Week 4 in the NFL couldn't have gone any better for Bill Belichick's New England Patriots even if he wrote the script. Outside of some early struggles against the Buffalo Bills, everything the Patriots would have wanted to happen this week in the division happened.
Despite being toppled with ease by the New York Jets in Week 1, the Bills entered the game with a 2-1 record and appeared to be the most likely contenders to the Patriots' crown this season. The Bills hadn't been convincing in their victories against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, but they had done enough to emerge victorious and were improving from week to week. That is, they were improving from week to week.
On paper, the Bills were a terrible matchup for the Patriots. A talented defensive line looked set to dismantle the Patriots' struggling offensive line. Stevie Johnson was expected to impose his strength on cornerback Devin McCourty to pile on the misery of the Patriots' secondary. Both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller endured injury issues and were available to play, while both Logan Mankins and Aaron Hernandez couldn't make the trip. The Bills had improved on a secondary that intercepted Brady four times in this fixture last season.
On the field however, that is not how the game played out.
The Bills led at the end of the first half, but crucially lost Kraig Urbik to injury while the Bills' offense lived on turnovers from the Patriots' offense. Two fumbles from Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski put the Patriots in a terrible position early on, while Stephon Gilmore was doing a wonderful job in coverage against Brandon Lloyd. The Bills were getting everything they needed to win the game, but they proved to be a limited team with a major capitulation in the second half.
Beating the Bills is rarely a big deal for the Patriots, but because of the way this game went and the expectations leading up to it, this result should propel the Patriots to the top of the division and the Bills towards the bottom. Ryan Fitzpatrick's inability to take advantage of the Patriots mistakes proved that he won't be able to carry the offense through the season.
Fitzpatrick was inconsistent with his accuracy all day, despite the Patriots not pressuring him, and he missed multiple big plays down the field including two underthrown interceptions to Devin McCourty. The play of the quarterback position remains vital to long-term success in the NFL.
After the Patriots beat the Bills, they were able to comfortably watch the San Francisco 49ers comfortably beat the New York Jets. Not only did the Jets lose to the 49ers convincingly, they were shut out completely on offense while Santonio Holmes suffered a serious foot injury that could rule him out for the season. That would put the Jets' best receiver on the sidelines along with their superstar cornerback, Darrelle Revis.
The Jets weren't going to be much of a threat this year even with those players, and now that there is enough fuel to fire a quarterback controversy, Tim Tebow may be under center soon. With how the Patriots handled Tebow in last year's playoffs, they will relish facing him twice this season instead of Sanchez.
Probably the best quarterback in the division, outside of Tom Brady, now plays for the Miami Dolphins.
Even though Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Brian Hartline broke franchise records this week in Arizona, the Dolphins still lost the game against the unbeaten Cardinals. Tannehill twice put the Dolphins in position to win the game, but his defense gave up a 13 point lead to Kevin Kolb with relative ease, while Tannehill showed his inexperience with rookie mistakes later in the game and in overtime.
Much like Cam Newton was last year, or Andrew Luck is this year, Tannehill is not yet ready to lead a team to the playoffs while his supporting cast is not nearly good enough to take him there. The Dolphins proved that with their inept display against the Cardinals this past week.
It may not have been a perfect performance from the Patriots this week, but with Aaron Hernandez and Logan Mankins soon to return, and youngsters on their defense expected to improve, the Patriots are probably the safest bet in the league to win their division.
That includes the Houston Texans.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore