The New England Patriots are 7-1 heading into their bye week and have to be considered a heavy favorite to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI.
The Patriots have a leg up on the rest of the conference, but with both Oakland and Denver sitting at 6-2 (and Kansas City with only 2 losses) the race for home field advantage is just getting started.
New England partially controls its own destiny in that regard. The Patriots will make another trek into their personal house of horrors — Sports Authority Field — in a Week 15 showdown with the Broncos. Perhaps the best news, however, is that all three of the major challengers for home field advantage play in the same division. With a little bit of luck, they will cannibalize one another and give New England a clearer path to the number one overall seed.
If there’s one thing the Patriots want to avoid, it’s a repeat of last year’s late-season swoon in which they squandered a chance at the top spot — a flub that probably cost them a trip to the Super Bowl.
Other Monday Musings:
The bend-but-don’t-break defense for the Patriots was on display again at New Era Field on Sunday, allowing big chunks of yards but, for the most part, kept the Bills out of the end zone. The Patriots experimented with some unconventional personnel groupings in the win. Jamie Collins saw his role scaled back while Elandon Roberts got a bigger chunk of the defensive snaps.
Logan Ryan also seems to be slipping down the depth chart, with Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman getting a good amount of work at the No. 2 cornerback position. While Ryan still led that group in total snaps played (51) it’s clear that Rowe (47) and Coleman (33) are getting a bigger share of the workload. With Ryan set to be a free agent after this season, perhaps Bill Belichick wants to see what else he has in the cupboard should he decide to let No. 26 walk.
Tom Brady is at the forefront of the MVP discussion even with the rest of the league getting a four-game head start. He leads all qualified passers in both completion percentage (73.1) and yards per attempt (9.84) and is second only to Matt Ryan in passing yards per game (330) this year. He also boasts a 133.9 quarterback rating — which is unreal — and a 91.6 QBR, both also good for best in the league. Ryan is getting an awful lot of attention in the MVP race so far, but if Brady keeps up this kind of torrid pace, it’s going to be difficult for voters to ignore him — especially if the Patriots end up with a 14-2 or 15-1 record.
Barring a premature end to his career, Rob Gronkowski will likely go down as the greatest tight end to ever play the game. Gronk scored his 69th total touchdown to become the all-time record holder in Patriots franchise history on Sunday. In just his 7th season, he’s already moved ahead of some of the best tight ends of this generation — Jason Witten (27), Shannon Sharpe (31), Tony Gonzalez (47), and Antonio Gates (59) — in TD catches at the same point in their respective careers, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.