NEW YORK — These aren’t the same New England Patriots everyone’s used to seeing.
Sure, it’s still Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but who are those receivers? And, with all the injuries, who are some of those guys on defense?
Well, it doesn’t matter.
The Patriots are still the class of the AFC East, despite new faces all around the field and a few key players out for the season with injuries. At 7-2, it appears New England is heading for its 10th division title in 11 years.
It’s a remarkable stretch that could be capped by one of Belichick’s best coaching jobs. Think about it: Brady’s top receivers are Julian Edelman, oft-injured Danny Amendola, rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, and a just recently returned Rob Gronkowski. The defense has also had to deal with season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and top cornerback Aqib Talib has been sidelined nearly a month.
“I feel like the players have worked hard this year,” Belichick said. “We have a lot of football left, a lot of big games.”
It seems as though the real race in the division is for second place, currently held by Rex Ryan’s surprising Jets (5-4). Despite alternating wins and losses with up-and-down rookie quarterback Geno Smith, New York is very much in the playoff hunt.
So are the Miami Dolphins (4-4), who will have to overcome an ugly harassment case in which the league is investigating the relationship between suspended guard Richie Incognito and offensive linemate Jonathan Martin.
“We’re not really going through too much as a team,” defensive lineman Jared Odrick said, “other than trying to win football games.”
Things are looking up a bit for the Buffalo Bills (3-6), who are getting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel back from a sprained right knee. Manuel has missed four weeks and the Bills have struggled after having to start undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and journeyman Thad Lewis in his place.