Follow Jeff on Twitter @BostonFatGuy
With the New England Patriots just beating the AFC S****S I mean South leading Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, its time to take a look around the AFC at the teams the Patriots will be battling for playoff position.
The Jets have quietly put together a solid 4-1 start to the season. While most Pats fans laugh when the New York Jets name is brought up with, comments like, “no Super Bowls since Namath” or J-E-T-S Jokes Jokes Jokes, This is not your older brother Jets team In the off-season the Jets added Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to an already stellar defense. Head coach Todd Bowles has his team playing well. The Jets offense is also playing well with journeyman signal caller Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the offense. Running back Chris Ivory leads the NFL in rushing yards per game with 115. Brandon Marshall has come in and given the Jets a deep threat and solid number one reciever.
Why the Patriots should fear the Jets
The Patriots have won three of the last four meetings, however all four meetings have been decided by three points or less. In fact take away a 49-19 victory by the Pats in the infamous “Butt Fumble” game and five of the last six have been extremely close. Going into their week seven match up the Patriots will be facing the best team they will have played to date. The Jets have the best running game in the league averaging 146 yards per game. Chris Ivory is playing at such a high level, the Patriots who rank 22nd in the league against the run could have issues in the game. The Jets don’t just run, they protect the passer well giving up only three sacks per game. With Marshall being a true number one threat, Malcolm Butler could have his hands full. Eric Decker is settling in nice as a second option, and his presence in the red zone will be tough to defend.
Why the Patriots will be fine versus the Jets.
Its a quarterback league, and the Patriots have the best in Tom Brady. Brady is absolutely locked in this season. He has 14 touchdown passes and only one interception, that bounced off of Julian Edelman‘s hands. Brady will find a way against Bowles defense. The Patriots also have Rob Gronkowski who is a nightmare for any opposing defense. The Jets do not have a player that can line up against him. Even if Gronk does not have huge numbers, we saw on Sunday how his ability will allow the other Patriots targets to get open. The Patriots also have the big advantage in the coaching department. Bowles certainly has his team playing well, but Belichick is the best coach of all time. The Jets have not played anyone yet. The Jets may have four wins, but the combined winning percentage of their opponents is .414 with a combined record of 12-17. The Jets have yet to play a team with a winning record. With Brandon LaFell coming back as soon as this week the Patriots offense will be able to attack the Revis led defense.
The Bengals are off to a hot start beginning the season at 6-0. The last time the Bengals started the season with six straight wins they represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. The 2015 Bengals have similarities to the 1988 team, they both relied on a two headed rushing attack, and both had a QB playing above his normal standards. Andy Dalton is off to just as good a start as Brady. He has 14 touchdowns on the season compared to just two picks. The team around Dalton is stout on offense, averaging 30.3 points per game. With Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill splitting the carries behind Dalton, Cincy has its own thunder and lighting show. A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert have become household names. The Bengals are also benefiting by the fact that Marvin Jones is back from an injury shortened 2014. On defense they rank 9th in the league in points against. The Bengals yardage against is not great, but they play a very good bend but don’t break style. Geno Atkins leads the team with four sacks and is a force in the middle of the front.
Why the Patriots should fear the Bengals
Cincinnati has an offense that could give the Patriots fits. The Patriots corner back situation is a mess right now. Injuries have taken their toll. To this point the Pats have not been tested by an offense as good as the Bengals. Even if the Patriots were healthy this is a tough team to beat. The Patriots have been successful by taking away the opponents best weapon. That weapon may be Green, however the Bengals rank top ten in passing and rushing yards. Cincinnati is very well balanced rushing the ball 183 times and passing 193 times through six games. They could keep the Patriots guessing and could beat them in a multiple of fashions. Right now the Bengals would be the hardest team for the Patriots to beat. The game could go either way if they were to play in the playoffs, and the winner would most likely be the home team. The Patriots have had issues in the past in defending tight ends and Eifert would be a tough one to defend. The Patriots also struggle against multi perpose backs and Bernard is equally as good catching the ball as he is running it. If Hill could get his yards per carry up, his punishing style would be hard to defend.
Why the Patriots will be fine against the Bengals.
