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AFC East division race starts to heat up

09.29.10 at 5:37 pm ET

FOXBORO ‘€” The race for the AFC East title begins in earnest this week.

On Monday night in Miami, the Patriots will meet the Dolphins, while the Jets travel to meet the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday. The Jets currently hold the top spot with a 2-1 mark, but their 2-0 mark in divisional play sets them apart from the rest of the field. Meanwhile, both the Patriots and Dolphins are 2-1, and 1-1 in the division. (For purposes of this argument, we’€™ll disregard the division chances of the 0-3 Bills. Click here for a complete look at the standings.)

It’€™s a safe bet that New York will handle the Bills ‘€” and move to 3-0 in AFC East play. That means the contest between New England and Miami will be big when it comes to counting the division wins and losses at the end of the season. The loser of that game falls to 1-2 in the division and would likely create a huge deficit for themselves with the division schedule halfway done.

The game is probably slightly more important for Miami ‘€” if they lost, the Dolphins, who have struggled up north late in the season, would then have to win games in New York and New England in December and January if they wanted a chance at the division.

But that doesn’€™t mean the game has any less significance for the Patriots.

‘€œThere are no bigger games than division games, and division games on the road are huge,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘€œI know it’€™s only the fourth game of the season, but these are the kind of games that at the end of the year have a big impact on the division standings [with] tiebreakers and all of that. We all know that.

‘€œWe don’€™t know how it’€™s going to turn out, but we know that they’€™re important games. I don’€™t think we really do anything different other than we know it’€™s a big division game. All division games are big.’€

Last season, the Patriots lost a pair of division games, both of them on the road (to Miami and New York). It didn’€™t come back to haunt them ‘€” New England won the division by a game ‘€” but the two defeats certainly made things a lot closer than they needed to be.

‘€œThese are important games for us. If you can’€™t beat these teams, you’€™re not going to win the division,’€ said quarterback Tom Brady. ‘€œDivision games on the road are hugely important. We had one of those this year and it didn’€™t go too well. We have another one and hopefully we can go out there and play a lot better.’€

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