The New England Patriots have seven wins through nine games for the fifth time in the Brady-Belichick era. Three of the previous four seasons they accomplished this, the Pats went to the Super Bowl. Clearly the Patriots are in a good spot, with a two game lead on the New York Jets in the AFC East race. The Pats are in position for a tight battle with the Chiefs/Broncos and Colts for a playoff bye.
New England has had to deal with numerous injuries to key players this season, most notably on defense. The defensive unit was playing very well early this season. In fact, the success on D was compensating for the offensive struggles.
With Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork sidelined for the rest of the season, the Pats will be counting on several young players to step up as the playoffs approach. New England is currently ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, which is directly related to the injuries of those defensive captains. That stat must improve if the Patriots intend to win in the postseason.
Aqib Talib hasn’t played since the win over the New Orleans Saints and his status is still up in the air. Having Talib back would drastically help the Patriots defense. In the next six games Talib would cover Steve Smith, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Johnson, Josh Gordon, Mike Wallace, and Torrey Smith.
The Patriots’ offense was justifiably called in to question throughout the first half of the season. Several games came down to the wire, and could have gone either way. The Patriots have been missing Shane Vereen since he suffered a wrist injury week 1 against the Bills. He is eligible to return for the Monday night game against the Carolina Panthers, and has been practicing.
A healthy Vereen adds versatility to the Pats offense. Ridley, Blount, and Bolden have not been able to replace the pass-catching and screen play skills that Vereen has. Once he returns, the Patriots offense will be stronger than what we have seen this season. The game against Pittsburgh was a little preview of what this unit can be. When fully healthy, I expect the offense to make up for some of the injuries on defense.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a tendency to win games down the stretch of the regular season, when it matters most. If the offense continues to progress the way it has, New England should have every opportunity to compete in the playoffs. Regardless of what we have seen so far, the Pats are improving quickly. It only takes three or four wins at the start of 2014 to win the Super Bowl.