Death, taxes and the New England Patriots winning the AFC East.
While the Patriots officially cannot clinch their eighth consecutive division title for another few weeks, they effectively eliminated their only real competition Sunday with a 41-25 shellacking of the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field.
A Bills win would have pulled them to within a game of the Patriots — whom they shut out back in Week 4 — in the AFC East standings. Instead, Buffalo now sits three games back of 7-1 New England at 4-4 and would need a miracle to break its streak of 21 consecutive years without a division crown.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to win your division when you just got beat by (16 points),” Bills coach Rex Ryan told reporters after the game. “How many games now up are they? Three? I don’t see that changing. … If you really think we can run the table and still win (the division), I don’t think so.”
Buffalo got on the board first Sunday with a field goal on its opening drive, but it was all New England from there on out. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady carved up the Bills’ defense throughout the contest, throwing four touchdown passes with no interceptions in the blowout win.
“We made way too many mistakes,” Ryan told reporters. “Mistakes that we haven’t made all season. And against a guy like Brady, he makes you pay every time you have a mistake. We knew that going in, and he was true to form. But we didn’t deserve to win by any stretch. The Patriots deserved it, and they won the game.”
While top-flight teams around the NFL have lost to lesser opponents with alarming regularity this season, the Patriots have operated like a well-oiled freight train. They rode a pair of untested backup quarterbacks to a 3-1 start, then found an even higher gear following Brady’s return from suspension in Week 5.
In four games with Brady, New England has outscored its opponents 136-71 — an average margin of victory of more than two touchdowns per game. And a look at its remaining schedule suggests more of the same could be on the horizon.
Following next weekend’s bye, the Patriots play just two games against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended Sunday: the Seattle Seahawks at home in Week 10 and the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 15. Their other five remaining opponents — the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens — all entered the weekend with losing records.
In Foxboro, though, division titles are not the end goal. Super Bowl titles are, and the Patriots will spend the rest of the regular season putting themselves in the best position to hoist the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy.
“Seven wins is a good place, I think decent position,” Brady told reporters after the game. “But Coach (Bill Belichick) always says seven wins won’t get you anything in this league, and he’s right. We’ve got a lot of football ahead. This is when it starts to feel like football season.”
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images