Can't believe we're almost three quarters of the way through the regular season and heading into December when each game matters even more. Division leaders want to solidify their top positions and assure their place in the post-season, while the rest are either jostling for a seat on the playoff train or gearing up for their role as spoilers.
If the playoffs began today, the 2nd seeded Patriots (8-3) would be in as one of the division leaders along with the Texans (8-3), Ravens (8-3) and Raiders (7-4). The Steelers (8-3) and Bengals (7-4) would be the Wild Cards, with the Broncos (6-5), Jets (6-5) and Titans (6-5) still close enough to smell it. It's all too close to call.
New England's average ranking at 5th is pretty fair. The Sporting News and Fox Sports putting them second isn't hard to argue, as the Patriots may very well end up with the number 1 seed in the AFC. CBS Sports ranking them 7th isn't that far off either, especially in light of how well some NFC teams have been playing.
Speaking of spoilers, the Colts would love to play that role in Foxborough against the Patriots. They can afford to go all out and it's my gut feeling they'll attempt to blitz, hit, hurry and harass Tom Brady all afternoon if they can. Indy also knows it can win a game without jeopardizing its 2012 number one first round draft pick too. With nothing at all to lose, and the possibility of embarrassing their hated rivals as motivation, I believe the Colts will be playing hard and playing to win on Sunday. Of course Dan Orlovsky still has to take the field and produce at some point, but I'm just saying...
The Sporting News ranks them 2nd: Bill Belichick is pretty good at game-planning his defense to stop what the opponent does best, but will he have answers for magical sensation Tim Tebow?
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 2nd: The Patriots have little left on their schedule to prevent them from grabbing a top seed in the AFC. Denver provides the most intriguing matchup, and I will be interested in seeing how Bill Belichick defends Broncos QB Tebow. Belichick and Urban Meyer (Tebow's college coach to Florida) have a personal relationship, and he may ask him for insight into stopping this college-style offense.
Peter King (SI) ranks them 3rd: A tour de force performance that Tom Brady should put in his personal time capsule: 361 yards passing, three touchdowns, no picks. Two wideouts with 100-yard games. Two tight ends combine for 121. Looked pretty unstoppable in Philadelphia in a 466-yard offensive show.
Pro Football Talk ranks them 4th: The Pats are playing just well enough to fail to fulfill the expectations they’ll create in December.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 4th: New England inched ever closer to securing the AFC East title with its easy win over the Eagles. Tom Brady continued his ridiculous play since the back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Giants. It seems every week Brady unveils a new weapon, with the Week 12 projectile being an old option: Deion Branch, who had six receptions for 125 yards with most of the second half still to play. His fellow wideout was even better: Wes Welker ended a mini-slump with 115 yards and two touchdowns. And that's not counting the tight ends, who caught 10 balls for a touchdown. Give me a break.
Michael Silver (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 5th: When Tom Brady got rid of the “pain band” he’d been wearing on his throwing arm, did his receivers jump around in celebration?
National Football Post ranks them 6th: That was too easy for Brady vs. the Eagles’ secondary.
ESPN ranks them 6th: With a cream-puff schedule, the Patriots may not lose another game in the regular season.
Pro Football Weekly ranks them 6th: Third-string center, backups in secondary — no problem.
NFL.com experts rank them 6th
Joel Thurman (SB Nation) ranks them 6th: They're making a case for the best team in the AFC if it weren't for those pesky AFC North teams. The Pats are en route to another division title either way.
WEEI ranks them 6th: The Pats defense needs to make stops on third down, cause turnovers, and continue to stop the run in order to surmount the awful pass D. The Patriots have done that over the past three games and have shown signs of improvement. The only thing they can do now is continue to progress and get healthy as they play out their schedule against a group of inferior teams. There’s no reason why Tom Brady and the Pats shouldn’t be 13-3 when the season ends.
Don Banks (SI) ranks them 6th: It's kind of sad, really. It's Colts-Patriots week, and nobody really cares. Yet another casualty of the Manning-less season in Indianapolis. Has any injury in the history of the NFL had this kind of ripple effect in so many different directions? Of course not. Tom Brady vs. Dan Orlovsky just doesn't have the same cache, but the game must go on.
Cold Hard Football Facts ranks them 6th: Bill Belichick’s Patriots are No. 4 in scoring differential (+108); they’ve ranked in the top six in this all-important stat for each of the last six seasons and eight of the last nine.
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 7th: The way that offense is playing, does it matter how bad the defense is now? Tom Brady is on fire.
AVERAGE RANK: 5 (+.5)