The NFL talking heads and power rankings experts have decided New England has the easiest schedule remaining in the NFL. This puts the Patriots in the position of not being able to do anything to impress. If they win out it's because they should win out since, of course, they have a couch-cushion soft schedule. If they lose, it's a bad sign all around because how could they lose to teams with losing records?
This situation puts them in a position where they can be criticized for losing, or for not winning by enough points, but not given any props for winning since the wins would be against back-up quarterbacks and teams with losing records. None of this means or changes anything, but it's just one of those little things that bug me.
Week 11 gave the Patriots (7-3) a bit more comfy 2-game lead in the AFC East behind the Jets (5-5) and Bills (5-5). The Ravens (8-3) leapfrogged the Steelers (7-3) in the AFC North, but the Steelers have a chance to tie when they play the Chiefs on Sunday night.
The Patriots being ranked between 4-7 reflects the close competition among the top eight teams in the AFC. This week's slate of games could help solidify the position of division leaders or further muddy the already cloudy waters of the conference. Either way, the stakes are raised this time of year and that always makes for even more fun viewing.
The Sporting News ranks them 4th: Takeaway star: OLB Rob Ninkovich. Young corner Kyle Arrington has more interceptions, but Ninkovich's presence in the front seven has helped Bill Belichick's unit survive injuries.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 4th: Tom Brady has put on a quarterbacking clinic the past couple of weeks. The losses to the Steelers and Giants probably still stick in his craw. Despite being a celebrity, three-time Super Bowl winner, and a 12-year veteran, Brady still has the killer instinct of a guy who's not happy until he wins 43-14. Side note: a healthy Marcus Cannon made his NFL debut Monday night. The TCU product was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and got treatment over the summer. Nice to see the big guy out there on the field where he belongs.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 4th: It is hard to handicap this division. The Jets beat the Bills, the Bills beat the Patriots and the Patriots beat the Jets. Andre Carter has emerged as the pass-rushing threat the Patriots had been missing. Their schedule the rest of the way may give the Patriots a chance to get their swagger back.
Michael Silver (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 5th: Given his recent legal troubles, should moonlighting defensive back Julian Edelman be careful about the context in which he informs strangers that he goes both ways?
National Football Post ranks them 5th: The Patriots are one of the toughest matchups in the league because of the TE position.
Cold Hard Football Facts ranks them 6th: Patriot pass catchers are No. 3 in fewest drops (11) and No. 7 in most plays of 25+ yards (24); no other group ranks in the top seven in both categories.
Peter King (SI) ranks them 6th: Had a good conversation with Andre Carter the other day, in the wake of his 4.5-sack game against the Jets. If he's not careful, he's going to make me look stupid for bashing Bill Belichick for not drafting pass-rush help last April. Look out tonight, Tyler Palko.
ESPN ranks them 6th: With an easy schedule, New England has a great shot at home-field advantage in the AFC.
Don Banks (SI) ranks them 6th: That was nice of New England, cutting safety Ross Ventrone Wednesday for something like the 47th time this season, allowing him to be home with his family in time for the Thanksgiving celebration. Such a caring, sensitive organization, the Patriots. What's that? New England just re-signed Ventrone because they needed enough bodies to practice Thursday morning? I'm sure Bill Belichick has his reasons.
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 7th: They started slow against the Chiefs, which they can't do this week against the Eagles. Philly will challenge their defense a lot more than Kansas City with Tyler Palko.
Joel Thurman (SB Nation) ranks them 7th: New England looked sluggish in the first half on Monday night but, as they do, they quickly turned it into a rout over KC.
WEEI ranks them 7th: It’s still difficult to determine whether the Patriots are a true Super Bowl-contending team. The next six games will shed little light on that answer. The combined record of the six remaining teams on the schedule is 20-40. Tom Brady and the Pats likely will wrap up the division and secure a high AFC seed. However, the lack of depth in the secondary makes the Pats an extremely beatable team.
AVERAGE RANK: 5.5 (+.9)