It was a tough battle but the Patriots apparently came out on top and won their Bye week. How else to explain the experts raising them 2 notches in the rankings while the players were home watching football instead of playing?
One factor has to be that New England's offensive showing against Pittsburgh is still on the minds of the reviewers, as is the Patriots' 26-4 record coming off the bye the past three years. Add to that, they have a pretty good Monday Night Football record under Bill Belichick (15-5) and on the whole the vibe is pretty positive. Carolina is presented as the latest test for the Patriots, and the expectation - at least below - is that the Pats will meet the challenge. Sounds good to me.
Lots of good games on the schedule this week, good for killing time until the Patriots take the field Monday night. Enjoy the last stress-free Sunday of the season. For kicks, check out the Week 10 rankings from 2012 (Pats, 6-3, ranked 7th-8th).
Week 11 AFC Rundown:
New England (7-2) at Carolina (6-3)
NY Jets (5-4) at Buffalo (3-7)
Miami (4-5) vs. San Diego (4-5)
Kansas City (9-0) at Denver (8-1)
Cincinnati (6-4) vs. Cleveland (4-5)
Indianapolis (6-3) at Tennessee (4-5)
Baltimore (4-5) at Chicago (5-4)
Pittsburgh (3-6) vs. Detroit (6-3)
Houston (2-7) vs. Oakland (3-6)
Jacksonville (1-8) vs. Arizona (5-4)
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 4th: The bye week in New England gave Bill Belichick's group a chance to get healthy -- and also provided extra time to prepare for the Panthers ... who might present the stiffest defensive challenge the Patriots will face all season.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 4th.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 4th: The Patriots are starting to hit their offensive stride, but will face their toughest challenge yet at defensive juggernaut Carolina this weekend.
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 4th: The Patriots chilled during a bye, and saw some of the other AFC rising division powers (Indianapolis, Cincinnati) fall in upsets. They just saw Tom Brady and the offense look right again, and the potential return of Shane Vereen will be another huge boost. There was a feeling the old New England explosiveness was back against Pittsburgh, but the team needs more consistent line play and a more efficient running game coming off the bye to keep facilitating the action for Brady. The defense isn’t about to get leaders Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo back anytime soon, so if it can’t tighten up a bit for the stretch, it has the potential to drag down the offense. What’s next: at Panthers, who will test Brady and Rob Gronkowski on Monday night.
Peter King (The MMQB) ranks them 4th: Seven weeks left in the season. Two-game lead in the AFC East. Anyone surprised?
Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) ranks them 4th: The Patriots were on a bye weekend but were starting to show significant signs of returning to the aggressive offense of previous years.
Joe Zarbano (WEEI) ranks them 4th: The Patriots are an astonishing 87-24 coming off their bye week since 2001. They’re 26-4 over the last three years alone. There’s no reason to believe Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won’t lead the Patriots to another impressive post-bye week performance when they take on the Panthers on Monday night.
Hank Gola (NY Daily News) ranks them 5th: Panthers will test them physically Monday.
Chris Burke (SI) ranks them 5th: Every Patriots player returning from injury is graded on a 1-to-Gronk scale, but don't overlook the impact of Shane Vereen coming off IR. The versatile back will add yet another weapon to an offense that's suddenly starting to click.
Andy Hart (Patriots Football Weekly) ranks them 5th: Despite the week off, the Patriots moved up a spot in this week's Wilson-Hart Power Index, jumping over the 49ers to move into No. 5 overall. That sets up this Monday night's matchup with the No. 4-ranked Panthers in Carolina who are coming off an impressive win in San Francisco.
USA Today ranks them 5th: Offense dazzled last time out, but defense really needs CB Aqib Talib back.
ESPN experts rank them 5th: Monday night in Carolina presents a great test for a Patriots team that's 2-2 on the road. New England had a bye to prepare, but the Panthers are riding high.
Rick Drummond (Pro Football Focus) ranks them 5th: Also on bye in Week 10, the Patriots will travel to Charlotte and face the rising Panthers in their return to the field. Should be fun as Brady gets more and more comfortable with Gronk back in the fold, and the Panthers believe more and more as they pile up the wins.
Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 5th: Interesting to see if Tom Brady can keep it rolling this week against that fantastic Panthers defense. Finally, a great Monday night matchup.
Ryan Van Bibber (SB Nation) ranks them 6th: Was the Pats' Week 9 torching of the Steelers a mirage, or have the returns of Amendola and Gronk finally given Tom Brady the ammo to throw down with the league's elite? We'll find out in a hurry, as back-to-back games against the Panthers and Broncos will go a long way towards divining the Pats' postseason prospects. Belichick may need all his wizardry to bind up a battered defense, but at least a healthy Aqib Talib can make matters easier if he continues to erase lead wideouts.
Joe Fortenbaugh (Nat'l Football Post) ranks them 6th.
AVERAGE RANK: 4.7 (+1.4)