Three weeks into the National Football League season and some of the division standings appear absolutely upside down.
In the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals are in first place and the Pittsburgh Steelers last place. The Chicago Bears are alone in first place in the NFC North, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers share first place with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans in the NFC South while the Atlanta Falcons sit in the cellar.
But, no division standings appears more off expectations than the AFC East. This is a race that the New England Patriots have won the past nine years and 14 of the most recent 15 seasons. The only year they didn’t win it since 2003 was 2008, and that was the year quarterback Tom Brady was lost for the season with an opening day injury.
Brady is healthy this year, and yet his team is one of three squads from the AFC East with only one win in three games. It is not surprising that the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets also have records of 1 and 2, but what does appear out of order is that the Miami Dolphins are 3-0 atop the division.
Okay, let’s get this straight. The Dolphins are undefeated and lead the New England Patriots by two games in their division race. And this week, the Dolphins meet the Patriots in Foxboro with a chance to extend their division leading margin to three games over the defending AFC Champions.
The Dolphins are going to be 4-0 and the Patriots 1-3? And New England is going to drop three games behind in their division by losing to the team in front of them on their home field?
That’s not going to happen.
It is so much more in line with basic physics that after this weekend’s games the Dolphins record is 3-1 and the Patriots have moved to within one game of them at 2-2.
Couldn’t be any other way.
Well, there is this. What if the Patriots reign is over? What if back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, winning the first and losing the second, is a sure fire way to come up flat the next year. Every great team has an arc to their success.
When I was a kid, the Green Bay Packers were the class of the league. Then the Dallas Cowboys, later the Miami Dolphins and through most of the 1970’s the dominant team was the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On the other side of those glory years, all four of those teams hit tough times.
The longest string of winning football seasons before the Patriots run was registered by the San Francisco 49ers. They won their first Super Bowl to complete the 1981 season, and were among the NFL leaders all the way into the 1990’s, winning a fifth Super Bowl to complete the 1994 season.
Then, after the 1998 season, the 49ers hit on tough times and have not re-established any level of consistent excellence since.
Has the clock ticked away on Bill Belichick and his once dominate team?
We can ponder that, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
If the Patriots really are ready to be added to the scrap heap of past champions they will lose this game. If they do go down to the Dolphins, you can be sure the seasons of dominance are closing for New England.
We’ll do an autopsy on the Patriots season if they lose this one, but more likely, this is a New England squad that will bounce off their back-to-back losses and get back in the race.
Qoxhi Picks: New England Patriots (-6½) over Miami Dolphins