Monday, November 17, 2008

The AFC East race continues

No Patriots fan likes to play the Jets.

It's the fundamental truth of being a New England fan. No encounter with New York's second team gets looked at with anything but dread and hatred for the thought that the Patriots could somehow, feasibly, lose to these guys. They are our mortal enemies, our archrivals, our nemeses. No matter how good or bad the teams are, most matchups seem to result in struggles that could find themselves going either way at the end.

In other words, every matchup seems to result in the same dead-even tension we had Thursday night. The drama and spectacle of that game? That was new. But the three-point edging, leading to a demoralizing feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction? The constant stream of what-ifs going through your mind the rest of the night? That's all-too-familiar. When the Patriots win, Jets fans feel it. When the Jets fans, Patriots fans feel it. And it stings.

And guess what? Another team like that is up next.

That would be the Miami Dolphins, the same Miami Dolphins that entered Foxboro in week 3 without a prayer for victory, and proceeded to annihilate the Patriots, 38-13. To add insult to injury, the Fins apparently changed the game of football in the process with the "Wildcat" offense.

The result? The end of a long Patriot winning streak, a shakeup in the AFC East and the creation of a W-word in the New England dictionary of vulgarities.

This time, the Patriots travel to Miami, trying to crack a code that few have solved while the Dolphins have won six of their past eight games. But a lot has changed since September. Nobody takes the Dolphins lightly anymore. And the Patriots have started to look more and more like a team that expects to play in October. Matt Cassel's blossomed into a legitimate NFL starter (more on that later). The defense and offensive line have solidified. And, though 6-4 and coming off of two losses in three games, New England is a personal foul and coin toss away from being 8-2.

But as Sunday approaches, the importance of the past dissolves. When the Patriots and Dolphins play, it'll be about right now. Both teams are a hair from the top of the division, and a misstep away from the cellar. The winner will likely control its destiny as December arrives, the loser will likely need help.

Just as is always the case with AFC East opponents. I've just gotten over that sick feeling in the stomach. Here's hoping it doesn't return.

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