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NFL Week 12: The balance of power has shifted in the AFC East, and it’s not in the Patriots’ favor

Tua Tagovailoa's Dolphins are, in fact, the No. 1 team in the AFC East now.Doug Murray/Associated Press

Thanksgiving weekend was not very welcoming for the Patriots.

Not only did they lose to the Vikings to drop to 6-5, but the weekend’s slate of games did not fall in their favor. The Dolphins, Bills, Jets, Bengals, and Chargers all won, sending the Patriots down to the No. 8 seed in the AFC and out of the playoff bracket.

Week 12 also saw a shift in the balance of power in the AFC East. This is definitely not the Patriots’ division anymore, and the Bills are starting to get nervous. The upstart Dolphins and, yes, the Jets, are playing with the most confidence, and are brimming with upside.


The new pecking order in the AFC East is where we begin the Week 12 Review:

⋅ The Dolphins, not the Bills, are the best team in the division. Miami improved to 8-3 with a 30-15 win over the Texans that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. The Dolphins raced out to a 30-0 lead by halftime, and pulled Tua Tagovailoa before the end of the third quarter.

Miami’s offense has been practically unstoppable, scoring 30 points in four straight games. The Dolphins are also 7-0 in games started and finished by Tagovailoa. Miami has a season-defining, three-game road trip coming up — at San Francisco, at the Los Angeles Chargers, at Buffalo. But right now, the Dolphins look like the class of the AFC East and one of the best teams in the NFL.

⋅ Uh oh, the Jets may have found a quarterback. The Jets managed a 6-4 record despite getting awful play from Zach Wilson, and Mike White was a revelation in Sunday’s 31-10 win over the Bears. White, making his fourth career start, completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a near-perfect 149.3 passer rating. He led New York on its first opening-drive touchdown of the season. Receivers Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore combined for 159 yards and three touchdowns.


The Bears were missing QB Justin Fields, and their defense is awful, entering the game ranked 27th in points allowed. But Wilson never would have completed 22 of 28 passes, and probably would have made a few crippling mistakes.

As long as White can minimize mistakes, the 7-4 Jets can be dangerous with their stingy defense and talented young offense.

⋅ Josh Allen shook off an inconsistent day to take down a feisty Lions team on Thanksgiving, but the Bills have some issues. In the Bills’ last four games, they had a bad loss to the Jets, an emotionally-draining loss to the Vikings, and a sloppy win over the Lions. Allen has thrown four touchdowns against five interceptions in that stretch.

And now Buffalo may have suffered a massive loss with a knee injury to pass rusher Von Miller, who leads the team with 8 sacks. Early reports are that Miller didn’t tear his ACL, but the outlook is murky. The Bills have only confirmed that Miller will be out for Thursday night’s game against the Patriots, but he could miss a significant amount of time.

What does the future hold for Von Miller?Duane Burleson/Associated Press

The 8-3 Bills are tied with the Dolphins for the best record in the AFC East, and they have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But Allen and the offense have hit a bit of a funk, and Miller’s injury could be devastating.


⋅ The shorthanded Bengals, playing without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase or running back Joe Mixon, went on the road and took down a tough Titans team, 20-16. The defense shut down Derrick Henry, holding him to 38 yards on 17 carries. The Bengals have won five of their last six games, with Joe Burrow throwing 14 touchdowns against three interceptions. And he should get Chase back next week after a four-game absence, just in time to face the Chiefs.

The 7-4 Bengals started 0-2 and looked like a victim of the Super Bowl loser’s curse. Instead, they are rounding into form and once again looking like one of the toughest teams in the AFC.

⋅ The Browns played their last game without suspended QB Deshaun Watson, and Jacoby Brissett went out in style. He took down his buddy and mentor, Tom Brady, with a 23-17 overtime win on a rainy day in Cleveland.

Brissett threw for just 210 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But the touchdown pass was a 12-yarder to David Njoku on fourth down to send the game to overtime, and he hit Amari Cooper for 45 yards in OT to set up the win.

