The first quarter of the NFL is in the books and the 4-0 Patriots have so far passed every test, especially the media-imposed must-win in the Georgia Dome Sunday. Last week the rankings experts warned the Pats had to win against Atlanta, Cincinnati and New Orleans to have their record taken seriously. With Atlanta out of the way, this week the main concern is over the loss of Vince Wilfork and whether the defense can hold up without him.
Even with that underlying concern, New England still moved up a notch in the rankings to around 4.
Part II of the test comes this week in Cincinnati against a 2-2 Bengals team with an explosive offense and a defense that centers around DL Geno Atkins, who Bill Belichick likens to a 'more powerful' John Randle type. High praise indeed.
It's always a bit tougher to play on the road but I believe the Pats will be able to pull out another win - hopefully with or without the services of either Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola.
Here is a look at the five remaining undefeated teams (buh-bye Miami and Chicago) and their opponents through four weeks, plus a list of who's playing who in the AFC.
New England - @Buffalo, NY Jets, Tampa Bay, @Atlanta
Denver - Baltimore, @NY Giants, Oakland, Philadelphia
Kansas City - @Jacksonville, Dallas, @Philadelphia, NY Giants
New Orleans - Atlanta, @Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami
Seattle - @Carolina, San Francisco, Jacksonville, @Houston
Week 5 AFC Rundown:
Buffalo (2-2) at Cleveland (2-2)
Miami (3-1) vs. Baltimore (2-2)
NY Jets (2-2) at Atlanta (1-3)
Kansas City (4-0) at Tennessee (3-1)
Indianapolis (3-1) vs. Seattle (4-0)
Denver (4-0) at Dallas (2-2)
Houston (2-2) at San Francisco (2-2)
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 3rd: The passing game is quietly coming together. Look out down the road. The loss of Vince Wilfork will hurt the defense a lot.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 3rd: Tom Brady has now thrown a touchdown in 52 straight games, just two shy of Drew Brees' record, and he's also just one touchdown shy of tying Fran Tarkenton for the most touchdown passes in NFL history.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 3rd: This space received hundreds of comments and tweets last week regarding the Patriots being "too high" at third, many calling New England's defense overrated. Cool. So did anyone catch the game Sunday night?
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 3rd: Why they're here: A lot of Tom Brady, a little bit of everything else. The defense has been playing well when it counts, but now must overcome the loss of Vince Wilfork. How they move up: They're kind of stuck here for a while until Seattle and Denver lose their edge. How they move down: Keep living dangerously with games that are a little too close for comfort. What's next: at Bengals, where they should figure to be in another tight one.
Ryan Van Bibber (SB Nation) ranks them 4th: This is the most "meh" Patriots team since the one Matt Cassel quarterbacked. But they win. What else is new?
Rick Drummond (Pro Football Focus) ranks them 4th: They’ll now have to deal with the loss of Vince Wilfork, but the Patriots once again found a way in Week 4, this time taking one on the road in Atlanta. It hasn’t been pretty, but collecting W’s when all parts aren’t clicking hints at even better days if they do get in sync.
Shutdown Corner (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 4th: Losing Vince Wilfork is a major, major blow for a team that has done a great job overcoming its other injuries. Wilfork is impossible to replace.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 4th.
USA Today ranks them 4th: Undefeated Pats are just starting to find groove, but loss of Vince Wilfork is huge.
ESPN experts rank them 4th: How do the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? Since 2009 without Wilfork, the Pats' averages in yards per rush allowed and yards before contact per rush allowed would rank last.
Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk) ranks them 4th: With Vince Wilfork gone for the year, the offense needs to fatten up.
Chris Burke (SI) ranks them 4th: Joe Vellano stepped in for an injured Vince Wilfork and provided his first career sack Sunday. His previous claim to fame? According to Maryland's football website, Vellano and his dad, Paul, are one of only four father-son combos to be named All-Americas at the same Division-I school. Also on the list: Eli and Archie Manning at Ole Miss.
Hank Gola (NY Daily News) ranks them 4th: The Patriots look like the Patriots again but losing Wilfork is huge.
Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) ranks them 5th: An impressive road win in Atlanta over a Matt Ryan team that was 34-5 at home. The loss of Vince Wilfork will have a lasting effect on this Pats team, but right now they are riding high.
Peter King (MMQB.SI) ranks them 6th: Tell me who could have forecast the Pats starting 4-0, including a win over a desperate Falcons team on the road, without their four biggest pass catchers from last year. Incredible accomplishment. By the way: The two teams I picked to make the Super Bowl—Pats, ‘Hawks—are 8-0. Not that I’m bragging or anything.
AVERAGE RANK: 3.9 (+0.9)