Week 8 was another strong week for the Patriots as they secured a big road win against a conference rival. With the Vikings dropping from the unbeaten ranks, the Patriots now hold the best record in the NFL at 6-1. The Patriots have a chance to wrap up the division next week and cruise into the bye week, after which the real season begins.
Recapping the Patriots win: The Patriots took advantage of a depleted Steelers team, running over their weakened front seven and forcing Landry Jones to beat them. The Patriots held RB Le’Veon Bell to under 4 yards per carry and kept both him and Antonio Brown out of the end zone. The Patriots secondary played a good game despite very little help from the pass rush, although the game plan was likely to force Landry Jones to check down and then just rally up to tackle, as Malcolm Butler had a great game with an acrobatic end zone INT and 3 pass breakups (two of which could have been INTs as well). Julian Edelman contributed with 9 catches, most of which were the result of the Steelers putting LB Lawrence Timmons in coverage of him. TE Rob Gronkowski caught all 4 targets for 93 yards and a TD, giving Tom Brady a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Gronk. Even though the Steelers didn’t have their QB and had various injuries on defense, the Patriots C-level effort was enough and it’s still a huge win in the grand scheme of things.
Road to home field advantage starts: The Patriots best chance for home field advantage would be to sweep the AFC North, beat Houston, Denver, and win at least 4 of 6 games in the division. The Patriots are 3-0 against the AFC North, beaten Houston, and are 1-1 in the division. In addition, should the Patriots fall short in any of those areas, another goal would be 13 wins. 13 wins is enough to clinch home field advantage in the AFC every year, although 12 might do it this year as the Patriots’ chief rivals didn’t make too many strides at getting better. The Patriots have gotten home field 5 times since 2001 (2003, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014), reaching the Super Bowl 4 times, winning 2. Over that span, the Patriots are 15-3 (.833) at home in the playoffs. With the Patriots 6-1 start, the magic number to clinch is 7.
AFC East results go the Patriots way: The Bills (4-3) lost to the Dolphins (3-4) and the Jets (2-5) beat the Ravens, which is good from the Patriots’ perspective. The Bills were a more immediate threat to the division while the Jets and Dolphins are nowhere close to sniffing the playoffs this season. The loss for the Bills puts them behind the Chiefs (4-2) for the 2nd wildcard spot. The Patriots have a chance to wrap up the division in Week 8 if they can beat the Bills on the road. That would give the Patriots a 3-game lead with 8 games to go, pushing the magic number to 5 games to clinch the division.
Injury Report: The Patriots didn’t suffer too many injuries in the game against the Steelers, with Patrick Chung the only player needing to be helped off the field. Chung would later return to the game and denied Le’Veon Bell a receiving touchdown. The Patriots are still nursing injuries to rookie DTs Vince Valentine (Big Vince 2.0) and the President of Run Defense, Woodrow Hamilton. Anthony Johnson was released yesterday, which signals the Patriots are optimistic about their recovery for the game. The bye week comes after Week 8, and is very welcomed as the Patriots are looking for Dion Lewis and Tre Jackson to get healthy over that time. I think we see both returning after the bye week against Seattle.
We’re on to Buffalo again: This time Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and LeGarrette Blount will be 100% healthy and available for the game. As stated earlier, this is a chance for the Patriots to wrap up the division before the bye week. The Patriots should have a clear idea of how the Bills are going to attack them offensively. Defensively, I expect Rex Ryan to try to confuse Tom Brady with exotic schemes and a new wrinkle. I also expect Rex to throw the kitchen sink, the refrigerator, and the pantry at the Patriots offense. James White could wind up being the Patriots X-Factor on offense as a receiver and pass blocker. Hopefully Rex Ryan doesn’t try to prank call the Patriots again.