Once again the Patriots at 5-2 have risen to the top of the AFC East. But similar to last year, this team is still a tough read seven weeks into the season. The division is not such a gimme this year. The Bills are only one game behind, leading me to (kind of sort of) root for the Jets on Sunday. The Dolphins at two games back should easily beat the Jaguars. A win in Foxborough, among other things, would provide a bit of a buffer zone.
Also like last year, their 'Next Man Up' program is already in full swing. Shane Vereen had a terrific game Thursday night, making up for the loss of Stevan Ridley. Rookie RB Jonas Gray has been given a huge opportunity to show what he can do, too. This could be the start of something big. I'm rooting for him.
The defense had its issues in its first matchup without Jerod Mayo, but nothing that can't get worked out in 10 days, right? The only good part to the Chandler Jones injury is his four-week recovery estimate. It's not December yet, no playoffs yet. The time off will allow his shoulder to heal up a bit too.
Next seven weeks will be the toughest schedule of any team in the league. Can't wait to see how this team will pull off six wins against the NFL's elite. Only thing we can do is buckle up, cheer 'em on and enjoy the ride.
Around the AFC East:
New England (5-2) vs. Chicago (3-4)
Miami (3-3) at Jacksonville (1-6)
Buffalo (4-3) at NY Jets (1-6)
Notable AFC Matchups:
Denver (5-1) vs. San Diego (5-2)
Baltimore (5-2) at Cincinnati (3-2-1)
Indianapolis (5-2) at Pittsburgh (4-3)
Kansas City (3-3) vs. St. Louis (2-4)
Houston (3-4) at Tennessee (2-5)
Cleveland (3-3) vs. Oakland (0-6)
Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight) ranks them 2nd using its Elo Ratings.
Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) ranks them 5th: Tom Brady carries a solid team but not a great team. If Brady had the team around him that some of the teams above have, the Pats would be up at the top.
Andy Hart (Patriots Football Weekly) ranks them 5th using the Wilson-Hart power index.
Hank Gola (NY Daily News) ranks them 6th: Not sure if this run defense will hold up.
USA Today ranks them 7th: After the Jets ran over them for 218 yards on the ground, not hard to figure what other teams will try to do moving forward.
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 7th: They made it interesting against the Jets, but they still found a way. They have a nice grip on first place in the AFC East.
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 7th: Shane Vereen solved their backfield concerns without Stevan Ridley, and they unleashed the Swiss Army player to save them from an upset against the Jets. This offense still has some work to do to be really scary. What’s next: vs. Chicago, a much-different rematch of Super Bowl XX.
Mark Maske (Washington Post) ranks them 7th: They found a way to hold on Thursday night against the Jets, and they’ve won three straight games since the ugly Monday night loss at Kansas City. It’s important that the Patriots win at home Sunday against the Bears. The schedule turns extremely difficult after that with a rugged five-game stretch against the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers and Chargers.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 8th.
Tom Layberger (Masslive) ranks them 8th: Tom Brady is on one of his patented streaks, throwing for 914 yards and nine touchdowns without a pick in the last three contests. The defense, while missing the injured Jerod Mayo, was gashed by the Jets' ground game (218 yards) last Thursday and ranks 24th in the NFL against the run. Conversely, the Pats are No. 1 against the pass.
ESPN Experts rank them 8th: Tom Brady has the highest completion percentage (68 percent) and most passing touchdowns (5) on throws 15 or more yards downfield since the start of Week 5. Brady is 3-0 in his career against the Bears with a QBR of 90 in his past two starts against them.
Joe Fortenbaugh (Nat'l Football Post) ranks them 9th.
Peter King (The MMQB) ranks them 9th: On Friday morning, the morning after the survival win against the Jets, the Patriots could wake up and think how fortunate they were to be at this point of the schedule: Over the next 29 days—from Oct. 17 to Nov. 15—they’d have but two games, and have to travel for neither. The mini-bye after the Jets is one benefit; the real bye in Week 10 is the other cushion. In those 29 days, the Patriots have the Bears at home next Sunday and the Broncos at home the following week. New England will make up for that luxury scheduling after the bye with this brutal foursome: at Indy, Detroit at home, at Green Bay, at San Diego.
Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 9th: The lack of a run defense without Jerod Mayo last week was a little concerning. But give Bill Belichick more than three days of preparation, which is all he had for the Jets, and he'll figure something out.
Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) ranks them 9th: As Jason Taylor noted on last night’s PFT on NBCSN, Tom Brady apparently honed his flopping skills while attending World Cup matches in Brazil. (Or maybe while playing Madden.)
Chris Burke (SI) ranks them 9th: The Patriots now lead the AFC East by a game and close the season with three straight division games (including a Week 17 matchup vs. Buffalo). But what happens between now and then -- a six-game stretch against teams currently a combined 28-12 -- likely will determine how this Patriots season ends.
Josh Sanchez (Fansided) ranks them 10th.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 10th: In case you were still wondering, Tom Brady is not over the hill. In fact, I think he plays better with that Kenny Loggins-in-1986 mini-beard. Thursday night's 27-25 win over a bad football team might have seemed too close for comfort, but remember that the Jets were pulling out all the stops. New England's run defense, though ... Stevie and Sir Paul were harder on the synthesizers on "Ebony and Ivory" than the Pats were on New York running back Chris Ivory. Holy cow.
Danny Kelly (SB Nation) ranks them 10th: The Patriots rise as well after stealing a victory away from the Jets with a last-second blocked field goal.
Patrick Imig (Cold Hard Football Facts) ranks them 11th using their Quality Stats rankings.
Dan Schneier (Fox Sports) ranks them 13th: Those who doubted Tom Brady have had their crow served in recent weeks. He is turning Brian Tyms and Brandon LaFell into household names. After the debacle against the Chiefs, the offensive line has tightened up their play, which makes all the difference for Tom Brady and this offensive scheme.
AVERAGE RANK: 8.1 (+2.1)