The Patriots are primed to capture the AFC East division title this weekend with a win over the Miami Dolphins.
Forgive us if you’ve heard this one before: the New England Patriots are knocking at the door of another division championship. If the team takes care of business and dispatches the Miami Dolphins on Sunday as expected, they’ll have hats and t-shirts waiting for them after the game in the visitors’ locker room.
Stunningly, this would be the Patriots’ 10th consecutive division championship, and their 16th in the 18 seasons since Tom Brady took over as starter. The 10 straight titles would potentially extend the Patriots’ own NFL record of consecutive division wins.
Actually accomplishing this feat, however, won’t be easy – it seems not much has been for the reigning AFC champions this season. The team has scratched and clawed its way out of an early 1-2 hole to climb all the way up to 9-3, thanks in large part to an emerging running game and a soft schedule. It also doesn’t hurt that the defense is finally beginning to show signs of gelling at the right time – and that the team is as healthy as it’s been all season.
Of course, fans of the Pats know that as much as the Brady/Belichick tandem deserves credit for their sustained excellence, their rivals in the AFC East also deserve “recognition” for the large part they’ve played in shaping New England’s dynasty. The Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets haven’t provided much resistance to the Patriots this millennium. Don’t forget: six out of 16 games each season are divisional tilts, so the advantages of playing in a weak division are significant to say the least.
Though ask any New Englander which annual division game they fear the most, and the answer will probably sound the same: on the road against Miami, especially late in the season. According to ESPN, Brady is a shaky 7-9 all-time visiting the Dolphins, and the Patriots have won just once in their past five trips to South Beach. They’ll need to reverse that trend on Sunday if they want to wrap up the division – and more importantly, keep pace in the playoff seeding race with the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs and streaking Houston Texans.