It started Thursday night.
So much for that whole, “AFC East is the toughest division in all of football” nonsense. The Miami Dolphins were first to right the ship. The Jets will be next. The Bills? Please.
For a division with 16 total wins, tied with the AFC West for most in the conference, things settled down in the wake of Miami’s 40-0 pasting at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night, a score that bred some surprise if because of the emergence of the Dolphins’ defense over the first seven games if not for the matter of the Ravens’ putrid offense.
The Dolphins are 4-3, destined for a 6-10 campaign. Normal.
The Patriots, at 5-2, have a one-game lead on Buffalo for first place. It will probably be two come Sunday. Then three. Then…
The AFC East is back in balance. As you were.
This week’s picks
Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: Patriots 27, Chargers 24. “The Chargers have the kind of pass rushers who can create big problems for Tom Brady. The L.A. offense is suspect, particularly on the ground, but there’s potential to play well.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 31, Chargers 26. “Upset alert! Bolts have won three straight, Philip Rivers is hot, and Pats’ secondary is bad and depleted. Nevertheless, faith in Tom Brady at home remains a near-absolute in my prognosticating canon.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 27, Chargers 17. “This is an early start for the Chargers on the East Coast, which is tough. They are playing better, especially on defense. But facing Tom Brady in this early window is a real challenge. The Patriots are better now on defense, which will slow the Chargers. Pats take it.”
CBS Sports staff: Six out of eight pick the Chargers (-7.5 New England). Five of eight pick the Pats straight-up.
David Steele, Sporting News: Chargers 31, Patriots 29. “Don’t be ashamed to root for the Chargers to keep … well, charging. Their 0-4 start was too fluky, and their shutout of the Broncos to win their third straight was not. They’ve inserted themselves into the AFC West race. There’s no reason yet to believe the Patriots’ defense is back, even after swallowing up the Falcons last week. Philip Rivers is more than capable of lighting them up.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 31, Chargers 20. “The Chargers and the Patriots are two of the league’s hottest teams, but Philip Rivers is the QB more likely to be cooled off here. New England will be able to run better in this matchup, setting up big downfield shots to Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks. Rivers won’t be able to keep up after the Patriots contain Melvin Gordon.”
Chris Simms, Bleacher Report: Patriots 31, Chargers 27. “New England’s run game has been quietly good this season too, so the Patriots do have the ability to attack the Chargers’ biggest weakness. As long as Bill Belichick has the sense to play to his team’s strengths and against L.A.’s weaknesses—I’ll tell you a secret, he does—New England should be able to pull this one out.”
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “Hey, maybe the Chargers aren’t awful? After dropping their first four games, the Chargers are suddenly on a three-game winning streak, two of which were on the road. (By road, we actually mean the road, not their own stadium which in dominated by fans of the other team.)”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Chargers (+7.5).
Five Thirty Eight: New England with an 84 percent chance of winning.
ESPN staff: Ten out of 11 pick the Pats.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Chargers 20. “This one could be the game of the day, if the Chargers continue to build on what they’ve done over the past three weeks. But the Patriots are at home and that 2-2 start managed to get their attention, on both sides of the ball.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 31, Chargers 30. “The Chargers are on a nice little run and I’m tempted to pick them in an upset, but Tom Brady is still playing at an MVP level and I like the Patriots in a high-scoring game.”
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 30, Chargers 24. “What a cool matchup this game is. The Chargers haven’t won in New England since 2005, when Drew Brees outdueled Tom Brady in a game that seems like forever ago. Tim Dwight had a 30-yard touchdown reception. Remember him? He played for both franchises, and was mentioned prominently in the book “Patriot Reign” as someone Bill Belichick noticed from afar. Wonder what Belichick thinks of Philip Rivers, who plays such a different style of game than his own quarterback. While we’re at it, how about that time Rivers played at Foxborough with a torn knee in the AFC Championship Game? Meanwhile, is anyone talking about Tom Brady as an MVP candidate? Talk about being taken for granted … Brady is averaging 315.4 yards per game, tops in the NFL. He is also sporting a 15:2 TD-to-INT ratio and a robust 108.4 passer rating.”
It says here: Patriots 35, Chargers 21. Yeah, the Chargers are hot and Rivers and Gordon could pick apart a Patriots defense now lacking Hightower. It’s also the season’s midpoint, which means the Patriots are going to start looking more like the team you’re used to.