NFL

NFL Sunday: New England Tries to Hang On to AFC East Supremacy Against Dolphins

Tom Brady has learned that you need someone to catch to keep you from aging overnight

The New England Patriots had won twelve straight games against AFC East opponents, until they lost in overtime to the Jets on the push. For the last time the Patriots lost games in consecutive weeks in divisional opponents, you have to go back to 2000–Belichick’s first year in New England. Set that scheduling aside. New England has only gone one stretch of divisional games since 2000 with two losses and no wins, in 2006 when they lost to the Jets in November and Miami in December.

New England is 62-16 (including playoffs) since the Brady & Belichick era began with a hit by Mo Lewis on Drew Bledsoe early in the 2001 season. Dominant for a decade, the Patriots now face a challenge from the Miami Dolphins to re-assert their superiority.

It has been a decidedly un-Patriots-like year on offense. I detailed some of the issues with drops and how that has affected the numbers on Friday, but needless to say, this is uncharted territory for a Tom Brady offense. Right now, New England is 30th in the league in net yards per pass attempt. But But But They are Still Winning! 

Well, kind of. They have lost 2 of 3, and Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are both lost for the season. Now add in that Aqib Talib will likely miss this game as well. All hopes of an offensive turnaround with the return of Rob Gronkowski now must be realized soon, because it is unlikely the defense will continue to be top 5 in points allowed. Here is a list of the teams who have made the playoffs while finishing bottom five in net passing yards per play since 1990.

Brady in rare company

That’s not a pretty list. It would not normally be one that you would associate with Tom Brady. Brad Johnson is perhaps the most similar, and at an older age bounced back the next year in Tampa Bay to win a Super Bowl, led by a dominant defense. Jim Harbaugh put up some pretty good years in Indianapolis, after having a poor supporting cast in Chicago where fullback Brad Muster was his leading receiver.

Brady comes in with a sore shoulder (no, really) and this offense needs to start showing signs of getting on track, or the AFC East is going to be a race all year. Miami, meanwhile, has plenty of issues of their own. The offense has revolving doors at tackle, and you can bet the Patriots defense will find ways to bring pressure on Tannehill. The offensive line has not been very good at creating room for the run either. Last week, they had 120 rushing yards, the most so far this year, but it was not enough in losing a third straight. Neither team is playing at top form coming in. The winner, though, will be at the front of the line in the AFC East (unless you are buying the Jets, who have won close games so far).

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