Patriots find themselves in very unfamiliar position in AFC East


For the greater part of two decades, there's usually been one thing you can count on when looking at the NFL standings: the Patriots at or near the top of the AFC East standings.

But it's 2020 -- and counting on anything in this strange year is a mostly futile endeavor.

Just look at the AFC East standings now. Not only are the Patriots not in first place, they're not even in second. New England's 18-12 loss to Denver combined with the Dolphins' 24-0 drubbing of the listless Jets has dropped Bill Belichick's crew into third place in the division.

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How rare is that? It's the first time that the Patriots have been in third place this late in the season since Week 11 of 2008 -- and before that, you have to go all the way back to Week 16 of 2002. In both instances, the Patriots were looking up at the Dolphins and the Jets. Now, they're staring up at Miami and Buffalo in the division -- and they've fallen all the way to 11th place in the AFC standings.

For Patriots fans who are optimists, there's this caveat: it's only six games into a 16-game season and there's a long way to go before the playoffs, which will include a seventh team in each conference this season.

But for pessimistic Pats fans, how about this? The last two seasons when the Patriots slipped into third place: 2008 and 2002? Those are also the last two years in which New England missed out on the playoffs.