It's November, which means the Patriots are once again playing the toughest stretch of games in their schedule again. The Patriots will face two divisional leaders in the Giants and Broncos along with two 4-4 teams that are still in the playoff race and have something to prove. The Patriots are entering that schedule with a banged up offensive line and without their star running back. It's time like these that tests the mettle of a team that everyone expects to contend for another Lombardi Trophy, as the biggest cliché in football is about overcoming adversity. Last year, that came in facing the league's best passers in a 6-game stretch and overcoming the noise following the Kansas City disaster. This year, it's taking a beat up team and guiding them through the most difficult part of the schedule against some very tough defenses.
On the injury front, it looks like OT Marcus Cannon, OG Tre Jackson, and DE Jabaal Sheard could return at any time. The Patriots had to send out the emergency offensive line grouping in the second half against the Redskins, with their starting center playing right tackle and so on and so forth. Getting Cannon back would allow for the Patriots to play Cameron Fleming at right tackle and move Bryan Stork back inside to either center or guard. At this point, the only injury on the OL I'm deeply concerned about is Sebastian Vollmer, who took two big shots to the head before exiting the game. Concussions are a serious issue and it's better to have Vollmer healthy for the playoffs. The Patriots can compensate by chipping with a RB or TE against Jason Pierre-Paul, Von Miller, Jerry Hughes, and Connor Barwin.
On the defensive side of the ball, the young CBs have really stepped up their coverage. Even though Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Justin Coleman have undergone a baptism by fire this season, they've shown that they can play in the NFL. The toughest offense the Patriots will likely face from this point forward in the regular season is the Jets offense, but tthat's 6 weeks into the future. The Patriots have really improved in run defense, with the acquisition of Akiem Hicks along with improvements from Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, and Alan Branch. On the defensive front, the Patriots have both the talent and depth to compete against teams in a war of attrition. With Philly up in the schedule, that's very important to have. I would not be surprised if that unit takes a hit or two on the injury front in the second half of the season, but the depth they do have allows for them to prepare for it when it does happen. With Sheard coming back soon, the defense should be at full strength.
This stretch should tell us if the Patriots are capable of winning the Super Bowl. They're going into three hostile environments and have a short week to prepare for one of those games. They'll be battling the top defensive unit in the NFL, an offense that doesn't huddle and wins by attrition on the defense, an offense that features arguably the best WR in football right now, and a divisional foe. If they go 4-0, that will essentially wrap up Home Field Advantage. 3-1 also works, but they need to beat Denver in that case.
Edit: I have been informed the Eagles game at home and have revised the prediction to 4-0.