No. 2 overall? Pats mentioned in the same sentence as the Super Bowl? New England is on a fantastic five-game win streak, nailing six of their last seven. Normal fans would be breathing a little easier at this point, celebrating, even. But Pats fans aren’t built that way. Playing on a loop in my head is Bill Belichick from 2016 congratulating his 7-1 team in the locker room: “Seven and one is good, but seven wins won’t get you anything in this league.” That’s the pull that keeps one proverbial foot on my floor even when an interception has me jumping up and down.
In the parity-party that is 2021, the Patriots at 7-4 are good, but they’re as close to the top of the AFC as they are one wrong loss away from missing out on a wild-card spot. The AFC competition is that close.
Next up, the Titans come to Foxborough this Sunday at 1:00. Everyone’s waiting to see how the Patriots will look against “real” competition. [Insert eye-roll emoji here.] Tennessee is a bit banged up, most notably at the ego position, after losing to the Texans last week. As enjoyable as that was to watch, I expect Mike Vrabel’s team to put up more of a fight this week and take the Patriots seriously. I also believe their best will not be enough to beat New England. Ryan Tannehill has another bad day at the office. Patriots win.
Around the AFC East:
Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) Bye
2nd [tied with Packers] - Gary Gramling (SI): This team suddenly smells a lot like the 2018 edition: Power run game, efficient quarterback, dominant defense, one of those vanilla-scented car air fresheners. There’s a narrative that the five-game winning streak has come against a soft part of the schedule, but while the Chargers, Browns and Panthers aren’t elite, they’re all quality teams and the Patriots outclassed all three. [+8]
2nd - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The Pats could end up partying like it’s 2001. [+6]
3rd - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The defense is outstanding and rookie QB Mac Jones is solid, and no one should be stunned if Bill Belichick’s Patriots get to the Super Bowl in Year 2 post-Brady. The Falcons provided little resistance as the Patriots had four sacks and four interceptions while pitching a shutout Thursday night in Atlanta. The Patriots trailed the Browns 7-0 in the first quarter in Week 10. Since then, they outscored Cleveland and Atlanta 70-0. [+3]
3rd - Ryan Dunleavy (NY Post): A familiar face sits atop the AFC East after handing the Falcons their first home shutout since … 1988! Much is rightfully made of rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ winning play, but don’t sleep on maybe the best defense in the NFL. The Patriots have allowed 13 points in the last three games, with stalwarts Kyle Van Noy and Devin McCourty stepping up. [+3]
4th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The Evil Empire is back. After shutting out the Atlanta Falcons at home, the New England Patriots have won five straight games. Over their last three wins—two of which came against teams that were .500 or better entering Week 11—they’ve allowed only 13 points while scoring 94. Quarterback Mac Jones has been the best rookie signal-caller this season by a mile. Whether it has been edge-rusher Matthew Judon on defense or wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry on offense, New England’s huge offseason spending spree has paid massive dividends... More. [+6]
5th - Danny Kelly (The Ringer): Moved from the ‘Contenders’ category to the “Top Shelf’. If the Week 11 NFL slate taught us one thing, it’s that league parity is as strong as ever this season. There are no longer any truly elite squads, and playoff races in both conferences look wide-open as we head into the final seven weeks. The Titans’ streak of improbable wins came to an end against the lowly Texans on Sunday, sending last week’s no. 1 squad tumbling down the ranks... while the Chiefs, Patriots, and Colts all strengthened their positions with big wins this week. [+3]
6th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): The Patriots play the Bills on Dec. 6 in a Monday night game, and then again on Dec. 26. It would have seemed crazy to think a month ago that those two games would decide the AFC East, but the momentum has shifted entirely to New England. [+4] /Lead story on the Pats.
6th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): Mac Jones has been an upgrade over Cam Newton, but the 2021 Patriots’ biggest difference is a defense that has surged during the team’s five-game winning streak. In that stretch, New England has given up just 10 points per game, with 12 interceptions against just four touchdown passes. The 2021 version of Matt Ryan was a sitting duck against New England’s relentless pass rush, which turned Atlanta’s offensive linemen into sentient turnstiles on the way to four sacks and 12 QB hits. Matt Judon stands tall as the leader of this group: The ace free-agent signing is up to 10.5 sacks in what’s been an All-Pro worthy season. The Pats matched their 2020 win total by Thanksgiving and have found themselves in first place as a result. [+2]
6th - Nate Davis (USA Today): You can question how many quality wins they have, but when you’re beating NFL competition by an aggregate 94-13 score over a three-week period, that speaks volumes. Their next four games are against Tennessee, Buffalo (twice) and Indianapolis, a stretch that should put New England into clearer perspective. [+2]
6th - Russell S. Baxter (Fansided): Bill Belichick’s surging squad took a four-game winning streak into their Thursday night clash with the Falcons at Atlanta. And while rookie quarterback Mac Jones hit on 22 of his 26 throws for 207 yards and one touchdown (1 interception), it was New England’s defense that ruled the night. [+3]
7th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They’ve moved to the top of the AFC East with their five-game winning streak. Now comes a tough one with the Titans. [+2] /Lead story is on the Pats.
7th - Dalton Miller (ProFootballNetwork): The Patriots might not be the best team in the AFC, but they’ve played like it over the past few weeks. They’ve rattled off five wins in a row, and their only loss came to the Dallas Cowboys in a one-score battle. Mac Jones has been outstanding in his rookie campaign. He’s doing everything he needs to within the offense and is showing more ability to use his legs to pick up first downs than he ever did at Alabama.
I don’t believe the Patriots are a team that’s built to come from behind. But if you allow them to dictate the game flow, you’re going to have a bad time. Obviously, New England is disciplined defensively, and their backs and tight ends harken back to football’s past. They continue their meteoric rise in the NFL Power Rankings for Week 12. [+2]
7th - Karen Guregian (Boston Herald): “We kind of want to be A-holes on the field,” says linebacker Matt Judon. The Jets, Chargers, Panthers, Browns, and Falcons aren’t about to argue with that assessment. [+3]
8th - Nick Wojton (TouchdownWire): The division-leading Patriots certainly have looked the part on their five-game winning streak. Sure, rookie QB Mac Jones is steady now, but the New England defense is really stealing the show as they shutout the Falcons this week. [+1]
9th - NFL Nation (ESPN): Most memorable Thanksgiving game: Scoring on the “Butt Fumble” in a 49-19 rout of the Jets on Nov. 22, 2012. The Butt Fumble. Does any more need to be said? A dominant performance at the Meadowlands was highlighted by a single play — Jets QB Mark Sanchez losing the football after running into the butt of his own offensive lineman who had been thrust back and the Patriots scoring on the recovery — that remains famous to this day. [+1]
9th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots have used their consistent coaching, defensive foundation and rushing prowess to take advantage of the attrition in the AFC. They’re displaying a lot of familiar winning elements under Bill Belichick, only Mac Jones is at the controls now instead of Brady. [+1]
9th - Harris Ahmadzai, Dylan Fraychineaud (New Arena): The Patriots lead the AFC East. After starting the year 1-3, the Patriots have been the hottest team in the league. New England has rattled off five-straight wins, and four of the victories have been in dominant fashion. Other than a 27-24 win over the Chargers, New England’s four wins have come by at least three scores — 54-13, 24-6, 45-7, and 25-0. On Thursday, New England’s defense was dominant. The Pats intercepted four passes and held Atlanta’s offense to 165 total yards. We will see how good this team is over the next four weeks (vs. Titans, @ Bills, @ Colts, vs. Bills). [+1]
AVG RANK: 5.8 [+3]