That didn’t last long. The Patriots missed the AFC playoffs in 2020, but are already on track to regain their long-standing status as dominant AFC East champions after a mere one-year hiatus.

With their big defensive 14-10 victory at Buffalo on Monday night, whether they will regain the division title from Buffalo is no longer the big question: it is how far the Patriots can go in this surprising stellar season. .

MORE: Final result of Bills vs. Patriots, results: Patriots hold out for win against Bills, remain top of AFC East

New England (9-4) is at the top of the conference standings after Week 13, heading for a lucky break at the end of the season. New NFL head coach of the year Bill Belichick has outdone himself with the masterful work he’s done this season with first-round rookie Mac Jones as his starting quarterback.

Because of that 7-1 conference record, with their only AFC loss to the Dolphins in Week 1, the Patriots will remain the No. 1 seed in Week 14, even if someone or all of the division 8- 4- The leading group of the Titans, Ravens or Chiefs wins next Sunday.

The Patriots have a tough road game Saturday night at the Colts in Week 15, but they close with the Bills at home, the Jaguars at home and the Dolphins on the road. Having won seven straight games with an average margin of victory of nearly 22 points, he has turned them from a 2-4 mess into a familiar Belichick powerhouse.

The only missing element in Belichick’s best teams, and now there are a lot of them, is Tom Brady. They are still winning with strong defense, a good running game, a sense of ideal situational soccer, and the right personnel to respond to elite training in all three phases of the game. They have also done so by protecting Jones as a caregiver at times and asking him to be more of a playmaker at other times.

In a 2023 season defined by the downfall of young gun-led offenses in the AFC, led by Josh Allen’s Bills and Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs, the Patriots are doing it with more old-school physical soccer that has translated into a more consistent victory. The Titans and Ravens have racked up serious injuries, while the Chargers and Bengals are still learning to win as inexperienced teams competing in the playoffs.

MORE: Bill safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were outraged with a question about quick defense against the Patriots

Given how well the Patriots’ elite pass defense is playing, no one wants to try and win a passing game in the elements against Belichick in New England deep in January during the divisional playoffs. If the Patriots finish at No. 1, taking the Super Bowl 56 road from the AFC through Foxborough, it’s hard to feel confident that Allen, Mahomes, Ryan Tannehill or Lamar Jackson will win there. Justin Herbert, like Allen, was frustrated by defending the Patriots enough on Halloween, while Joe Burrow would face a big task in the face of intrigues from Belichick for the first time in the playoffs.

Jonathan Taylor and the Colts, led by the Eagles’ old Super Bowl nemesis Frank Reich, could be a threat. But the Patriots can make sure that team’s wild-card return chances are not sinking further down the field in two weeks.

The Patriots have a chance to finish the season with four more wins to go 13-4, which would guarantee them the only goodbye and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Given that the Titans, Ravens and Chiefs all have their share of tough games ahead of them, 3-1 might be enough for the top seed.

MORE: How Bill Belichick Rebuilt the Patriots: Mac Jones, Matt Judon, Hunter Henry Completed a Quick List Review

Some would say that New England has performed well where all the other teams have moved to stand out from the AFC crowd. But they also made big changes with another team in mind: Brady’s Buccaneers.

The Patriots are winning a lot, but their most impressive performance in 2023 may have come in a 19-17 home loss to Tampa Bay in Week 4. That game seemed to spark some confidence that the Patriots could play and beat anyone in the game. NFL. Consider their only loss since then was to the Cowboys, who beat them in overtime in Week 6.

You can bet that Belichick has motivated his team to work toward a possible rematch with Brady’s in Los Angeles on February 13. The Patriots are advancing through the AFC, but are only 2-3 against the NFC. There is no question that the NFC is the best conference in terms of superior competition when it brings together the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Cardinals, Packers and Rams.

MORE: NFL Standings – Updated Image of AFC and NFC Playoffs After Week 13 of the 2023 Season

One might recall that the 2020 Buccaneers began to look like potential Super Bowl champions by passing their last four regular-season games after a 13-week bye. The Patriots are trying to do something similar in 2023 with an additional game on the board.

The Buccaneers, despite how well the Cardinals and Packers are playing, remain solid favorites to win the Super Bowl with Brady. The Chiefs have emerged with the best odds in the AFC, but the Patriots have been quickly gaining ground on them. The Patriots would love nothing more than to spoil a Super Bowl rematch and for Belichick to give Brady another shot with a lot more on the line at the same time.

The Patriots have designed their defense to handle explosive passing games with a strong passing run, great coverage and versatile depth at all levels. They want to face teams, forcing them to be happy with the pass. Guess which two teams throw the ball more than any other? The Buccaneers and the Chiefs.

Did the Patriots quickly rebuild their team through aggressive free agency and crafty drafting with the idea of ​​getting back to overtaking the Bills? Yes, sure. But because Belichick is always thinking about the bigger picture (of the playoffs), he was also building a team to defeat a team like Tampa Bay or Kansas City in a battle of attrition. He just needed a complementary and competent quarterback game to complete the plan, and he got it from Jones.

Brady seemed destined in 2020 to get his seventh ring away from New England. This one feels like everything is creeping towards GOAT vs. GOAT to decide everything.