By: Derek Havens
A Sunday afternoon victory over the Buffalo Bills officially award the Patriots AFC East champions. The team is now 13 – 2, and has won its eighth division title since 2001. This win ensures the Patriots will have the top seed in the AFC throughout the playoffs.
This win gives Bill Belichick a chance to manage his banged-up roster throughout the playoffs over the next two weeks. Here is what I picked up during Sunday’s match-up:
The Offense – The offense started slow for the Patriots, but quickly got into rhythm. Tom Brady once again had the offense in sync through the games entirety and continued his impressive streak. Sunday’s 27 pass attempts put the streak at 319 straight without an interception. His play continues an impressive campaign for MVP.
The running game came up big against Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills, which the 32nd ranked rush defense, were taken over by the likes of Ben Jarvis Green- Ellis and Danny Woodhead. The Patriots, who had excellent blocks throughout the day, had 220 rushing yards during the game. The balance on offense has been great for this unit throughout the season.
One concern I had with the offense was the protection. I felt Tom Brady was faced with pressure throughout the game. The middle of the offensive line seemed spot in Dan Connolly’s absence. A few of Brady’s passes were off target due to a patch-work offensive line.
The Defense – The Patriots defense continued its unbelievable turnover margin on Sunday. The unit was +7 by the end of regulation. With 36 turnovers through 16 weeks, the squad is capitalizing on any opportunities given to them. The Pats ability to turn the ball over is one reason why they are number one in NFL’s power rankings.
The first series, Buffalo controlled the Pats defense with the ground game. After the first series, the patriots had the Bills in a chokehold. Even with the injuries the Pats had sustained throughout the week, they were able to corral the Bills runningbacks.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well when given the opportunity. The Patriots secondary did a great job keeping the Bills passing offense in check throughout the game. Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler both played well. I continued to be impressed with “one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL statistically.”
Special Teams – At the beginning of the season, the special teams unit played a large role in the teams success. I thought the coverage on special teams was the best it has been in weeks on Sunday, and a very good Bills special teams unit was held in check.
Shayne Graham has done a remarkable job filling in for Stephen Gostkowski this year. Gostkowski is widely considered one of the NFL’s best kickers and Graham has really stepped up for this team. Even though this aspect of football is largely overlooked, it should not be undervalued. This continues to be one of the NFL’s best special teams units.
Overall a great win for the Patriots. This victory locks up the AFC’s top seed and the East division. The Patriots host the Dolphins in the season finale next Sunday. The team cannot improve its position but one story line to follow is how Bill Belichick approaches things next week. Wes Welker’s knee injury in the season-finale last year, should affect how he manages the roster. In order to make a serious run in the playoffs, the team will need to be healthy. In the end, the Pats have proved throughout the 2010 season to be one of the leagues best and will surely make a serious contender come playoff time.