The first “flex” week of the 2007 NFL season certainly lived up to its billing. It provided the league’s strong boys with the opportunity to flex their muscles in front of a national television audience.

Both the NFL and NBC can be proud of themselves.
 
There is truth in their advertising.

The first “flex” week of the 2007 NFL season certainly lived up to its billing.

It provided the league’s strong boys with the opportunity to flex their muscles in front of a national television audience.

Their game with the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium moved from 1 to 8:15 p.m. as part of the flexible scheduling element the league introduced last season, the New England Patriots once again showed folks from coast to coast what all the fuss is about this year by presenting NBC with its very own version of “60 Minutes” in prime time.

Fact is, if you were looking for compelling television, you would have been better off tuning to CBS and “Cold Case” during the 9-to-10 hour because by then, the drama in this one was over.

As NBC studio analyst Cris Collinsworth said at halftime of this 56-10 romp: “NBC flexed and the Patriots are flexing.”

As a result, the Bills were rendered utterly defenseless.

Five first-half possessions produced five Patriots scores – four touchdown passes from Tom Brady to Randy Moss following Laurence Maroney’s first TD run of the season.

Their first two possessions of the second half produced two more scores – Brady’s fifth scoring strike of the night and 38th of the year (this one went to Benjamin Watson), and the second rushing touchdown of Kyle Eckel’s NFL career.

On this night, even the Patriots’ defense produced offense, creating the 56-10 final when cornerback Ellis Hobbs plucked a fumble in midair and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown a little more than a minute into the fourth quarter.

Nice to see the NBC cameras focus on Chris Hanson in that quarter. Better yet, good to see Patriots head coach Bill Belichick saw fit to put the punter on the field late in the game. Wouldn’t want Mrs. Hanson to think her husband had failed to show up for work.

As a result of their work, the Patriots can clinch first place in the AFC East with either a Bills loss at Jacksonville next Sunday afternoon or by winning at home that night against Philadelphia (tune in to NBC again).

Don’t lose any sleep over this.

Both are likely to happen.

Thus, the division race will likely be over in November, with more than a month to play in the regular season, perhaps before the Patriots even take the field to play their 11th game.

That is the equivalent of the Red Sox wrapping up the American League East in August or early September.

Barring a collapse that would be far more shocking than them running the table through Super Bowl XLII to finish 19-0, with their work over their first 10 games of the regular season the Patriots have virtually clinched the AFC’s first seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

With six games to play in the regular season, think of New England’s lead over the second seed, 8-2 Indianapolis, as being more along the lines of 2 1/2 games, not two, since the Patriots defeated the Colts, 24-20, earlier this month and, thus, hold the upper hand in the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Ironically, the Patriots’ road to home-field advantage got a little easier earlier in the day on Sunday when Eric Mangini and his New York Jets stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers, 19-16, in overtime.

That loss dropped the Steelers to 7-3, dramatically decreasing the significance of their Dec. 9 trip to Gillette Stadium.

In the aftermath of the role he played in blowing the whistle on his ex-boss in the “Videogate” scandal, it would be hard to imagine Mangini ever working his way on to head coach Bill Belichick’s holiday gift list, but at the very least perhaps he can expect the Patriots to go a bit easier on his Jets when they come to Gillette Stadium nine days before Christmas.

Upon further review, seeing as how Belichick eschewed field goals to push his team’s third-quarter lead to 42-7 and its fourth-quarter advantage to 49-10 against a team led by a coach, Dick Jauron, he spoke of respectfully during the week, don’t count on it.

By now, Belichick’s message to the NFL and NBC should be clear: The league’s strong boys aren’t about to stop flexing.

Staff writer Glen Farley can be reached at gfarley@enterprisenews.com