Pats Set For Homestretch
Well New England fans, that time of year has finally arrived. The week with no Patriots football. While it is a sad time for us fans, it could not have come at a better time for this team. The Patriots enter their bye week with a 7-2 record and lead the AFC East by 2 games over the New York Jets. With the inconsistency of the offense and the amount of key players lost for the season, any New England fan should be the happy with the outcome of the first half of the season.
The Patriots first half of the season did not go how anyone hoped whatsoever, despite walking away with a 7-2 record. The rookie receivers have been inconsistent and plagued by drops, Danny Amendola could not prove the doubters wrong and has faced multiple injuries, and the defense has lost their two best players, and leaders, in Wilfork and Mayo. Most teams would be in the NFL basement with headlines like this, but this is the Patriots we are talking about here. And the scary thing for the rest of the league is this team can only get better from here.
Tom Brady and company have been far from what we have been accustomed to seeing over the past few years. A lot of the blame has been put on the young receivers and the absence of Gronk, but even Tom Terrific has been the problem at times. However, the second half will be a completely different story for this team. Gronkowski and Amendola are both finally healthy and ready to give Brady the presence over the middle of the field that he has been missing all season. Aaron Dobson is beginning to emerge into the second round prospect scouts saw coming out of Marshall. If he continues on this pace, he will become the greatest rookie receiver (statistically) that Brady has had in his 13 seasons, as well as the first real deep threat we have seen since the days of Randy Moss. Shane Vereen has become a forgotten man around Foxboro since his wrist injury in week one, but he will finally see the field again on monday night against Carolina. His great pass catching ability and open field quickness will be a great compliment to Ridley’s hardnose running, and will help take some of the load off of Brady’s shoulder. All signs point towards this New England offense finally coming together in this second half, and the rest of the NFL should watch out if they do.
A major storyline from the first half of the season that has been lost with the inconsistency of the offense, is the great play by this defense. If it were not for this squad, New England would not be 7-2 and leading the AFC East right now. Even with injuries to Wilfork, Mayo, and Talib, this group has kept their “next man up” mentality and performed well. Chandler Jones and Devin Mccourty are both playing at a pro bowl level right now and giving this defense a few aspects they have been desperately missing the past few years, pass rush and consistent coverage. Jones currently ranks 7th in sacks this season with 8.5, and Pro Football Focus has Mccourty graded out as the top safety in the league this year. Even rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have stepped in and played well above expectations in the middle. If this squad can keep healthy down the stretch, there is no excuse for them to not provide a championship caliber defense to their high flying offense.
The patriots schedule down the stretch is extremely favorable. They face teams either at or currently below .500 in 5 of the 7 matchups, and any New England fan should know that this team is always locked in in the second half of the season. The one game that everyone already has circled on their calendar is the week 12 matchup against the Denver Broncos. Any game featuring two of the greatest signal callers ever is always a marquee matchup, but the return of Wes Welker to Gillette Stadium should also provide huge storylines going in. One matchup that could surprise many fans is actually New England’s first coming off the bye against the Carolina Panthers. The panthers hold a 5-3 record, but have been extremely hot the past few weeks, being lead by their quarterback Cam Newton. Over his past four games, Cam has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards, has 10 total touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions. Watch this game closely, as it could be a surprise to many fans.
With the offense finally seeming to hit their stride, and the defense continuing their strong season, the second half of this season should be one to remember by our beloved Patriots. Outside of their monster matchup against Peyton and the Broncos, the Patriots do not face too many challenges from here on out. I see this team losing at the most 1 or 2 games, and even that may be too many. I would also expect them to be AFC East champions once again and either a one or a two seed come playoff time. This season will go down as one of Bill Belichick’s finest coaching jobs, and we can only hope that the season will end with red, white, and blue confetti falling in New York in February.