The AFC East is a beast. Every team in the division is undefeated after the first week of play. This hasn’t happened in the AFC East since division realignment in 2002.
Buffalo is a bully. The Dolphins have their 1972 forefathers worried that this might be another undefeated season in Miami. The back page of Monday’s New York Post screamed, “BRAND NEW JETS,’’ in the wake of Sunday’s 31-10 demolition of the mighty Cleveland Browns.
Finally, some competition for the Patriots.
We were warned about this all summer while mired in Deflategate. Rex Ryan, a man who knows how to beat the Patriots, was bringing swagger and good players to Orchard Park, N.Y. The Dolphins went out and bought Ndamukong Suh, the baddest man in the whole damn town. The Jets took Darrelle Revis away from the Patriots, then put a Harvard man at quarterback.
Now they are all unbeaten. There’ll be no cakewalk for the Patriots this year.
Sorry, people. I’m not buying any of it. The AFC East is still Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the Patriots are Gladys Knight. By the time we get to the end of December, the Patriots will be contemplating which players to rest as they prepare for their annual first-round playoff bye and second-round game at Gillette Stadium.
Don’t listen to the noise of September. Winning the AFC East is still like signing up for Facebook or getting Pete Rose’s autograph: It’s easy.
The Patriots have won the AFC East six straight years and 11 of the last 12 seasons. There has never been dominance like this by any team in any professional football league. It speaks to the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but it also speaks to the “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” competition from Buffalo, Miami, and New York.
The Bills, need we remind you again, have not made the NFL playoffs in this century. The Patriots have played in 29 postseason games since the last time the Bills made the playoffs. The Dolphins last won a playoff game in 2000.
The Jets were 4-12 last year, haven’t finished over .500 in five years, have a rookie coach, and made news this summer when their starting quarterback sustained a broken jaw when he was punched by a teammate in the locker room. The headline in the Daily News for that one was, “Jets fans rejoice as QB out 6-10 weeks.’’
You need a coach and a quarterback to win in the NFL. The Patriots have the best of both. The Bills, Dolphins, and Jets in this century have had clowns, jokers, fraidy cats, and frauds. My favorite part of the ESPN carve job on the Patriots last week was the part about the Spygate benefits against the stooges of the AFC East.
“Looking back on it,’’’ the authors wrote, “several former Patriot coaches insist that spying helped them most against less sophisticated teams — the Dolphins and Bills chief among them — whose coaches didn’t bother changing their signals.’’
It’s the Marvin Lewis Effect. A coach gets awestruck at the mere sight of Belichick and Brady and said coach loses his mind and does stupid things. Pete Carroll took this to its zenith in the closing seconds of last year’s Super Bowl. We know that Ryan is not afraid of Belichick and knows how to attack Brady, but can the same be said of nice guy Joe Philbin in Miami or Jets novice Todd Bowles?
And then we have the quarterback situation. At this hour, the starting quarterbacks in the AFC East are Brady, Tyrod Taylor (Bills), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Jets). More than anything else, this is why the Patriots will have no trouble winning the division again.
Good luck to Taylor, who had a nice game against the Colts. Belichick devours untested quarterbacks like Pablo Sandoval at the postgame spread. Taylor has been in the NFL since he was a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2011, but he didn’t make his first NFL start until Sunday when the Bills enjoyed their impressive win over Indy.
Taylor did a nice job managing the game against the overrated Colts, but it’s going to be different this week when he sees a Belichick defense. We’re not in Chuck Pagano-land anymore, kid.
Tannehill is in his fourth season and gets a little better every year. He’s the best QB in the division after Brady, which is sort of like finishing second in the American League in homers in 1921 when Babe Ruth hit 59, and the runners-up hit 24.
The Jets have Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Fitzpatrick was regularly schooled by Belichick when he played for the Bills. The Patriots are 26-4 against the Bills since Belichick became head coach in New England, and Fitzpatrick started seven of those games.
So there you go, Patriots fans. This will be a fun week as we revisit Rex Ryan’s greatest hits and overinflate the Bills as legitimate contenders in the AFC East. It’ll be nice to finally see a little drama when the Patriots get to Orchard Park.
But the Patriots have Belichick and Brady. The Bills, Dolphins, and Jets have a bunch of wannabes and never-weres. Ignore that four-way tie atop the division. The AFC East still has more tomato cans than Stop & Shop.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.