. Over the 11 years that followed, however, Brady and head coach Bill Belichick built a winning machine the likes of which the NFL had never seen before: 11 straight AFC East titles set a new league record; the team also won three Super Bowls along the way.
With Brady now gone and additional personnel turnover hurting the Patriots on both sides of the ball, New England took a step back in 2020. The rest of the division took advantage, with Buffalo now the frontrunners to finish in first place — something that has not happened since the 1993 season — and Miami also a realistic candidate to leapfrog the 11-time reigning champions in the standings.
The Patriots will meet both teams over the next two weeks: New England will travel to Florida on Sunday, before hosting the Bills one week later. While it seems unlikely that the team ends up in the playoffs even with back-to-back wins over its rivals, the two games still present an opportunity to play spoilers when it comes to the Dolphins’ and Bills’ potential playoff seeds or even AFC East aspirations.