And another bye week in the books.
In recent years, I have usually spent the Sunday that the New England Patriots had off watching The Red Zone Channel on DirecTV, catching up with Andrew Siciliano and taking a closer look at the games/teams I don't pay as much attention to when the Patriots are playing. I also usually complied an abbreviated version of the weekly Fan Notes I do for Pats games, titled "Fan Notes From Around the League," where I offer any observation that comes to mind regarding the state of the league as a whole or how the week's slate of games looks from a Patriots standpoint.
This year? Not so much.
Instead, I spent most of yesterday at Ikea with the girlfriend. When I asked her why we needed to go buy furniture when we didn't need any more furniture, she told me that this trip was for making purchases that were described to me as "homey." In case you don't know what that means (and I hope for your sake that you don't), "homey" items are those that have no actual purpose or use in your daily life, but go in your house or apartment anyway to increase the ambiance or give the place a better vibe. I grumbled a bit at first, but at the end of the day I was glad to go; she completely leaves me alone for 16 Sundays (or Mondays or Thursdays) a year, and usually leaves the state altogether during the playoffs, so spending one fall weekend away from football following her around a Swedish megastore as she fawns over vases and tea strainers is a small price to pay.
And plus, I now own a large glass bowl with a bunch of woven wooden balls in it that sits right on the coffee table where everyone can see it. Because if it's one thing every home needs, it's a glass bowl with a bunch of woven wooden balls in it. Looks like my college education is finally paying off.
One of the good things about not really watching an entire Sunday's slate of games is that you are able to get a broad-strokes view of the major events that transpired over the course of the day and see how various results affected the NFL landscape from a big-picture perspective. By the time I got back to a TV, quite a lot had transpired, and from a Patriots standpoint, it was a pretty good day., So here are a few larger takeaways from Week 10 and how I think they are going to affect the Patriots moving forward.
Good day for New England from a playoff perspective. With losses by the Bengals and Colts, New England strengthened its grip on a potential top seed without even having to play a game. The Patriots now sit alone as the only two loss team in the conference and are completely in control of their own destiny moving forward. A loss by Buffalo yesterday didn't hurt, either, and it would be great if Tampa Bay could pull off the upset tonight as well. Obviously there is still a ton of football left to play, and it's way too early to be talking postseason, but whenever the Pats can improve their playoff position during the bye week, that's always a good thing. A lot will be decided in the next few weeks, but the more help New England can get, the better. They now have a bit of a cushion should they drop a game here or there, and having that cushion helps to take some of the pressure off.
The AFC is wide open. Everyone is high on Denver, I know - and with good reason. But the truth is that the entire AFC is pretty much up for grabs and there really isn't one team that sits head and shoulders above the competition. The three best teams in the conference - Broncos, Chiefs, Patriots - all have flaws (defense, offense, consistency), and this is yet another NFL season in which any team can beat any other team on any given day. The ultimate goal of all NFL teams is the Super Bowl, of course, and right now I can see three or four teams representing the AFC at this point if they get hot at the right time.
So is the NFC. Granted, the parity isn't as strong in the other conference, with the Saints, Seahawks, and 49ers occupying the top three spots, but over the past two weeks the gap between the top tiers has narrowed significantly. Seattle almost lost at home to Tampa Bay, the Niners were just held without a touchdown at home against Carolina, the Saints lost to the Jets, Aaron Rodgers is out, Jay Cutler is hurt, and the NFC East is an absolute disaster from top to bottom. The entire NFC playoff picture got a lot murkier this past weekend, and how things will shake out is anybody's guess. Granted, this is all something that we as Patriots fans can only hope we have to worry about, but it's certainly something to monitor.
Cold weather games a bigger factor this year. It has been a fairly inconsistent fall here in the Northeast, and other than a few days here and there, we haven't really been hit with cold weather just yet. It's getting cooler by the day, though, and that temperature change is going to start taking effect on games (if it hasn't already). Winning in September and winning in December are very, very different things, made even more crucial this year because of the location of this year's Super Bowl. We are now entering into the stretch when the Patriots traidionally play their best football and the teams that do well indoors or in warm weather start to suffer a bit. Being a good cold weather quarterback is more important than ever in 2013, because all things being equal, how many teams in the NFL do you feel have an excellent chance of winning an outdoor game in New York in February?