They’re BACK, baby!
Rankings math is hard. The Patriots in the midst of an undefeated winning streak get dropped into second place by a couple of the experts. They lose a game and drop some more (Okay, I get that part.) Then they have a bye week, don’t play at all, and somehow order is restored - they get pulled back up by ten different rankers to the No. 1 spot. Of course, it’s not rocket science to observe how a few of the top-ranked teams didn’t quite put in the kind of Week 10 performance that would beat a Bill Belichick team when the going gets tough. You know it. I know it. The American people know it. The experts may not say it directly, but if my calculations are correct, that’s what spurred the rise.
Up next, if you haven’t heard, is THE GAUNTLET. Four teams - at Eagles, home vs. Cowboys, at Texans and home vs. Chiefs - that present a brutal slate of opponents: Teams with winning records, the likes of which the Patriots have never faced. Or something like that. I’ll admit it looks to be a challenging stretch, but by no means insurmountable — even considering how it seems every team attacks the Pats like it’s their Super Bowl.
By now the players have consumed enough of that Ravens-loss stew and the only way to get rid of that nasty taste will be a successful business trip to Lincoln Financial Field. They’ll be catching Philly coming off a bye week too, so I’m looking forward to a terrific matchup Sunday afternoon and hoping to see N’Keal Harry back in production. New England is favored by 3.5. Belichick will have them well-prepared for another loud, raucous crowd. Pats win by 10.
Around the AFC East:
New England Patriots (8-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)
Baltimore Ravens (7-2) vs. Houston Texans (6-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (4-6)
Tennessee Titans (5-5) - Bye Week
1st - Lindsay Jones (The Athletic): The champs are … back? New England didn’t play this week, but that absence made our panel’s belief in them somehow stronger, and last week’s loss to Baltimore not seem quite so bad. Next up: A Super Bowl LII rematch against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
1st - NFL Nation (ESPN): Most important game left: Dec. 8 vs. Chiefs. A rematch of the AFC Championship Game, but this time at home, should be a playoff-type environment and provide a solid barometer as to how ready the Patriots (8-1) might be to make a return trip to the Super Bowl. Road games against the Eagles (Sunday) and Texans (Dec. 1) easily could have qualified, but Tom Brady-Patrick Mahomes has produced some of the best the NFL has had to offer within the last year.
1st - Mike Cole (NESN): Coming out of the bye, the Patriots also seem to be getting healthier as they enter the real teeth of their schedule. When the chips are down for the stretch run, though, they still must be considered the favorites all things considered.
1st - Tom E. Curran (NBC Sports Boston): AFC Rankings. Heard enough about the four-game gauntlet the 8-1 Patriots are facing? Don’t blame you. Especially when the gauntlet consists of opponents who routinely throw up down the front of their shirts the moment they are regarded with respect — witness the Cowboys and Chiefs on Sunday, the Texans with astonishing regularity through this decade. We’ll see what the Eagles can do about that.
1st - Darryl Slater (NJ.com): Analysis: Can the Eagles knock them down a couple spots this week?
1st - Peter Botte (NY Post): Bill Belichick’s team had a week off to recuperate from its initial loss of the season, an overpowering eye-opener by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, who presented a matchup nightmare for the defending Super Bowl champions. The Pats now face a stretch of four straight games against teams presently with winning records: the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs.
1st - Jenny Vrentas (SI): The bye gave Tom and the fellas plenty of time to pour over the putrid game film from Baltimore and some Super Bowl LII tape, just for good measure. The “meat” of the Patriots schedule begins this weekend in Philadelphia.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots needed their bye to recover from the Ravens game, and you can bet Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will have them laser-focused for a tough stretch against the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs. The defense will be defined more by those games than what happened before Baltimore.
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots have had their bye week to stew over the loss to the Ravens. The post-bye schedule is challenging, with meetings with the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs coming up.
