Patriots can clinch AFC East this Sunday


Patriots can clinch AFC East this Sunday

A win Sunday over the Dolphins will deliver the Patriots their 10th AFC East title in 12 seasons.

With their record currently at 8-3 and the Dolphins at 5-6, a win by the Pats means the Patriots would have a four-game lead on them with four games to play.

Miami could tie the Patriots at 9-7 if the Patriots lost their last four against Houston, San Francisco, Jacksonville and the Dolphins, and Miami wins its last four at San Francisco, against the Jaguars and Bills and then at New England.

But even with a split of the head-to-head games, the Patriots would have a 5-1 record in the AFC East and Miami would be 3-3.

What the Patriots have accomplished since 2001 is stunning. They have finished alone or in a tie for first place in the division every season since 2001. The two times they failed to make the playoffs in that stretch -- 2002 and 2008 -- the Patriots finished at 9-7 and 11-5, respectively, but were edged from the postseason on tiebreakers.

The Patriots are slowly approaching the point where the Brady-Belichick Era will be regarded as the greatest run in NFL history.

A win this week will mean the Patriots have won nine or more games in 12 straight seasons, second only to the 49ers run of 16 seasons of nine or more wins (1983-98). The Niners accomplished that with three different head coaches (Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Steve Mariucci) and two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Joe Montana and Steve Young).

If the Patriots get to 10 wins, they will break into second place with nine straight seasons of 10 or more wins (trailing the Niners' 16 straight).

If the Patriots win their final five games, they will become the first team in NFL history with three straight seasons of 13 or more wins. Currently, they are the only team to have done that deed twice (2003-2004 and 2010-2011).

Pastrnak faces hearing for check to head of Rangers’ Girardi

Pastrnak faces hearing for check to head of Rangers’ Girardi

Bruins forward David Pastrnak will have a disciplinary hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday over his check to the head of the Rangers’ Dan Girardi in the Bruins’ 5-2 loss Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The hit came when Girardi reached up to catch a puck in the neutral zone 10:55 into the second period and Pastrnak came in hard and sent his left shoulder into Girardi’s chin. Pastrnak received a two-minute penalty for an illegal check to the head.

Girardi left the game as part of the NHL concussion protocol, but later returned.

It’ll be the 20-year-old Pastrnak’s first hearing with the Department of Player Safety. 


Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots


Felger: Broncos’ Elway and Kubiak the only NFL braintrust close to the Patriots

Before I make the following point, I'd like to make one thing clear to my sensitive readers: I do not believe the Denver Broncos are better than Patriots. I do not believe they have “passed'' the Pats. Please, Patriots fans, when New England goes into Denver and wins on Dec. 18 and/or the Pats beat them again in the playoffs, save your emails and calls. Don't get your panties in a bunch. You're still the best.

However, as we assess the pathetic state of brainpower across the NFL, the Broncos are one of only a few teams that deserve mention alongside the Pats. Perhaps they're the only one.  As their recent handling of their quarterback situation shows, especially from a coaching standpoint, Gary Kubiak and John Elway have proven they know what they're doing -- and how many teams in the league can you say that about?

In Denver, Brock Osweiler actually looked like a quarterback with a future. In Houston, he barely looks like he belongs in the league. That's about coaching, scheme and culture. It seems that somewhere between the silly letterman jackets in Houston and his second crack in Denver, Kubiak got a clue. Last year, he managed Osweiler to a 5-2 record before sitting him and somehow winning a Super Bowl behind the noodle-armed Peyton Manning. This year, he has another marginal talent, Trevor Siemian, off to a 5-1 start in his first season under center.

There are many NFL coaches who didn't hit their stride until their second job, and you have to wonder if Kubiak falls in this camp. I actually saw him put down his playsheet with his offense on the field the other night and thought, maybe he's starting to get it. He looked more like a head coach and just a little less like an offensive coordinator. 

Either way, Kubiak has displayed an excellent touch with a string of mediocre quarterbacks. And from the original decision to shut down Manning, to the insertion of Osweiler, to the reinstatement of Manning, and then the ultimate handing of the job to Siemian, he and Elway have pushed all the right buttons. If Paxton Lynch turns into a player down the road, look out.

Of course, Kubiak hasn't had much to do with his defense, which has been the domain of Elway, the architect, and to a lesser extent, Wade Phillips, the coordinator. Elway remains one of the few executives to build a championship team largely through free agency, and some of his moves have been so cold-hearted, so debated at the time, that only Bill Belichick could relate.

Who else fires a coach who led you to four division titles and a Super Bowl berth (John Fox), and then follows that up with a title? Who else lets go of BOTH quarterbacks who led you to a title and follows that up with a division lead?

It's moves like those that led ESPN to display a stat montage late in the game on Monday depicting Elway as ``the Don.'' (Wonder where they got that idea from?). Think about it.  Who else in the league -- what coach, executive or owner -- gets that kind of ``mastermind'' treatment? I don't think anyone else deserves it other than Belichick and, in second place, Elway. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore would be a distant third; or perhaps Pete Carroll and John Schneider in Seattle deserve mention.

Regardless, as the ESPN graphic showed, the Broncos' record since Elway took over in 2011 is now 63-24, second in the league over that time only to the Pats (67-20). Denver is also one of just four teams to make the playoffs every year during his tenure (the Packers, Pats and Bengals are the others). Like the Pats and Seahawks, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. And like the Pats, he has won his division five straight years.  

Perhaps that all comes to an end this year, and it sure looks like Denver will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to earning home field over the Pats come December. But for now, in a league where there are no equals to Belichick, it's almost refreshing (to me, anyway) to consider someone who at least belongs in the conversation. 

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