At the moment the Patriots are 7-3 and are in the driver’s seat to once again win the AFC East. Their schedule sets up perfectly for them the rest of the season. Of their remaining six games, only one of them is against a team with a winning record, the Bills in the last game of the season. Also, of the six games remaining, only one of those games will they face a quarterback that started the season for that team (assuming Michael Vick doesn’t play Sunday).
There is no way around the fact that the Patriots defense has struggled this season, and injuries certainly have not helped. Anytime you hold your breath when James Ihedigbo goes down, you know something hasn’t gone your way. They are ranked among the worst in the league and continue to play the bend but don’t break defense, that ultimately in the end has hurt them in each of the past two seasons ending with early playoff losses. With the remaining six games of the season the Patriots defense can build an identity and begin to prepare themselves for what the playoffs will bring.
The one good thing for the Patriots is that the injuries they have on defense are minor and players should be coming back relatively soon. Devin McCourty’s shoulder injury doesn’t appear to be as severe as first thought and could actually return Sunday. Brandon Spikes’ knee is getting better and he should be returning to the line up soon. Patrick Chung’s foot is still bothering him, but he should also be ready to return at any time. These three players play major roles on the defense and have the experience of playing in a playoff game last year.
With the Patriots going up against some of the weaker teams, and back up quarterbacks the rest of the season the unit can use the time to finally learn how to play with one another and see what schemes work and what don’t work. The defensive line has played extremely well of late and has begun to get after the opposing quarterback. Mark Anderson and Andre Carter are two players that have really excelled of late. Also, cornerback Kyle Arrington leads the league in interceptions, so there are some positives associated with the unit.
With six games to go, the Patriots are in a very good place for the playoffs. The only exception is they have been in virtually the same place the past two seasons, but have ended in home playoff losses in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds. These next six games give the Patriots defense the chance to come together as a unit, find out what works best for them and prepare themselves to become a defense that can win a playoff game.