Best QB + power RB + stingy D = top contender.
...special teams gaffes are nothing Tom Brady can't overcome.
As long as Tom Brady is chucking it around, they are the team to beat. Period.
Some of the experts get it. Monday night's win against Jump-Ball Joe Flacco and Baltimore's top-ranked defense was quality. The Patriots moved up to the No. 1 spot not just because of Tom Brady, but because of the stout performance of the defense as well. Your New England Patriots are playing some pretty good football right now. (Yeah, yeah I know... always has to be a caveat: special teams return game aside).
Now it is "On to Denver" on a short week for the second big test in this one-two-punch stretch of games. While the 'New England can't win in Denver' narrative is being pushed by the media, some of the early predictions for Sunday aren't quite that dire. Pro Football Focus analysts, for example, picked the Patriots to win across the board. Go figure. The Broncos need this win. Currently they are the 6th seed in the AFC and have a Wild Card spot, but those seedings are all still fluid. The Patriots need the win to earn a prized playoff bye as well as the AFC East division title. A hat and T-shirt game.
Man, I just love the smell of football in December.
Around the AFC East::
New England (11-2) at Denver (8-5)
Miami (8-5) at NY Jets (4-9)
Buffalo (6-7) vs. Cleveland (0-13)
Kansas City (10-3) vs. Tennessee (7-6)
Oakland (10-3) at San Diego (5-8)
Pittsburgh (8-5) at Cincinnati (5-7-1)
Baltimore (7-6) vs. Philadelphia (5-8)
Houston (7-6) vs. Jacksonville (2-11)
Indianapolis (6-7) at Arizona (5-7-1)
1st - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): For the first time in weeks, there's a new No. 1. (OK, it's an old No. 1 -- but you get it.) While we're at it, there might be a new frontrunner for MVP. Tom Brady put over four hundy on the league's top statistical defense. Now that is saying something. Yeah, he missed the first four games, but a 22:2 TD-to-INT ratio while leading the league's top team speaks pretty loudly. Two other factoids about our No. 1 team that really jump off the page: A) LeGarrette Blount is destroying dudes on the other side this year. The man already has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. B) Do you think anyone besides Patriots fans know that Matt Patricia's defense allows the second-fewest points in the league? Best QB + power RB + stingy D = top contender.
1st - Lorenzo Reyes (USA Today): We're thinking they might take a look at some return guys this week, but special teams gaffes are nothing Tom Brady can't overcome.
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Tom Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in Monday night’s triumph over the Ravens in the Patriots’ first significant test since placing tight end Rob Gronkowski on the injured reserve list. But there were uncharacteristic miscues, from Brady’s first-half interception to the two second-half special teams giveaways on returns. Those undoubtedly will irk Coach Bill Belichick, even with the Patriots in good position to secure the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC.
1st - Cameron DaSilva (Fox Sports): As long as Tom Brady is chucking it around, they are the team to beat. Period.
1st - Adam Stites (SB Nation): There are a few teams that will have to survive down the stretch without the contributions of hugely important players. The Seattle Seahawks struggled to stop Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, and it’s hard to say the loss of Earl Thomas wasn’t a massive factor. And while the New England Patriots offense found ways to score against the Baltimore Ravens, the loss of Rob Gronkowski can’t be overstated.
1st - Experts (ESPN): Tom Brady has now thrown 11 touchdowns with one interception with Rob Gronkowski off the field this season. Brady and the Patriots are still thriving without their top offensive weapon, but they could miss him against the Broncos this week. Brady is 2-7 overall in his career at Denver, including playoffs.
1st - Chris Burke (SI): Against the league’s top defense, without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, Tom Brady threw for 408 yards and a touchdown. If the Patriots’ returners hadn’t spent the third quarter trying to make sure the Ravens didn’t feel too badly about themselves, Monday night would have been a blowout victory.
1st - Football Power Index (ESPN Stats & Info): There was a lot of movement in the top half of FPI as we enter Week 15, highlighted by the Atlanta Falcons jumping three spots to No. 2.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): They would have dusted the Ravens a lot easier Monday night had it not been for a couple bizarre return game mistakes. They’re back in control of making the AFC playoffs go through Foxborough. This week: at Broncos, Sunday.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): Bill Belichick was as happy after the win over Baltimore as he ever is. And he still came off as miserable.
1st - Jenny Vrentas (The MMQB): Just when you were thinking it’s a bad week for MVP candidates, Tom Brady swoops in on Monday night. Patriots holding position for home-field advantage, as expected.
1st - Rick Gossellin (Dallas News): Tom Brady has not thrown a road interception since Dec. 27, 2015, at the Jets. That's a stretch of six games and 228 consecutive passes. He visits Denver this week.
1st - Kristopher Knox (Bleacher Report): Week 14 came to a close Monday night with the New England Patriots knocking off the Baltimore Ravens 30-23. The result keeps New England atop the AFC standings while moving the Ravens out of first place in the AFC North.
1st - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): The Evil Empire remains on the mountaintop after beating the Ravens in primetime to win their fourth in a row and ninth out the last 10. Tom Brady will never die. Avocado ice cream for everyone!
1st - Luke Miller (Metro): Maybe it was Tom Brady’s suspension, maybe the ascendancy of teams like the Cowboys or Raiders, but this seems like a quieter Patriots season than most. That shouldn’t be the case when they’re taking the field against the (now former) No. 1 defense in the NFL and dropping 500 yards (406 courtesy of one Tom Brady) on them. Did you know LeGarrette Blount is fifth in the league in rushing yards (1,029) and leads the league with 14 touchdowns?
1st - Andy Hart (Patriots Football Weekly): Wilson-Hart Power Index.
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).
2nd - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): I’d assume 406 yards and three touchdowns in a huge win against a tough Ravens defense would give Tom Brady a huge lead in the MVP race. But it’s hard to know if voters will hold his bogus suspension at the beginning of the season against him.