Patriots

Patriots can reach these insane milestones with win over Dolphins

Patriots can reach these insane milestones with win over Dolphins

Death, taxes and the New England Patriots winning the AFC East.

Those have been life's three certainties for the better part of the 21st century, as the Patriots have won 15 of the last 18 AFC East titles since Bill Belichick took over in 2000.

Belichick's club hasn't finished second in the division since 2008 and can clinch its 10th consecutive AFC East crown with a win in Sunday's "hat and T-shirt" game against the Miami Dolphins.

If that happens, New England will become just the second team in North America's "Big Four" professional sports leagues to win at least 10 straight division championships.

The Atlanta Braves won 11 National League East crowns in a row from 1995 to 2005. They only got one World Series trophy out of that run, however, while the Patriots have won two of the last four Super Bowls.

A 10th straight AFC East title also would guarantee 10 consecutive playoff appearances for New England, which would break another NFL record.

The Patriots currently are tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975 to 1983) and Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts (2002 to 2010) as the only NFL teams to make the playoffs nine seasons in a row.

If history is any indication, beating the Dolphins in Miami won't be a cakewalk. But if Tom Brady and Co. can take care of business at Hard Rock Stadium, they'll move to 10-3 on the season and -- you guessed it -- reach another impressive milestone.

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Can Browns pull off playoff miracle? If so, they'd join 1978 Patriots

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USA TODAY Sports

Can Browns pull off playoff miracle? If so, they'd join 1978 Patriots

It's December 15, and the Cleveland Browns somehow still are in playoff contention.

The Browns hung on for a wild, 17-16 victory over the Denver Broncos on Saturday night to improve to 6-7-1 with two games remaining.

The win means Cleveland actually has a chance to make the playoffs. It's a very small chance, but if the Browns win out and get a lot of help -- starting with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday -- they could sneak into the final AFC Wild Card spot or even win the AFC North.

Cleveland in the playoffs would be improbable on several levels -- they started the season 2-6-1, haven't reached the postseason since 2002 and went 0-16 last season -- but here's one more note that Patriots fans may find interesting.

The Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson after their Week 8 loss to the Steelers, and interim coach Gregg Williams has gone 4-2 since then.

If Williams keeps winning, he can join the likes of Hank Bollough, who took over as the Patriots' co-interim head coach when Chuck Fairbanks was suspended in Week 16 of the 1978 season for negotiating a head coach position with the University of Colorado during the season.

Bollough's stint was brief, as Fairbanks was reinstated for New England's AFC Divisional Round matchup with the Houston Oilers, which it lost 31-14.

Williams' feat would be much more impressive, as he's put a moribund franchise with a rookie quarterback in at least an outside position to reach the postseason.

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NFL Odds: Chiefs' loss lifts Patriots in Super Bowl betting lines

NFL Odds: Chiefs' loss lifts Patriots in Super Bowl betting lines

Bill Belichick undoubtedly is focused on Sunday's showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But New England Patriots fans might be looking ahead a bit after Thursday night.

The Kansas City Chiefs' loss to the Los Angeles Chargers kept the Patriots' hopes of earning the AFC's No. 1 seed alive. As such, it also improved New England's odds at the sportsbooks of winning Super Bowl LIII.

It's not much of a jump: The Patriots were fourth in Super Bowl LIII betting lines at +700 earlier in the week and now are tied for third with the Chiefs at +650 behind the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. But it's notable that sportsbooks now view New England and Kansas City as equal favorites to come out of the AFC.

The Chargers, meanwhile, shot up from +1000 earlier in the week to +750 after Thursday's upset win moved them to 11-3.

The 9-4 Patriots will need to win out and get help from Los Angeles and the Chiefs to secure the AFC's No. 1 seed. But even if they land the No. 2 seed, a few scenarios could present a favorable path to Atlanta.

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