Patriots’ Stranglehold On AFC East Not In Jeopardy Despite Improved Teams

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The AFC East during the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era might as well be called the Kraft Invitational Tournament.

The New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East under Belichick, winning 12 division crowns since 2001 and the last six overall. There’s a good chance they’ll make it 13 and seven, respectively, this season, but there might be at least a little bit of resistance — a step up from years past.

The East’s four teams all won their opening games Sunday, the first time that’s happened since the NFL realigned in 2002. What that means, though, is still very much unknown. It’s September, it’s Week 1, and things that don’t make sense often happen in the first week of the season. The cream rises to the top, however, which is why the Patriots will be enjoying another “hat and T-shirt game” in a few months.

Yes, there are reasons to believe the road might be a little bumpier this time around for the Patriots. There’s improvement across the division, and much of that was on display Sunday. Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills thoroughly dismantled the Indianapolis Colts. The New York Jets roughed up the hapless Cleveland Browns. Despite early issues, the Miami Dolphins regained their footing and took care of the Washington Redskins.

With all due respect to what those teams have done, big deal.

All of those teams are improved, and all of them seem to have better days in front of them. Even if they’re improved, though, they still aren’t as good as the Patriots. It’s like the Bills, Jets and Dolphins all upgraded their 1998 Toyota Camrys to 2008 Honda Civics. Sure, their rides are nicer, but the Patriots are still driving a new Cadillac. They still have the division’s best coach and best player. It’s all relative.

If it feels like we’ve been down this road before, it’s because we have. Just look back to last season. Three of the four AFC East teams won in Week 1. The only one to lose? The Patriots. Then, in Week 6, the 3-2 Patriots team went to Orchard Park to take on a seemingly upstart Bills team. New England trounced Buffalo 37-22.

Fast foward almost a year, and the Patriots are going back to Buffalo in a highly anticipated showdown. The Patriots are just 1-point favorites. The Bills feature one of the NFL’s best defenses and are riding high. It should be a helluva game, and the Bills might even beat the Patriots.

But until the AFC East can prove it can beat the Patriots on a consistent basis — New England’s 28-8 divisional record since 2009 shows how hard that’s been — then this is still the Patriots’ division.

FOURTH AND SHORT

Here are four quick thoughts from around the NFL after Week 1:

1. It’s not hard to overreact after one week of football, but remember this. In Week 1 of the 2014 season, the eventual Super Bowl champions lost by two touchdowns, the eventual 8-8 San Francisco 49ers went into Dallas and pounded the eventual 12-4 Cowboys, and Peyton Manning looked like he had a functioning right arm.

2. What happened in Dallas on Sunday night is an absolute embarrassment for the New York Giants. Telling a running back to not score a touchdown — at least in that situation — is the height of stupidity, and the Giants deserved to lose that game. What an absolute clown show. I’d say, “Man, that might end up costing the Giants a playoff spot down the road,” but they’re pretty much screwed anyway.

3. The Colts were a trendy pick to contend for the Super Bowl. Apparently those prognosticators just ignored the fact that Indy didn’t address its deficiencies in the offseason. The Colts did nothing to fix their porous run defense and were shredded for 147 yards in a Week 1 loss to the Bills. Next up for the Colts? The Jets, who ran for 154 yards in their win over Cleveland. Ut-oh.

4. Keep your eye on the Arizona Cardinals. They rolled over the New Orleans Saints, as Carson Palmer looked good as new following his latest knee injury. They’ve got a fairly winnable stretch to start the season, with the Bears, 49ers, Rams and Lions on tap before going to Pittsburgh on Oct. 18.

Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images

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