Start with history, as well as the Bengals are playing, they have never won a playoff game during Marvin Lewis‘ time as head coach in Cincinnati. Should the Bengals continue their winning ways, they most likely would have a bye week in the playoffs and would have to win a game to face the Patriots. The Patriots could exploit the Bengals with their short yardage passing game neutralizing Atkins, and getting after the Bengals secondary. Finishing with history, the first loss for the 1988 Bengals was to the New England Patriots
The Broncos defense is leading the team right now. They rank top five in points against, rushing and passing yards against as well as interceptions and forced fumbles. The defense has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games. As good as the defense has been, the offense has been as bad. It is hard to imagine that a Peyton Manning led offense could rank 28th in total offense, as well as 18th in passing yards per game. Manning has been pedestrian at best, lucky for him he has Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both of whom have 527 yards on the season. Behind them there isn’t much. C.J. Anderson is averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and looks to have lost his starting job to Ronnie Hillman. Hillman is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the season, and has gone over 100 yards in two of the last three contest. However if you take away a dazzling 72 yard burst up the middle against the Vikings that average dips to 3.8 yards per carry.
Why the Patriots should fear the Broncos.
Its starts with the defense. No team defense is playing as well as the Broncos. No team has relied on their defense to win like this since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. However this team has a future hall of fame QB in Manning. The Broncos get after the quarterback to the tune of 26 sacks, and have 11 interceptions in six games. Chris Harris and former Patriot Aqib Talib are playing as well as any corner tandem in the NFL. Their lock down coverage aligns well with a front seven who gets after the passer. If the Broncos could pressure Brady and make his throwing uncomfortable with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller it could make for a long day for TB12 and company.
Why the Patriots will be fine against the Broncos.
The Patriots will play in Denver in late November, while the weather won’t be horrible, it wont be great either. Throughout his career Manning has been an average at best passer when wind, sleet, or snow is in the forecast. He isn’t exactly the United States Postal Service when it comes to bad weather during the holiday, or playoff season. His lack of coming through in big games is a knock on his career. Without a strong running game the Denver offense could become very one dimensional. The Denver defense has been great, but as former Patriots full back Heath Evans told me, “they have been good against mediocre offenses”. Evans is right, like the Jets the Broncos have yet to play a good team. The Broncos combined opponents record is a paltry 10-24, They will have their first test after their bye week against the Green Bay Packers. Patriots fans eyes should be squarely on how the Pack attack the Broncos.
The Steelers sit at 4-2 on the season. The Steelers lost to the Patriots when they were without Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant on opening night. Their second loss came to the Ravens, four short days after Ben Roethlisberger went down with a knee injury. The Steelers are the most formidable foe the Patriots will have to face in the AFC when they become healthy. They have one of the best wide outs in the game in Antonio Brown, who can score anytime he touches the ball. The Steelers defense has gotten better too, they are masters at holding their foe to three points instead of seven, as their 18 points per game can attest.
Why the Patriots should fear the Steelers
Week one the Patriots beat the Steelers by seven points. The Steelers were playing their first game without long time defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau. They were missing Bell and Bryant and still put up serious running yards. Bells replacement DeAngelo Williams torched the Pats for 127 and six yards per run. Imagine what a healthy Bell could do. The Patriots rush defense has improved since that night, but Bell is still one of the best in the game. On Defense you can be sure that Rob Gronkowski wont be running free on many plays as he was week one. Pittsburgh when they get Big Ben back will be the second best team in the AFC.
Why the Patriots will be fine against the Steelers.
We again bring up the name Tom Brady. He always plays the Steelers well. Tom was also missing one of his best weapons that night in LaFell. Brady and the Patriots offense can win in a shoot out or in a grind it out type of game. Should the Pats play Pitt in the playoffs it will most likely be back in Gillette as New England has a two game lead after six week and a head to head win, meaning the Patriots would have to lose three games the rest of the way while Pittsburgh won out. The Patriots defense will also be more well equipped to stop Pittsburgh with 16 weeks of film to look at. .
There are 11 more games in the season for the Pats. They are good enough to win them all, but they won’t. With all the talk radio spatter going on about an undefeated season, there is a reason its only been done twice in the regular season since the NFL-AFL merger, its extremely hard to do. The Patriots are at their best after Thanksgiving, get ready for a wild ride to Super Bowl 50.