1st - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): This ranking won’t sit well with many, I assume. But this is about the entire body of work. The Patriots didn’t lose a game at home to a divisional rival. They haven’t been blown out by the Browns, like the Ravens were earlier this season. The Patriots’ only loss was a tough prime-time matchup at Baltimore, and if we’re being honest, you’d probably pick New England to beat the Ravens in a rematch if it happened on a neutral field. I have no problem putting the Patriots back at No. 1. From Week 1 to now, they’ve been the best team in football.
2nd - Staff (AP Pro32).
2nd - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They come off their bye licking their wounds from the loss to the Ravens last time out. You can bet they will get past it quickly.
2nd - Nate Davis (USA Today): Super Bowl LII rematch in Philadelphia looms all the more important with Baltimore now one game from moving into top slot of AFC’s projected playoff field.
3rd - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The sky is falling in Beantown. After the Pats were rolled by the Baltimore Ravens, there was no shortage of hand-wringing about the defending champs. The defense got fat against inferior opponents early in the year. The offensive line isn’t good. The wide receivers can’t stretch the field. The thing is, we’ve rather seen this movie before. And it ends the same every time. It seems like every year, the Pats suffer a loss that brings out the Doubting Thomases. After talking up the team for weeks, we can’t wait to tear them down. But the Patriots will be fine—because they are the Patriots. This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate areas of concern for the Pats. There are. But there isn’t a team in the league better at addressing and/or papering over problem areas than New England. The Patriots are a veteran team that weathers the ups and downs of an NFL season better than any club in the league. The Patriots will win the AFC East. They may well still earn the top seed in the AFC bracket. And we wouldn’t bet against them as the conference’s Super Bowl representative.
3rd - Ryan Adverderada (FullPressCoverage): The Patriots losing on the road in Baltimore wasn’t the surprise. What shocked many was the way New England lost. The defense met their match on Sunday night against a well-devised Baltimore attack. It will be interesting to see if this is nothing more than an aberration or if the code has been cracked. Most concerning is the New England offense. There is only so much magic that Tom Brady can provide. Brady did what he could but a lack of ground game or a big-play receiver continues to hamper the offense. New England gets a bye week before consecutive games at Philadelphia, home for the Cowboys, away for Houston, then back home against the Chiefs.
3rd - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): We’re coming off a harrowing week for the Patriots and their fans, who not only had to process their team’s first loss of the season -- last Sunday night’s lopsided defeat to the Ravens -- but also the painful reality that New England no longer holds the top spot in the NFL dot com Power Rankings. Yes, Patriot Way was shaken out of its Pleasantville-like existence, but let’s all remember that hell hath no fury like Bill Belichick coming off a loss and a bye. New England is 14-5 in post-bye games during the Belichick Dynasty. The Eagles draw the tough assignment -- they’re the first of four straight opponents with winning records to face the defending champions. That’s quite a change from the first half, when New England fattened up on some of the worst teams in football.
3rd - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The next four games will tell us plenty about the 2019 Patriots.
3rd - Doug Farrar (TouchdownWire): Are we right to be concerned about New England’s defense after what Lamar Jackson and the Ravens did to it in Week 9? Only if there’s a Lamar Jackson equivalent anywhere else in the NFL, which there isn’t. That said, when Bill Belichick’s team gets ready for its matchup against the Eagles after a much-needed bye week, there are (or should be) serious concerns on the other side of the ball. The Patriots are averaging 3.3 yards per rushing attempt this year, which is really weird for a team that averaged a full yard per carry more in 2018 and used that rushing attack to propel yet another Super Bowl win. And Tom Brady is starting to feel the pinch of a depleted receiving corps and marginal offensive line. Brady currently ranks 15th in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted per-play metrics for quarterbacks; he hasn’t ranked that low since 2002 (his second year as a starter), when he was 16th. Philly has presented a get-well defense through most of the season, and this is an offense that needs to get well quickly.
AVERAGE RANK: 1.7