Patriots in the driver's seat of AFC East

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Patriots in the driver's seat of AFC East

FOXBORO -- As ugly as it was, the Patriots still came away from Sunday's 37-31 win over the Bills one step closer to an AFC East division title. Their 6-3 record (3-0 in the division) puts them in the driver's seat to win the AFC East for the fourth straight season.

"It wasn't pretty," Deion Branch said afterward. "But we'll take the 'W.' "

With it, the Patriots gave themselves some cushion.

New England's closest competition in the division, Miami, fell to 4-5 overall (1-1 in the division) after their 37-3 loss to the Titans on Sunday.

The Jets also lost on Sunday, dropping their game against the Seahawks, 28-7. Rex Ryan's bunch is now 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the division.

The Bills are 3-6 overall and 0-3 in the division after Sunday's game with the Patriots, and they know the lights are dimming quickly on their playoff hopes.

"We only got seven left games now," Bills defensive end Mario Williams said. "Pretty much get that Wild Card spot or whatever. I haven't looked at it. I don't even know if that's the right terminology to say. For us to get to where we wanna go, we gotta win out pretty much. We can't keep losing like this."

New England still has two games remaining with Miami, and one game left with the Jets on Thanksgiving.

Given the inconsistency of their divisional competition, however, it's looking more and more like the question is not if the Patriots will win the AFC East, but what their playoff seed will be when they do.

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

As expected, Marcus Smart will get the start for the Boston Celtics tonight against the Orlando Magic in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas, who leads the Celtics (12-9) in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season, suffered a right groin injury in Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday.

Head coach Brad Stevens explained his decision a few minutes ago.

“He’s started a lot of games here in the past as a point guard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s basically our sixth starter. It wasn’t one that I had to think a ton about.”

Starting Smart also allows second-year guard Terry Rozier to continue in his role coming off the bench. 

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Smart’s production has been consistent. 

In the five games he has started this season, he has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. 

His numbers off the bench are almost identical with Smart averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a reserve. 

Stevens also mentioned that Amir Johnson would be back in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Jerebko. Earlier in the day, Stevens told reporters the decision to start Jerebko on Monday was strictly because of the matchup with Houston. 

“We have to be able to be flexible in doing that,” Stevens said. “Houston plays four guards. We didn’t feel like we could defend them unless we switch one through four. I thought he (Jerebko) did a pretty good job. This (Orlando) team is different than Houston other than both are super-hot.”

Orlando (10-12) has won four of its last five games in part because of its size, strength and versatility along the frontline which includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic who now comes off the bench. 

And while the Celtics have benefited heavily from the play of their guards, obviously that plan will be amended tonight with Thomas out. 

“He (Thomas) generates a lot in the open offense what we call flow, spread offense,” Stevens said. “So some of those type of things you may not generate at the same rate. But certainly there are other ways that we’ll look to play when he’s not in the game normally, or when we’re trying to play through bigs in the post. You have different ways to play within all your schemes. Hopefully we can play to each other’s strengths and go from there.”