Patriots Are Class of the AFC

After their 11th consecutive victory a 21-16 win over the New York Jets on Saturday night, the New England Patriots have all but assured themselves of a first round playoff bye and can clinch the top spot in the AFC with a Colts loss on Sunday night at home against the Denver Broncos.

In this day and age in the NFL, winning back to back games is not east. But when you win 11 in a row, you're doing something right. After the Patriots performance on Saturday Night, it's probable that the Patriots won't lose another game this season. This team is nearly flawless and perfect. They've done a good job of imitating the 1972 Miami Dolphins team that went 17-0.

This no-name defense and offense to some degree just finds the internal fortitude to refuse to lose a game. Even further they refuse to lose on every play. They never quit, give-up nor allow any excuses in a game. They bring the heat defensively, they force turnovers and they attack. On offense, they're not flashy but they get the job done behind a workman like quarterback.

Tom Brady reminds me so much of Bob Griese it's uncanny. Both play the game the same way and both of them don't produce stellar stats but they simply win games. Griese for his day was one of the best clutch passers in the NFL. Brady in the new millennium age has the same abilities and qualities as Griese. He just wins games and does it in every way possible.

But the Patriots success, which has culminated with 11 consecutive wins, is not a fluke but they've also been the benefactor of some nice bounces. But great teams take advantage of their opponents in games that they have no business winning. A trifecta of games has set this team apart from the rest in the AFC. The Patriots improbable wins in Houston, Miami and Indianapolis were fortunate circumstances of reality in the NFL; opposing teams made inept plays that the Patriots took advantage of. That's the kind of karma that can carry a team to a Super Bowl title.

Each week someone steps up. On Saturday it was second year wide receiver David Givens. Statistically among all active wide receivers he's ranked 91st. But he was numero uno for Tom Brady against New York as the former Notre Dame product caught two touchdown passes against the Jets.

Even the Patriots brutally inefficient running game played well on Saturday. Running back Antowain Smith had his best game of the year rushing for 121 yards on 18 carries. If the Patriots get that kind of production out of him the rest of the way, the Patriots margin of victory will certainly increase.

Defensively the play of safety Rodney Harrison has been the most impressive aspect of the Patriots season. Not known for playing under control and carrying the baggage of someone who some NFL players consider dirty, he has channeled all that negativity and focused on being a better all around player. Actually the transformation has been remarkable.

Harrison has taken to Bill Belichick's defensive schemes and flourished while playing within the team concept. That has not been a strong suit of Harrison in the past. His play along with cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole have been the primary reason that opposing teams don't pass well against the Patriots. Now some teams have had marginal success at times within a game but for the most part that trio has kept their oppsoing wide receivers out of the end zone.

Up front the defensive lineman and linebackers just keep pushing forward. They swarm to the quarterback or running back and they keep containment until reinforcements can assist in gang tackling.

On Saturday the Jets tried so many sweeps that were stuffed by the Patriots front seven. New York running back Curtis Martin was at time swallowed up by five or six Patriots defenders.

Thus the beat goes on for the Patriots. They close out the season next Saturday against the Buffalo Bills and a victory will absolutely guarantee them the top spot in the AFC playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs with their embarrassing 45-20 loss in Minnesota on Saturday need the Denver Broncos to defeat the Colts on Sunday night. If that happens, then next Saturday's game is meaningless. The Patriots will have the top spot wrapped up. There is no combination of Chiefs or Colts scenarios that could prevent that from happening.

That would ensure the Patriots get a bye week and also give them ample time to improve their scoring proficiencies. They won't be able to count on scoring 20 points or less and winning in the playoffs. They'll need to spend a considerable amount of time in preparing for some of the more high scoring teams in the AFC. The defense has no holes but offensively they must put more points on the board especially at home where they've been frugal to get into the end zone.

For now the win over the Jets has to satisfy them but there is still work to be done. The Patriots will be playing close attention to the Colts game as they are the last team to stand in their way as the AFC playoff tournament starts in two weeks. The Patriots want to be playing at home but if they go on the road that won't faze them a bit. Because they know the only team that can beat them in the playoffs rests in New England.

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