Another crazy week in Patriot Nation, but it’s all good.
Patriots beat the Bills in Buffalo to cap off the third quarter of the season, leaving them at 10-2 with four regular-season games left. Best case scenario: Patriots win out, with sole possession of first place in the AFC and the prize of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. While New England may have jumped to a unanimous No. 1 in the power rankings, the 10-2 Steelers have the conference tie-breaker, nudged ahead by a win over their common opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs.
So where does it stand heading into Week 14? Plenty of interesting conference-jockeying games in store, with Sunday night’s Steelers-Ravens matchup second only to Pats-Fins on Monday. The hysteria over Rob Gronkowski will continue long after his 1-week suspension, adding another layer of intrigue (and angst) to the final stretch of the season. On a positive note Chris Hogan suited up today for a full-pads practice. This team tends to rise under adversity, and the defense is playing at a high-enough level to help out the Gronk-less offense. All factors considered, I’m picking another win - and cover (+11), for New England over the Dolphins Monday night.
Around the AFC East:
New England (10-2) at Miami (5-7)
Buffalo (6-6) vs. Indianapolis (3-9)
NY Jets (5-7) at Denver (3-9)
Pittsburgh (10-2) vs. Baltimore (7-5)
Tennessee (8-4) at Arizona (5-7)
Jacksonville (8-4) vs. Seattle (8-4)
Kansas City (6-6) vs. Oakland (6-6)
LA Chargers (6-6) vs. Washington (5-7)
Cincinnati (5-7) vs. Chicago (3-9)
Houston (4-8) vs. San Francisco (2-10)
Cleveland (0-12) vs. Green Bay (6-6)
1st - Chris Simms (Bleacher Report): The first thing we have to talk about is the Patriots defense. Sure, it gave up a few big plays in the run game, but as a whole, it was once again fantastic. People might not realize New England has the league's best scoring defense since Week 5—11.6 points per game allowed. The New England defense is one of the most improved units we've seen all year, and the trend continued against Buffalo. Offensively, Tom Brady wasn't as sharp as we've seen him this year, but he was dangerous enough. More importantly, the Patriots got their run game going with Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. This offense is already hard to stop as it is; if the ground game keeps rolling like it did against Buffalo, it's going to be impossible to defend. The interior of New England's offensive line is one of the best run-blocking groups in football, which is allowing the Patriots to dominate on the ground. The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, and they're becoming more balanced and more dangerous each and every week.
1st - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): Owning an eight-game winning streak, with an average margin of victory of 15.5, the Patriots are the new No. 1. Sunday brought another ho-hum win for Bill Belichick's crew, which has seen its struggles in Buffalo in the past (even in wins). Not this time. Not even close. Of course, social media only wanted to show you Tom Brady going off on Josh McDaniels -- after the latter shook his head at his quarterback for missing an open receiver on an incompletion in Bills territory. Well, either Brady was saying, "Speak louder -- I have five rings ringing in my ears" ... or maybe he yelled, “I'm not Kyle Orton. Get off me!” Or maybe it was nothing.
1st - Experts (ESPN): The Patriots have only two rookies with at least 100 snaps this season and both are interior defensive linemen: Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler. Wise has been the better of the two, recording 3.0 sacks, the third-most on the team.
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots reclaim the No. 1 spot with their victory in Buffalo and the Eagles’ loss in Seattle. This is where the Patriots were supposed to spend the entire season, out in front with the rest of the NFL chasing them. It didn’t work out that way. But the Patriots have regained their front-runner status, even if they now are facing the prospect of being without TE Rob Gronkowski for a game. His one-game suspension by the NFL was fully justified for a late hit that was both egregious and extremely dangerous.
1st - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): It took a while, but the Patriots are back in the top spot. Not that the Eagles losing at Seattle is a bad thing, but the Patriots haven’t lost since Oct. 1 and have won five of their last six games by double digits. The last time the Patriots gave up more than 17 points in a game was also Oct. 1. Back in the preseason most people expected the Patriots to dominate, and that team has been on display for the last two months.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): Go figure: Tom Brady's MVP case is being hurt by their resurgent running game and defense. This week: at Dolphins.
1st - Joshua Schrock (NESN): Tom Brady had the worst game of his season, but the Buffalo Bills still were unable to challenge New England, as the Patriots rolled to a 23-3 win at New Era Field. New England will go for its ninth straight win on “Monday Night Football” against the Miami Dolphins but might be without Rob Gronkowski who was suspended for one game for a cheap shot on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
1st - Kevin Dillon (MassLive): For the first time since the preseason, the Patriots return to the top spot in the power rankings. Their defense has been very good for eight games now, and the offense continues to show impressive balance between its run and passing games. The Patriots have not lost since Week 4, and might not lose again for the rest of the season.
1st - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): The Evil Empire reclaims its rightful place on the mountaintop after an eighth consecutive win. Nothing better than watching Tom Brady bark at Josh McDaniels. A ticked-off GOAT is a dangerous GOAT.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): They’re back and they’re likely to stay.
1st - Adam Stites (SB Nation): The football world actually doubted the New England Patriots early in the season. With the defense looking awful, the Patriots limped out to a 2-2 start and looked far from a Super Bowl favorite.
Now the team has won eight consecutive games and can clinch its 14th AFC East title in 15 years with a win against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14. The weirdest part is the Patriots defense is playing really well and allowed just 489 yards and 20 points in the last two weeks combined.
Shame on any of us for ever thinking the Patriots were anything less than, well, the Patriots.
1st - MMQB Staff (SI).
1st - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They just keep on rolling. Is there any team in the AFC that can beat them? I don't think so.
1st - Staff (USA Today): Who needs Tom Brady? New England has racked up nearly 400 yards on ground past two weeks, and may stay there without suspended Gronk.
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).