|The Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck is next up on the schedule|
The New England Patriots were somewhat let off the hook by the Buffalo Bills this weekend, as they escaped a game winning drive from Ryan Fitzpatrick when he threw an interception to Devin McCourty. For McCourty it was his third Fitzpatrick interception of the season, for the rest of the Patriots, it was the life boat inflating 28 seconds before the ship sank.
For the second time this season, Ryan Fitzpatrick's inability to play the quarterback position was the difference between the Bills and Patriots owning a victory. Even though the Patriots are standing at 6-3 and logically you would expect them to be confident of another deep playoff run, it's a tough sell to fans of the team right now. Of the team's six victories, two have been close games against two of the worse teams in the league, the Bills and New York Jets, while some still haven't gotten over the loss to the Arizona Cardinals at home.
It's very difficult to define this Patriots team right now. Injuries have stalled the offense, while the defense is in it's expected tatters on the back-end. Giving up 22.3 points per game isn't acceptable for a potential Super Bowl winner, but fans have learned to live with it as of late. Scoring 33.2 points per game, and ranking first in the league, doesn't feel as good because of the teams the Patriots have stockpiled points against. The Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams and Bills again are the only teams the Patriots have scored at least 33 points against. None of them figure to make it to the playoffs.
The team's most impressive victory came against Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos at home, but even that is hard to judge because the Broncos have been developing themselves throughout the season.
There is no question that the Patriots have the talent to make it to the playoffs on offense, but the impact of Aqib Talib on the team's secondary will have to be significant if they are to become a solid unit on that side of the ball. Defense is definitely the issue, but because of the Patriots' soft schedule, they face few tests between now and the playoffs that will represent a playoff caliber competition.
Andrew Luck leads the Indianapolis Colts into Foxboro this weekend, and he may prove to be best quarterback they face all season. Luck is very talented, but he is a rookie who Belichick will likely be able to manipulate the way he wouldn't other veterans. Outside of Luck and the Colts, the Patriots' two biggest games come against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers. While those are two certain playoff caliber teams, neither has a passing offense to match what is typical of winning teams in today's NFL. They are exceptionally good running teams, which plays to the Patriots' strengths.
Unless rookie Ryan Tannehill recovers to his form of earlier in the season, then the Patriots will only face below average quarterbacks the rest of the way. Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow follow the Colts in two weeks, while Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne welcome the Patriots in Week 16.
While the Patriots' schedule plays to their strengths and should allow them to easily secure a number one seed in the playoffs, a lack of consistent challenges in the regular season could put them a step behind other teams when the post-season actually begins. Sometimes it is better to be exposed severely in the regular season, so it becomes easier to fix those issues before the playoffs. Once the playoffs begin, it will already be too late.