NFL: Bill Belichick Quietly Has New England Patriots Atop AFC

Eli Nachmany@EliNachmanyCorrespondent IIINovember 22, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 6:   Bill Belichick and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talk during a time out against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter on November 6, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Giants won 24-20. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Four teams in the AFC stand at 7-3 going into Week 12 of the NFL season, and the New England Patriots are one of those teams.

Despite a tough start to the year in which the Patriots fell to the Buffalo Bills, New England is continuing along their normal path of excellence and winning games.

Head coach Bill Belichick should be commended.

After a convincing Monday Night victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, it's a foregone conclusion that the Patriots will capture the AFC East and make a strong bid for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

In the AFC North, the tough Ravens and Steelers both stand at 7-3 as well, but it's really the Patriots who have done an outstanding job this year due to the circumstances.

Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth were brought in this offseason to be top-level players if they subscribed to the "Patriot Way." That didn't happen.

Instead, Belichcik stuck to his guns, having faith in stars like Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork to get the job done that Ochocinco and Haynesworth couldn't do.

On top of that, despite the fact that New England has one of the league's worst pass defenses, the team has fought through their lack of secondary play to win games.

The Patriots have put on a true fireworks show the past few games, putting away their opponents in a big way and improving to plus-90 in net points. Their net points total is good enough for fourth best in the NFL and second best in the AFC (behind the Ravens).

Some prognosticators believed that the Patriots were weaker this year, with a seemingly worse pass defense and an aging group of players, but it's actually been the opposite. The team has gotten contributions from young guns like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Nate Solder.

On Gronkowski, the young tight end is emerging into a capable NFL star who scores touchdowns and makes big plays all over the field. Defenses game-plan for the Patriots' tight ends, and Gronkowski's presence has neutralized the lack of a vertical threat in the receiving corps.

New England is locked and loaded for another playoff run.

In a weak AFC, a Patriots Super Bowl berth is undeniably possible.

Bill Belichick has his team back on top.

(Disclaimer: I still stand by my pre-season prediction that the Ravens will win the Super Bowl. That's just me. Yay Patriots though.)