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Signs in the big picture

Schedule could play to Patriots’ favor

Consecutive losses have given Bill Belichick’s team some unwanted company atop the AFC East. Consecutive losses have given Bill Belichick’s team some unwanted company atop the AFC East. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 8, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - It requires getting down to the second or third tiebreaker, but at the moment, New England is the leader in the AFC East even though the Patriots, Jets, and Bills are all 5-3.

It is surprising that all three have the same midpoint standing considering the teams’ recent track records. But here they are tied, and they have eight games left to settle divisional supremacy.

The Jets’ 27-11 win over the Bills Sunday completed the circle: Buffalo beat New England in Week 3, New England beat New York in Week 5, and New York beat Buffalo in Week 9.

But after Sunday night’s game between the Patriots and Jets at Met Life Stadium – a.k.a. the New Meadowlands - there may not be any tiebreaker necessary.

Yesterday, Jets coach Rex Ryan reiterated that “if you want to win the division, you have to beat these guys.’’ New York hasn’t won an AFC East title since 2002, while New England has won seven of the last eight.

Buffalo travels to 4-4 Dallas Sunday; the Cowboys dropped a close game to the Jets in Week 1 and lost in Foxborough last month.

Based on remaining schedules, the Patriots have the advantage.

After Sunday, New England finishes with Kansas City, at Philadelphia, against Indianapolis, at Washington, at Denver, against Miami, and against Buffalo. Combined record: 24-40, which is skewed by the Colts’ 0-9 record.

Buffalo’s game at Dallas is the first of a three-game road trip that includes Miami and the Jets. Then the Bills are against Tennessee, at San Diego, against Miami, against Denver, and at New England. Combined record: 27-37.

After the Patriots, the Jets travel to Denver, host Buffalo, go to Washington, host Kansas City, play at Philadelphia, welcome the Giants, and end at Miami. Combined record: 30-33.

The Patriots and Jets have near-identical schedules with six common opponents remaining. And the Bills need to survive four road games in the next five weeks to stay relevant in the division.

As they reviewed film from Sunday’s loss to the Giants yesterday, the Patriots were naturally looking ahead to the Jets. Players pointed to a lack of execution in New England’s back-to-back losses, and as Tom Brady noted on WEEI yesterday, the team will be looking to play “an error-free game.’’

They’ll need it in northern New Jersey: in their last two road games against the Jets, both losses, the Patriots have failed to score in the second half.

“We’re going on the road against a damn good team. It doesn’t get any tougher than that. On a Sunday night stage where you’re the only teams playing,’’ Brady said. “We’re going to see what our team’s all about, we’re going to see the level of commitment we have. It’s been good all year.

“I think that’s why we’re in these games - even the games we lost, we’re in till the end and we’re fighting to the last whistle. That’s what it takes. We don’t have any quitters on this team; that’s not the character of this team. And nor do we have guys that aren’t mentally tough . . . we’re just going to go out there and try to work harder, prepare harder, and try to do a better job.’’

Safety James Ihedigbo, who was on the Jets sideline a season ago, knows exactly what’s at stake and the intensity of the rivalry.

“We’re going to go home, start watching tape on Sanchez and the rest of the crew over there, get ready for this game,’’ he said. “It’s a big game, Sunday night football, AFC East, both the same 5-3, what more can you ask for?’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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