The Patriots have owned the AFC East over the last decade, winning nine of the last 10 division titles. The only other team to capture the crown in that span was the Dolphins, who the Patriots will visit with a chance to clinch.
The Patriots, at 10-3 this season, are atop the AFC East with a three-game lead over the second-place Dolphins (7-6). A win on Sunday would give the Patriots a fifth straight division title and mark the 11th time New England has claimed the crown in Bill Belichick‘s 14 seasons as head coach.
The Dolphins spent big during the offseason, doling out big contracts to receiver Mike Wallace and linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, to name a few, in hopes of overtaking control of the division. However, a controversial bullying scandal in the Dolphins’ locker room and a brutal 2-6 stretch left Miami in major turmoil and on the fringe of the playoff picture.
Even considering the Patriots’ stellar track record in the division, Sunday’s game won’t be a cakewalk for Tom Brady and Co. The Patriots have endured a series or injuries to a number of critical players this, including tight end Rob Gronkowski against the Browns on Sunday. The Dolphins nearly pulled the upset of the Patriots in Foxboro earlier this season as well, jumping out to a 17-3 lead at halftime before the Patriots marched back to 24 unanswered points in the second half.
The Patriots can still clinch a playoff spot, even if they are unable to win the division against the Dolphins on Sunday, though. If the Ravens, who the Patriots will play in Week 16, lose or tie against the Lions on Sunday, the Patriots would automatically secure at worst a wild-card spot. So, while a division crown is the goal, even a loss could still produce a small win for the Patriots this week.