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State of the Patriots: Week 7, 2016

The Patriots are at the top of the AFC despite only having Brady play 2 of the team’s 6 games.

The Patriots are 5-1 and sit by themselves on top of the AFC thanks to some well-timed losses by other 4-1 teams. The Patriots lead the Buffalo Bills, who have won 4 straight, by 1 game in the AFC East. The team is starting to round out offensively with a pair of 30+ games and defensively starting to gel. The Patriots will finish the month of October with two tough road games aganst the Steelers and Bills. If the Patriots win both games, they can start looking to secure the #1 seed in the AFC. As of right now, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them a 49% chance of getting it.

Game Recap: The Patriots defeated the Bengals soundly, although it took them until the 2nd half to really start executing. The Patriots were able to turn things around when Dont’a Hightower picked up a safety with the team trailing by 4. From there, the offense rattled off 4 straight scoring drives, picking up 23 points along the way. Brady took advantage of mismatches against the Bengals LBs with the TEs and RB James White. On defense, the Patriots made the adjustment from a zone to man coverage and assigning Eric Rowe on AJ Green. The Patriots defense allowed only 3 points against the Bengals the rest of the way.

AFC East and Conference Standings: In the AFC East, it looks like the Bills and the Patriots are separating themselves from the rest of the division. The Bills have rattled off 4 straight victories, even if some of their opponents are just plain awful, and sit one game behind the Patriots for the division. The Dolphins and the Jets are pretty much out of it, with the Jets falling to 1-5 and giving up on the season with Geno Smith set to become their QB for the next week.

In the AFC, the Patriots are at the top with the Broncos, Steelers, and Raiders all losing their Week 4 games. Those three teams along with the Houston Texans and the Bills sit at 4-2 and the Kansas City Chiefs (3-2) right around the corner. The Patriots have already defeated the Texans for the first domino for Home Field Advantage, with the second swing game coming this week against the Steelers at Heinz Field. The third and final game will be in Denver in Week 15, but that’s two months away and we’ll worry about that game when it’s time to. For the Patriots to win HFA, they need to go at least 8-2 the rest of the way.

Injury Report: This week was the first week that players on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list would be able to practice. However, it looks like both G Tre Jackson and RB Dion Lewis will not this week. The good news is that the team has solid players at those positions to hold the fort with Shaq Mason doing OK at right guard and White proving to be a reliable weapon underneath. The biggest injury concern is LB Jamie Collins, who missed the game with a hip injury. The Patriots have not been able to get both Hightower and Collins on the field and healthy at the same time this year.

The Patriots are getting healthier in key spots. TE Rob Gronkowski posted a career day with 162 yards and a TD on 7 catches. TE Martellus Bennett is still a little hobbled with an ankle injury, but contributed in the victory as well. In his first full game healthy, Hightower put up a big game and won AFC Defensive Player of the Week with 1.5 sacks, a safety, and 13 stops. Even RT Marcus Cannon posted a solid week after missing the Browns game with an injury. When this team is healthy on both sides of the ball, I think the sky is the limit.

We’re on to Pittsburgh: The Patriots face a hobbled Steelers team missing QB Ben Roethlisberger and DL Cameron Heyward. Roethlisberger tore a meniscus in the 2nd quarter in a loss to the Miami Dolphins and Heyward suffered his injury two games ago against the New York Jets. The Steelers still present some tough matchups with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell healthy. The Steelers could also be missing WR Markus Wheaton, RB Deangelo Williams, and RT Marcus Gilbert, who didn’t play against the Dolphins. If those three are unable to go, it gives the Patriots some opportunities to stop the Steelers offense in other areas.