Being on top for one week was nice while it lasted. Now the experts have predictably backed off their unanimous coronation from Week 13 with two firsts, a majority of seconds, a couple of thirds and a fourth. Eh, big deal. Pats laid a stinker on Monday night so not only was the drop in the rankings inevitable, but also the proliferation of “blueprint” articles for the Steelers and remaining opponents to follow in order to beat the Patriots. And isn’t that the goal of every single solitary NFL-related soul outside of New England? The hate is real, man, and it’s spectacular.
If Patriots fans have learned anything from Bill Belichick, it’s the importance of leaving a stinker behind and moving on. Heading into Week 15 we’re already on to Pittsburgh to close out the wearying 5-of-6 games-on-the-road schedule. On a good note, Gronk has returned and Chris Hogan has a game back from injury under his belt. Here’s hoping [knocks wood] big man Alan Branch is okay, and Trey Flowers & Kyle Van Noy choose this Sunday to make their comeback. New players coming on board (welcome, Kenny Britt) or returning (hello Ricky Jean Francois); others leaving (don’t let the door hit ‘cha Jonathan Freeny) or being put on IR (guess that minor ankle sprain wasn’t so minor Marcus Cannon). Belichick still moving and shaking this late in the season.
No question first place in the AFC rides on the outcome of this Sunday. Pressure’s on. This time of year is why we love football and why it’s glorious to be a Patriots fan.
Around the AFC East:
New England (10-3) at Pittsburgh (11-2)
Buffalo (7-6) vs. Miami (6-7)
NY Jets (5-8) at New Orleans (9-4)
Jacksonville (9-4) vs. Houston (4-9)
Tennessee (8-5) at San Francisco (3-10)
Kansas City (7-6) vs. LA Chargers (7-6)
Baltimore (7-6) at Cleveland (0-13)
Oakland (6-7) vs. Dallas (7-6)
Cincinnati (5-8) at Minnesota (10-3)
Denver (4-9) at Indianapolis (3-10)
1st - Chris Simms (Bleacher Report): Against the Dolphins, the Patriots played as poor a game as we've seen them play since early in the season. The offense never got into a rhythm, there was no run game, and Brady was not his usual self. Most importantly, New England missed Rob Gronkowski.
The defense, which has been so impressive in recent weeks, was plain bad. It got gashed in the running game and allowed Jay Cutler to consistently make big plays. This defense missed Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers.
The Patriots are still the best team in the league, but they're banged up, coming off a bad loss and looking at a short week before their biggest game of the season. If they lose to the Steelers next week, they can kiss home-field advantage in the playoffs goodbye.
1st - MMQB Staff (SI).
2nd - Kevin Dillon (MassLive): Any other week, the Patriots might have fallen farther than No. 2. However, with the Vikings, Saints and Rams losing and the Eagles losing Carson Wentz, the Patriots will not drop too far. The absence of Rob Gronkowski clearly played a role in New England's road Monday Night loss to the Miami Dolphins, who the Patriots had just played two weeks ago. Still, Tom Brady has thrown four interceptions in his last three games, and needs to get back on track if the Patriots are going to make it back to the Super Bowl.
2nd - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Bill Belichick was outmaneuvered by Adam Gase. Tom Brady was outplayed by Jay Cutler. Nothing was very Patriot-like for the Patriots on Monday night in Miami and they suffered their nearly annual loss there. But it really makes little difference in the big picture. If the Patriots go to Pittsburgh and win Sunday, they will leapfrog the Steelers for the top seed in the AFC playoffs based on the head-to-head victory.
2nd - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): Not the Patriots' night in Miami. Tom Brady was off. Three core players were out (and sorely missed). Hard for Brady to start feeling it on some of his throws when, too often, he felt the pass rush first. The left side of the line got beat repeatedly in the second half, with Ndamukong Suh pestering Brady from the inside and the edge rushers collapsing the pocket regularly. Also problematic: The absence of New England's own outside pass rush. Uh, that might be an issue vs. the Steelers' passing attack. P.S., Brandin Cooks still isn't open.
2nd - Experts (ESPN): The Patriots' defense had a major turnaround following a 2-2 start to the season. Through Week 4, they had allowed the second-most points per game in the NFL (32.0). They've allowed an NFL-best 13.5 points per game since, with Monday night's 27-20 loss to Miami being the only time the unit has allowed even 20 points in their past nine games.
2nd - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots failed to record to ninth straight win in Miami on Monday night, being denied for now a ninth straight AFC East title. The focus turns to the top seed in the AFC playoffs with a short-week trip to Pittsburgh.
2nd - Staff (USA Today): If Tom Brady had played most of his career in South Florida, where he’s 7-9 all time, he’d probably be drawing Jeff George comparisons.
2nd - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): The lack of a pass rush showed up against the Dolphins. That can't happen against Ben Roethlisberger.
2nd - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The Patriots have a clear winning-in-Miami problem, even if Bill Belichick won’t admit it.
2nd - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): The Evil Empire drops from the top spot after a horrific offensive performance (no third-down conversions!) in South Beach. Brady and Belichick are off to Pittsburgh, where they'll get Gronk back.
2nd - Joe Giglio (NJ.com): It still feels like the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through the Patriots.
3rd - Joshua Schrock (NESN): Tom Brady fell to 7-9 in his career in Miami, as the Dolphins made Brady uncomfortable from the opening kickoff Monday night. There’s no time to sulk, though. New England has to turn around and face the Steelers on Sunday with home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs at stake.
3rd - Staff (AP Pro32).
4th - Adam Stites (SB Nation): It wasn’t the greatest week for the teams at the top of the power rankings. Three of the teams in the top five a week ago — the Patriots, Vikings, and Rams — all lost in Week 14.
The carnage at the top shuffled fortunes and paved the way for new teams to climb to the top of the rankings. That left a golden road for the Steelers to move into the No. 1 spot.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia currently own the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences, but the Steelers clearly have more reason to feel more confident about their chances.