Patriots Grab ‘NFL’s Best Team’ Crown From Broncos After Commanding Win

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FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos only seemed remotely close because Peyton Manning was on the other side of the huddle Sunday.

Even with the Broncos down three scores and 6:13 left in the fourth quarter, Patriots fans were halfway on their seats thinking: “Is it safe? Is it safe to beat the traffic? Can he come back?” There’s always a chance of that.

Let’s be fair, though. The Patriots walloped the reigning AFC champs, and against any other quarterback, their 27-7 halftime lead would have seemed extremely safe, as it turned out to be.

Since the Broncos were considered the Super Bowl favorites, it’s fair to say the Patriots now have that honor after posting five consecutive wins, grabbing the AFC’s best record and putting on a dominant performance against Denver. The Patriots are the team to beat for home-field advantage in the AFC, and they might as well be crowned the best team in the entire NFL.

As 16-time world heavyweight champion Ric Flair has said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Patriots, you’re the man.

It was difficult to remember five short weeks ago that the Patriots were battling the Broncos for NFL supremacy this offseason. Coming off a 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football,” New England seemed like just another middle-of-the-road team.

But once upon a time, while the Broncos signed Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots responded by bringing in Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell. The Patriots were considered just as complete as the Broncos, and they looked it Sunday.

Now the Patriots are playing up to their high expectations — and possibly even exceeding them.

“We want home-field advantage,” Revis said in the locker room after the win. “We definitely do. I think that’s one of our goals, but we have to take it one week at a time. This week, it was Denver. People might say this is the battle of the AFC, and that’s fine. It’s two great teams playing.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady were less forthcoming about the team’s goals after the big win.

“Seven wins isn’t going to get anything in this league,” Belichick said. “We’re going to have to do a lot more than that. I think we can still do better at some things. Hopefully we’ll be able to work on those and improve them. But it’s a good team win tonight. (We) got a lot of contributions from everybody. It was good, solid effort.”

Come on, Coach. It was more than that. Power rankings and pundits’ opinions mean nothing to NFL teams, but the Patriots actually earned something Sunday: the upper hand to play the Broncos again in January on their own turf — not in Denver, as they did last season (and lost).

“Right now I think there’s a good chance we’re going to see Indianapolis,” Belichick responded when asked if he thought the Patriots would see the Broncos again this season.

Brady wasn’t budging either.

“Coach said after the game that seven wins doesn’t get you anything, and that’s true,” Brady said. “I think we’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal and get back to work and take some time to figure out the things we need to do better over the next week and then get ready to go to Indy because that will be here pretty quick.”

The Patriots won a statement game, whether they want to admit it or not, and it might reap them real benefits in the playoffs.

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