This season is flying! Thirteen games down, three to go, and heading into week 15 the rankings' experts have the Patriots sitting in the 4th spot, down a point after last week's miracle win over the Browns. I wonder how many points they would have dropped had they lost the game as well as Rob Gronkowski.
The IR fairy coming for Gronk is the latest big concern of the analysts. The general feeling is that this will prove to be the tipping point for the Pats' Super Bowl hopes, even if they manage to win out for the rest of the regular season. A win in Miami will clinch the Division title for New England, and they've fought so hard, and through so much, I wouldn't bet against them no matter what the odds.
Week 15 AFC Rundown:
New England (10-3) at Miami (7-6)
NY Jets (6-7) at Carolina (9-4)
Buffalo (4-9) at Jacksonville (4-9)
Denver (11-2) vs. San Diego (6-7)
Kansas City (10-3) at Oakland (4-9)
Cincinnati (9-4) at Pittsburgh (5-8)
Indianapolis (8-5) at Houston (2-11)
Baltimore (7-6) at Detroit (7-6)
Tennessee (5-8) vs. Arizona (8-5)
Cleveland (4-9) vs. Chicago (7-6)
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 2nd: They took a major hit with Rob Gronkowski going down for the season. Can they handle that?
Hank Gola (NY Daily News) ranks them 3rd: Calls always even out. Injuries to Gronk don't.
Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk) ranks them 3rd: No Gronk? No problem. As long as the goal is to not make it to the Super Bowl.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 4th.
Rick Drummond (Pro Football Focus) ranks them 4th: Finding a way to avoid a home loss to Cleveland won’t do wonders for your rank, but the Patriots did exit with the win. They fall out of a tie with the Saints at No. 3 but hang on in the Top 5.
Peter King (The MMQB) ranks them 4th: Gronk gone. But you know what I’d be worried about? The defense—the one that allowed 494 yards to the Cleveland Browns at home, that surrendered a 391-yard passing day to Jason Campbell. Yup, that’s what would worry me.
Andy Hart (Patriots Football Weekly) ranks them 4th: New England's crazy comeback over the Browns, another in a long line of close calls for Bill Belichick's team this season, has the Patriots creeping up the Wilson-Hart Power Index.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 4th: The Patriots have now secured their 11th straight 10-win season, but it took a controversial pass interference call against the Browns to do so.
ESPN experts rank them 4th: Shane Vereen had three targets in the first half Sunday, but Tom Brady was 10-of-14 for 141 yards targeting Vereen after halftime, including five plays of at least 10 yards.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 4th: Incredible comeback. Even Bill Belichick was jovial afterward -- well, if a quip and a quarter-inch smirk can be considered jovial. Losing Rob Gronkowski for the season? No laughing matter. This keeps the Patriots below the Saints -- despite New England's Week 6 win over New Orleans -- and changes the complexion of the postseason. #noexaggeration
Chris Burke (SI) ranks them 5th: The Patriots fall to five on this math: Minus three spots for the Rob Gronkowski knee injury, plus one spot for being able to play poorly for 58 minutes and still win.
Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 5th: If Bill Belichick can get this team the first-round bye, which might take 13 wins, I don't know why he wouldn't be coach of the year. Just because preseason expectations weren't low doesn't mean he hasn't done the best job. He's the best coach in the NFL. Seems like a decent reason to give him the award.
Jason Chilton (SB Nation) ranks them 5th: In perhaps the most Pyrrhic victory of the 2013 season, New England fashioned a dramatic comeback win over the Browns but lost offensive catalyst Rob Gronkowski for the season with torn ligaments in his knee. Shane Vereen was able to catalyze quite a bit himself. Assuming that playoff opponents will have a better plan than "gape like a goldfish while Vereen roasts our linebackers," Tom Brady will be up against it to approach the offensive efficiency of the last few weeks. With Aqib Talib's early-season shutdown showings a fading memory as well, the New England staff will have to bring its A-game for the Pats to take the AFC.
USA Today ranks them 5th: Sloppy starts have become all too common. The Patriots were an onside kick and an iffy interference call from losing.
Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) ranks them 6th: The defense has been plagued with injuries and now Gronk is gone. The only QB in the NFL who can keep this team winning is Tom Brady. This is the biggest test of his career.
Joe Fortenbaugh (Nat'l Football Post) ranks them 6th: Despite a dramatic come-from-behind win, New England falls after losing tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season.
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 7th: The Patriots drop two spots after saving themselves late against a much inferior Browns team at home. That followed their escape against the Texans on the road. Sorry, no style points for comebacks in games that shouldn’t have been so close. How they move up: If they can go next man up after losing Rob Gronkowski. Shane Vereen was the next matchup nightmare up when Gronk went down against the Browns, but it will take raised play by all of Tom Brady’s receivers to make up for the big guy being out of the lineup. How they move down: Keep folding defensively for most of the game. The Texans and Browns both marched down the field a little too easily, the first team by ground, the second team by air.
AVERAGE RANK: 4.4 (-0.9)