The New England Patriots have finally put it together and are playing as well as anybody right now and can clinch the AFC East next week with a sixth straight victory. The Pats have been dominating the division since the turn of the millennium with nine division championships to their credit. The quick clinching of the east this year is just as much due to the Patriots 8-3 record as it is the putrid play in the division.
The Miami Dolphins are the Pats Week 13 opponent, and they are the second best team in the AFC East. However, they are 5-6 and have not taken advantage of a weak schedule. They have averaged under four yards per carry, largely because the coaching staff must be too incompetent to realize that Daniel Thomas is not a good running back and definitely doesn’t deserve to take more snaps than Reggie Bush on passing downs either. Ryan Tannehill has been decent for a rookie, but that sub-60% completion percentage doesn’t scare me.
Although the Dolphins have a good defense, their subpar offense definitely doesn’t scare me. The Patriots defense should have little trouble stopping the ‘Fins receivers, and that’s the problem. Tannehill’s numbers don’t do him justice, because Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are the only two legitimate receivers that he has. He basically has two No. 2 receivers and nothing else outside of them other than two inconsistent tight ends as pass-catchers.
Anyway, back to the Patriots. They should be able to easily clinch the division, and they will still win the division even if they somehow lose to Miami on Sunday. This team is in perfect position and has been playing terrific football lately. The Patriots, in fact, might just be the best team in the NFL.
My favorite statistic to measure team play is Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, which measures how good a team is by looking at strength of schedule and margin of victory. The Patriots rank first at 12.9 which is a full point above the second-place team; the San Francisco 49ers (a future opponent).
Do I think the Pats are the best team in the NFL? No, I wouldn’t pick them over the 49ers quite yet. Are they close? Definitely, and they are clearly the best team in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens are close, but they barely beat the Pats (last second FG) back when New England really wasn’t the same team they are right now. The Ravens also aren’t the same team, due to crippling injuries in the secondary.
The Houston Texans are another future opponent for the Pats, but their 10-1 record comes with two narrow wins over the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Lions have been mediocre this season, while the Jags are probably the third-worst team in the NFL.
This is shaping up to be the season we envisioned for the Patriots back when we were predicting how 2012 would go for the Pats during the preseason, and they will likely finish the year at 12-4. Will it be enough to overcome a disappointing first six weeks of the year in order to lock up home-field advantage (what we really care about)? We’ll see, but that becomes a likelihood if the Pats can run the table. With games against Houston and San Francisco, that’s a difficult feat for sure. But on the bright side, there are two games against Miami and another one against the aforementioned Jaguars.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.