The Patriots stand 5-1 after their Bye Week and look to head into their most difficult stretch of the season. They will head to Pittsburgh to play a tough Steelers team, face a potentially explosive New York Giants at home, head out to New York to play the Jets in a grudge match, host the surprisingly resilient Kansas City Chiefs (currently a .500 team), and then head out to play the Dream Team Eagles in Philadelphia. All five of those games should prove a challenge for the young Patriots' defense and the offense should have a hiccup or two against some high quality defenses.
The past few weeks have not been kind to the Patriots on the injury front. Punt returner Julian Edelman had to sit out a game due to an ankle injury. Ras-I Dowling's hip has stopped the young cornerback from contributing. A bum thumb forced former starting safety Josh Barrett out. Fellow former starting safety Sergio Brown has been out with a chest injury. Starters and All Pros LB Jerod Mayo and OT Sebastian Vollmer have missed considerable time due to injuries. CB Leigh Bodden, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, DE Albert Haynesworth, TE Aaron Hernandez, DT Kyle Love, RB Danny Woodhead, and LB Dane Fletcher have been dinged up and held up in practice.
Point is, the Patriots team has been run down with injuries and the season is just getting underway. The Bye Week came at a great time for the squad to lick their wounds and prepare for the final stretch of the season. The return of Jerod Mayo will make the run defense more formidable. A fully healthy BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Aaron Hernandez will make the offense all the more explosive. A healthy Sebastian Vollmer has a domino effect as rookie Nate Solder can be relegated to 6th lineman and extra blocker, providing stronger push in the run game. The team is getting healthy just in time for the hardest stretch of the season.
Now this isn't to say that other teams aren't going through their fair share of injuries; the upcoming Steelers have had a different offensive line in every game and key players like Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, James Harrison and Aaron Smith are all in different stages of injury (from dinged up to IR'd). It's just the Patriots fortune that they're getting healthy at a good time. There's time in the season for the defense to regain its health and continue its forward progress. There's time in the season for the offense to continue to evolve as an all-around squad. There's time in the season for young players to continue to grow with the veterans. There's time for the Patriots to look like a championship team.
The first step is a clean bill of health. To me, it looks like they're on their way.