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Sports

November 30, 2012

Patriots nearing 9th division title in 10 years

FOXBOROUGH — Bianca Wilfork could be wearing another new championship T-shirt very soon.

Her husband, Vince, and his New England Patriots teammates are on the verge of clinching their fourth straight division title. They’d secure it with a win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

For the team, it would be the ninth in 10 seasons. For the star defensive tackle, it would be his eighth in his nine NFL seasons — and the caps and shirts that come with those titles.

“I collect them and I give them to my wife,” Wilfork said yesterday. “That’ll be for my wife.”

If AFC East championships are becoming routine, the Patriots take nothing for granted. They’re focused not on another first-place finish, sure. But winning just one game, the next game — against the Dolphins (5-6) — is priority No. 1.

“You always want to win your division,” Wilfork said. “(But) we take it one game at a time and, hopefully, that one game at a time is good enough at the end.”

Besides, division titles don’t guarantee postseason success. Look no further than New England.

Despite winning the AFC East title the past three years, the Patriots lost last season’s Super Bowl to the New York Giants, 21-17, and were eliminated in their first postseason game the previous two seasons.

Throughout the league, in Bill Belichick’s other 12 seasons as New England’s coach, four teams that didn’t win their divisions went on to become Super Bowl champions.

And, remember, only two of the four division winners in each conference get a first-round bye. If the season ended today, the Patriots (8-3) would lose out on those AFC seeds to the Houston Texans (10-1) and Baltimore Ravens (9-2).

So they can’t afford to look past the Dolphins, or anyone else for that matter. Down the road, in fact, Houston and the San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) are on tap.

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