The Patriots are a tough read so far this season, not to mention a tough watch at times. The offense struggles each week to put points on the board and the much-improved defense has suffered the loss of some key players, severely testing their depth.
New England has still been finding ways to win, but the ranking experts aren't quite so sure this team will be able to overcome the hurdles in their way. I don't find fault with the experts' concerns or with the 4 point drop in rankings to 8.6. As with everything else this season, the Patriots will have to earn their way back to a higher rank one win at a time.
An important division win against Miami this Sunday will hold off the hounds for a little bit anyway.
Here is a look at the
three two one remaining undefeated team (buh-bye Broncos) and its opponents through seven weeks, plus a list of who's playing who in the AFC.
Kansas City - @Jacksonville, Dallas, @Philadelphia, NYG, @Tennessee, Oakland, Houston
Week 8 AFC Rundown:
New England (5-2) vs. Miami (3-3)
NY Jets (4-3) at Cincinnati (5-2)
Buffalo (3-4) at New Orleans (5-1)
Kansas City (7-0) vs. Cleveland (3-4)
Pittsburgh (2-4) at Oakland (2-4)
Denver (6-1) vs. Washington (2-4)
Joe Fortenbaugh (Nat'l Football Post) ranks them 7th.
Peter King (MMQB.SI) ranks them 7th: You may ask why I have the Saints No. 4 and the Pats No. 6, even though the Patriots beat the Saints last week. Judgment call. The Pats don’t have two cornerstone players they had last weekend anymore—Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 8th: Rob Gronkowski gave everyone a glimpse of what the Patriots have been missing in his absence, catching eight balls for 114 yards in his first game of the season. You'd think the guy was Jimmy Graham or something. Of course, if you watched the Jets take New England apart play by play, you also saw exactly what the Patriots will continue to miss without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Losing those two is really going to hurt come January. #NoTomBradyMentionTodayyay
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 8th: Even the return of Rob Gronkowski didn't help beat the Jets. Without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, they have problems stopping the run. They have to fix that.
Andy Hart (Patriots Football Weekly) ranks them 8th.
Hank Gola (NY Daily News) ranks them 8th: Tsk-tsk. Rules are rules.
ESPN experts rank them 8th: Even with Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup Sunday, Tom Brady failed to complete half of his attempts for the third time this season.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 9th: The rules are the rules, no matter if it's the first quarter, the last quarter or overtime. Whether you agree with the rule or not, you can hardly fault the official for throwing the flag on what was an obvious rules infraction.
Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk) ranks them 9th: It wasn’t the first time Bill Belichick misinterpreted the rules, but this one was slightly less costly.
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 9th: The Patriots struggled to find defensive answers when they needed them without their big three (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib) in blowing a big road lead on the Jets, before the ill-fated overtime push. The good news is, Rob Gronkowski looked good in his return, and the defense still managed to apply some strong edge pressure. As they work to get healthier where they can (a Week 10 bye helps), it's nice to have two home games. They'll move down if they don't just unleash Tom Brady. It's understandable that everything in his receiving corps isn't there, but now that Gronk is there to create matchup issues, they need to be more aggressive downfield with No. 12.
Chris Burke (SI) ranks them 9th: A career-high 17 targets for Rob Gronkowski on Sunday. That explains why Tom Brady was following him through the locker room, muttering "Never leave again. Never leave again."
Rick Drummond (Pro Football Focus) ranks them 9th: The tough-to-read Patriots have been playing win one, lose one ball for a month now and, though still atop the East after their Week 7 overtime defeat, their 5-2 record may be looking a little light. In a sign that faith is fleeting, they give up three spots in the rankings.
Ryan Van Bibber (SB Nation) ranks them 9th: Once again the Patriots have learned a valuable lesson about rules mattering, even the obscure ones. But let's face it, this one didn't just come down to a new wrinkle in the rule book. The Jets defensive front created problems for Tom Brady and clogged up running lanes, as Rex Ryan's unit is wont to do. Prior to this year, you had to go all the way back to Week 17 of the 2009 season for the last time Brady finished a regular season game without a touchdown pass. He's now had two this season, both in the last three weeks against the Bengals and the Jets. Brady and a drop-prone offense isn't the Pats' biggest problem. A defense without Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Aqib Talib is nothing more than a league-average unit, at best.
Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 9th: If they don't get called for a first-of-its-kind penalty in overtime, they probably beat the Jets and improve to 6-1. The defensive injuries are a real concern though.
WEEI ranks them 9th: Tom Brady simply can’t get into a rhythm with his offense. TB12 has completed 60 percent or more of his passes in every season he has been a starter in New England. This year, he’s averaging 55 percent and has been over 60 percent just twice.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 9th.
USA Today ranks them 9th: Rob Gronkowski returns, but Tom Brady still mired in worst statistical season of his career.
Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) ranks them 10th: Too many mistakes and the most costly penalty by any team this season cost the Patriots a win at the Jets. They will regroup and be ready for the Dolphins at home. Rob Gronkowski looked good in his return.
AVERAGE RANK: 8.6 (-4.0)