New England Patriots in driver’s seat
The New England Patriots finally havea one game lead in the AFC East, which is a standing that has taken a little bit too long to accomplish. The bye week treated the Pats extremely well, because key players like Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and the safeties were able to get some important rest. In addition to that, the two teams right behind the Patriots in the division race lost.
The Buffalo Bills defeat to the Houston Texans was not surprising, and they will likely suffer the same sort of result in Week 10 against New England. But the loss suffered by the Miami Dolphins at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts is much more noteworthy. The Colts have an identical 5-3 record to the Pats with that win, but they are definitely an over-performing team at this juncture.
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Even though it was a narrow 23-20 loss, Miami’s atrocious pass defense in that game is definitely something for Patriots fans to take note of. Andrew Luck tore the defense to shreds, and the Dolphins even managed to allow 100+ yard days from Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton. Nobody should be giving up more than 100 yards to Avery, unless if that team is shutting down the other receivers. Reggie Wayne had seven catches for 78 yards as well, and it was definitely an embarrassing day for the Dolphins secondary.
The New York Jets were also on a bye week, but they aren’t a threat to the Patriots or the Dolphins in the top half of the division. The Pats finally have a full game of space between themselves and the Miami Dolphins, and you get the feeling that the blowout against the St. Louis Rams was just what the doctor ordered. That, and a bye week to get important pieces of the team rested. The addition of Aqib Talib only furthers the notion that this team can still go all the way, and there is one stat I want to reference here.
Pro-Football Reference has an excellent advanced statistic called SRS (Simple Rating System) to measure team efficiency, and it’s very accurate at looking at the true level of team performance.
At this point in time, the New England Patriots are the best team in the AFC in terms of SRS. Yes, they are 0.4 points ahead of the Houston Texans (7.2 to 6.8). The only team in the NFL ahead of the Patriots in this statistic is the San Francisco 49ers. Now I don’t think the Pats are better than either the Texans or the Atlanta Falcons, but they have to be recognized as one of the top five teams in the league. They’ve lost two games on game-winning field goals and another game after a DB implosion in the 4th quarter.
Those aren’t excuses by any means, but they are close losses. There is no shame in losing on a field goal to the Baltimore Ravens, and the Seattle Seahawks are a capable football team. The loss to the Arizona Cardinals is the only truly ugly loss thus far, but it can be argued that the Pats are a different team from then. The recent acquisition of Aqib Talib is going to help this team avoid another implosion on pass defense.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.