It's just the second week of November, but heading into Sunday's matchup with the Jets at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots look to put the clamps on a fourth straight AFC East division title. With a 6-2 record on the season, including a perfect 4-0 mark in the East, New England can pretty much print the playoff tickets with a win over Eric Mangini's upstart Jets.
While the Patriots already swept the season series with the Bills and won the first meeting with Nick Saban's Dolphins, Mangini's New York squad could remain in the division race with the upset Sunday afternoon in Foxborough.
New York enters the game following their bye. Considering no opposing coach knows New England better than Mangini, who is less than a year removed from the Gillette locker room himself, the rookie head coach might be able to come up with a game plan to challenge his former boss' more talented squad.
Following the rivalry game with the Patriots, New York have a reasonably easy late season schedule. After their game in New England, the Jets have a tough battle with the Bears at home. But following those more challenging contests, New York hosts Houston, travels to Green Bay, hosts Buffalo, visits Minnesota and Miami and then closes out the season at home against Oakland. All are winnable matchups for a Jets team that has played tough every week this fall under the young new coach, save for one 41-0 debacle in Jacksonville in early October.
So while most onlookers have already penciled in the Patriots for another division crown, the Jets could still have a say in the East.
Of course, Bill Belichick will be telling his team as much and, as usual, will likely have his team well prepared for Mangini's green machine. The Jets hung tough with the Patriots in Week 2 and Belichick will be sure to let his team know that New York was one score away from walking away with what would have been a big early season win.
But if New England does what it's supposed to and takes care of business against the Jets, the sailing to the division crown will be relatively smooth. Even if the Patriots falter in upcoming matchups with playoff-bound teams such as the Bears and Jaguars, none of the other three teams in the East would have much of a chance at catching the defending champs, who hold the tie breaker.
And a win over the Jets would give New England the opportunity to record its first undefeated record within the division, one of the few notable winning marks the team has been unable to accomplish in its recent run of NFL dominance that included winning 21 games in a row. A Dec. 12 trip to Miami would represent the final hurdle along the path to achieving that goal.
But that's for the future. For now, the Patriots will prepare for a well-known foe led by a familiar face with the chance to essentially put the wraps on another AFC East crown. The Jets hope to put a damper on New England's early postseason parade. Oh, and did we mention that Belichick and Mangini spent the better half of a decade working together, even if the former won't go so far as to even mention or praise the later?