Gap Between the New England Patriots and Upstart AFC Is Closing

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler (56) celebrates a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Jaguars defeated the Patriots 31-20. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)Associated Press

The rest of the AFC is finally closing the gap the New England Patriots created over 17 dominant seasons. The team lacks playmakers at key positions and can’t hang defensively, and even the brilliance of Bill Belichick and his staff has come into question. 

New England tends to lay one or two eggs every season, but Sunday’s 31-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars symbolized something more. 

“I think for us it was [a statement game] because we’re underdogs,” Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson said, per’s Michael DiRocco. “Nobody really believed in us once again. They thought they were going to come in here and steamroll us, so for us I think it was a statement game for people to recognize us.” 

The Patriots’ stranglehold over the AFC is loosening. New England should still be considered the team to beat over a 16-game stretch and into the playoffs. However, the AFC isn’t as weak as initially thought. 

Originally, the Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers looked like

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