Brissett went 4-7 as the Browns’ starter, but he acquitted himself well, and there can’t be a much better feeling than knocking off Brady in his final start.

Quick hits

⋅ Props to the Jaguars’ Doug Pederson and Chargers’ Brandon Staley for going for 2 and the win. It marked the first day in NFL history that two teams won on a 2-point conversion inside the final two minutes. The Jaguars were 3-7 and had nothing to lose, and the win should galvanize Pederson’s players and will be great for building culture. Staley had more to lose, as his Chargers were 5-5 and in the thick of the playoff race. Staley takes a lot of heat for being too aggressive, but it paid off on Sunday.


⋅ Trevor Lawrence is growing up. He threw for 321 yards and three TDs, and led the Jaguars 75 yards in 10 plays to score the game-winning touchdown, plus the game-winning 2-pointer. Since serving up a stinker against Denver four weeks ago, Lawrence is 2-1, with 6 TDs, no picks and has completed 77 percent of his passes.

⋅ The Commanders are 7-5 after a 1-4 start, and 5-1 since they made the switch to Taylor Heinicke. The only thing that may stop them is a bye in two weeks.

⋅ Bucs coach Todd Bowles isn’t making a strong case to keep his job after this year. Dropping to 5-6 was bad enough, but sitting on his timeouts at the end of regulation was even worse.

Todd Bowles and the Bucs fell to 5-6 with Sunday's loss to the Browns.Nick Cammett/Getty

⋅ Surprise of the day: Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett being invited on the flight home to Denver following a 23-10 loss to the Panthers.

⋅ The Ravens’ four losses: Couldn’t hold a 35-14 lead against the Dolphins, a 20-3 lead against the Bills, a 20-10 lead against the Giants, and now a 19-10 fourth-quarter lead against the Jaguars.


Tracking former Patriots

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady: Another grind of a day, as the Bucs didn’t score any points on their final seven drives and scored just 17 points in an OT loss to the Browns. Tampa Bay is still in first place by half a game thanks to the Falcons’ loss, but at 5-6, Brady is under .500 this late in the season for the first time in his career.

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Lucky to have an interception taken off the board due to penalty, and for his defense to pitch a shutout. But he keeps winning — four in a row to get the Niners to 7-4 and the No. 3 seedin the NFC.

Chiefs G Joe Thuney: Inactive for Sunday’s win over the Rams due to an ankle injury, the first game he has missed in his seven-year career. He had previously started all 120 games (including postseason) since being drafted by the Patriots in 2016.

Raiders coach Josh McDaniels: Improved to 4-7 with a wild, 40-34 overtime win over the Seahawks, the Raiders’ second win in a row. The good: McDaniels’ offense gained 576 yards of total offense, and scored touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation and again in overtime. The bad: His defense got picked apart by Geno Smith, and McDaniels made a baffling decision to attempt a 56-yard field goal in overtime on fourth and 2. But the Raiders are playing noticeably better and won’t be a fun opponent for the Patriots in three weeks.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel: Tough way to lose to the Bengals, on an unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting the long snapper on a field goal attempt. But his Titans are still 7-4 and have a 2.5 game lead over the Colts in the AFC South.

Giants coach Brian Daboll: Played tough against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but the Giants lost their second straight to drop to 7-4. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, with games against Washington, Philadelphia, Washington, and Minnesota.

Stats of the week

⋅ Vikings WR Justin Jefferson passed Randy Moss and Odell Beckham Jr. for the most receiving yards through three seasons in NFL history (4,203 and counting).

⋅ Raiders RB Josh Jacobs is the only player since at least 1950 with 225 rushing yards (229) and 70 receiving yards (74) in a game.

⋅ The Jaguars improved to 1-183 in franchise history when trailing by seven-plus points in the final minute of regulation.

⋅ The Saints’ 13-0 loss to the 49ers snapped their streak of 332 straight games without being shut out, the longest active streak in the NFL.

⋅ The Dolphins nearly scored as many points (30) as the Texans had total yards (32) in the first half.

⋅ For the first time since 1926, three games on Thanksgiving ended within one score.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.