B-I-G game coming up, folks. No, wait, make that H-U-G-E game. Patriots (9-3) vs. Texans (11-1): The top two seeds in the NFL, in a head-to-head matchup, at home, in prime-time. Doesn't get much better for a football fan. Let the final quarter of the regular season begin!
It's not a must-win game for either team, but it sure would be a confidence-booster for the winner - not to mention the Alpha male bragging rights that go along with it. I wouldn't want to bet against Tom Brady in December, especially at home and in the national spotlight.
A Sunday without the Patriots stinks, but it gives fans a chance to check out the competition around the AFC. The New York Jets (5-7) travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars (2-10). The Buffalo Bills (5-7) play at home against the St. Louis Rams (5-6-1). Miami Dolphins (5-7) head northwest to play the San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1).
The Denver Broncos (9-3) play their division rival Raiders (3-9) in Oakland Thursday night. The Baltimore Ravens (9-3) play the red-hot Redskins (6-6) in Washington. The Indianapolis Colts (8-4) go to Tennessee to play the Titans (4-8) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) host the San Diego Chargers (4-8).
Peter King (SI) ranks them 1st: What a schedule over the next two months, of games scheduled and not (yet) scheduled. Tick ... tick ... tick.
Pro Football Talk ranks them 2nd: Patriots: Another year, another late-season winning streak.
USA Today ranks them 2nd: Pats are plus 24 in turnover differential. That's 10 better than second-best Bears and Texans.
Don Banks (SI) ranks them 2nd: Like the Texans, the Patriots enter their showdown with Houston on a six-game winning streak, second in the league behind Denver's seven-gamer. I'm bumping New England up into the No. 2 spot this week for two reasons: I think the Pats are playing better than anybody in the league except for the Texans, and I really wanted to create one of those over-hyped No. 1 vs. No. 2 mega-showdowns that college football treats us to every once in a while. Sorry, Falcons fans. I hear you.
Pro Football Weekly ranks them 2nd: Offense off its game, but get fourth AFC East crown in a row.
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 2nd: RB Stevan Ridley Ridley has given the Patriots a reliable power rushing attack to support Tom Brady. The balance he’s provided has made the offense more efficient and more explosive off play-action.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 2nd.
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 3rd: They have a huge game Monday night to stake their claim as the AFC's best. I think they are the best team in the conference.
WEEI ranks them 3rd: The next two weeks will tell us a lot about how good this Patriots team really is. The Pats have rattled off wins against inferior opponents, now Tom Brady and the high-octane offense will face two of the best teams in the NFL. The defense has shown improvement while continuing to force turnovers. That’s a great sign for New England fans.
NFL.com experts rank them 3rd.
Shutdown Corner (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 3rd: They may not have lit up the scoreboard at Sun Life Stadium, but going on the road and doing just enough to win is all that matters in December. New England is the No.1-ranked team in Football Outsiders total DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric and have the ninth-highest offensive DVOA since 1991.
Patriots Football Weekly ranks them 3rd.
Joel Thorman (SB Nation) ranks them 3rd: According to this poll, 87 percent of Patriots fans are at least a little a concerned about Brandon Lloyd's lack of involvement in the offense. Every team would love to have that problem if they're scoring over 35 points per game like New England is.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 3rd: The New England Patriots move up to No. 3 by virtue of losses from the Ravens and 49ers. In other news, A Few Good Men was on AMC the other night, and it made me think about these Patriots. There's an underrated scene where Lt. Weinberg lays it out for Demi Moore's character after she screws up in objecting too many times over an expert witness: "Don't worry about the doctor. This trial starts Monday." Well don't worry about the Dolphins game -- particularly the fact that the Pats didn't dominate -- New England's season starts Monday ... versus Houston. And then the following Sunday, versus San Francisco. That little two-week home stand will say a lot about this football team.
ESPN ranks them 3rd: A high standard of excellence: New England has won 10 AFC East titles in Bill Belichick's 13 seasons.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 4th: The Patriots have now secured the AFC East championship, their fourth in a row and ninth in the last 10 seasons. They are starting to look like the championship-caliber team we have been expecting to see.
National Football Post ranks them 4th: How about Brady as the favorite for MVP?
Cold Hard Football Facts ranks them 5th: Did you know the Pats' 23-16 win over Miami gives them a mind-blowing 37-3 record in the month of December since 2002. Oddly enough, all three losses were to the Dolphins. Does that mean NE is a lock to knock off the Texans and 49ers the next two weeks?
AVERAGE RANK: 2.8 (+ 1.3)