The one good thing about this time of year is the fact that so much can happen and Sunday was a classic example of how long four weeks is in the NFL.
Coming off of last week’s disappointing loss to the Eagles, the Patriots dropped to 10-2 and were suddenly on the outside looking in as it pertained to spending the first week of the playoffs with a bye and a chance to get healthy after falling to #3 in the playoff seeding behind the Broncos and Bengals, who were also 10-2. One week later, everything has changed following losses by both Cincinnati and Denver and neither team has an easy road with three weeks to go.
Of the three teams, Cincinnati is the one who is likely reeling the most after quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a broken bone in his throwing hand while trying to make a tackle following an interception on Sunday, with the Bengals falling to the Steelers 33-20. That potentially leaves their season in the hands of back-up A.J. McCarron, who passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, but he was also picked off twice.
Cincinnati has a rough road to close things out, finishing with two straight road games against the 49ers and the Broncos, before returning home to face the Ravens to finish the season. None of those games are going to be easy and with Denver still playing well despite Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, the Broncos would seemingly be the ones with the advantage playing at home.
Speaking of Denver, their loss to the Raiders dropped them to 10-3 on the season, moving them back to the number two seed ahead of the Bengals. They seemingly have the easier finish of these two teams, playing at Pittsburgh and then closing the year out with two home games against the Bengals and Chargers. The Steelers will likely present the biggest challenge as they’ll have the advantage being at home and have really started playing well down the stretch after taking care of business Sunday against Cincinnati.
With Sunday night’s win against the Texans, the Patriots final three games just became that much more critical and the final two are Division match-ups that certainly won’t be easy. They’ll face Tennessee next Sunday, followed by two road games against the Jets and Dolphins. The Titans are coming off a frustrating 30-8 loss in New York against a Jets defense that shut down rookie quarterback Marcus Mariotta and held him to 21-of-39 for 274 yards and an interception, but having to go down to New Jersey and Miami will put New England in two environments that are both tough to win in, although playing the Dolphins in January is completely different than trying to win there in September.
Either way, after getting back in the win column, things are finally starting to turn the Patriots way and the outlook is certainly brighter than it was a week ago. Now all they’ll need to do is remain focused and try and finish strong to give themselves a shot at making sure they only play at Gillette Stadium in January.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary