We've been here before many times with the Patriots. Heading into Thanksgiving, New England will once again own the best record in the AFC. It's an annual tradition this time of year, just as reliable as a family member falling asleep on the couch after eating way too much turkey. Year after year the Patriots dominate the regular season, but have slipped up in recent years in the postseason (outside of the 2014 playoffs).
I'm not suggesting New England took San Francisco lightly on Sunday. Each week Bill Belichick talks up his opponent to an absurd level (I'm sure he had Malcolm Butler thinking he was covering Jerry Rice this week). Let's be honest though. This 49ers team is terrible. They entered losers of 8 straight games with 6 of those L's coming by double digits!
The fact that New England only led by three points entering the 4th quarter is a bit concerning. No, I never once thought they'd lose the game, but you can't led bad teams hang around because eventually they'll surprise you. I was relieved to see them outscore San Francisco 17-7 in the 4th, but a full 60 minutes is much more of what Bill Belichick is looking for.
Finishing games is important, but also finishing the season strong is paramount. In the coming weeks there will be plenty of discussions about seeding and home-field advantage. New England can't afford to slip up down the stretch and lose their grip on the top seed in the AFC. They stumbled in the final few weeks in 2015 and it cost them dearly. They were rewarded with a trip to Denver, followed by a trip back home to begin the offseason one game early.
New England has very winnable games in the next few weeks against the Jets, Rams and Ravens before another visit to Denver in December. A strong finish to the regular season, and like the one they had Sunday against the 49ers, should pave the way for yet another trip to the Super Bowl.
Follow Craig Kolodny on twitter @NBCBostonCraig