Sitting and watching every other team in the NFL play while the Patriots are idle can be a little frustrating, but bye weeks are a welcome break for NFL players and coaches, and this recess came right in time for the banged up AFC East powerhouse. Many of the NFL pundits have questioned the Patriots all season, regardless of their 7-2 record and strong victories over teams like New Orleans and the Atlanta Falcons, who had a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White at the time. When a team has consistency like New England has for such a long period of time, it becomes common to nitpick and question the “style” of winning.
The main reason for the lack of confidence in the Patriots is due to their problems on offense. The injuries at wideout to Danny Amendola, running back with Shane Vereen and at tight end with Rob Gronkowski were crippling to an offense that was used to walking up and down the field at will. The defense also has dealt with their own injury problems. Losing stalwart defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and also linebacker Jerod Mayo for the season were huge blows, especially considering they were turning the corner and becoming one of the NFL’s elite. Injuries to star cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Steven Gregory have also hurt, but haven’t stopped the Patriots from winning and getting defensive stops in situations where they’re needed.
As the weeks wore on and the Patriots continued to find ways to win, Amendola, Gronkowski and now Vereen slowly but surely got healthy; last week against the Steelers, the Patriots lit up the score board for 55 points and also generated over 600 yards of offense. All this without the excellent receiving back Vereen, who will be in the lineup this week versus the Carolina Panthers; it is pretty clear this offense is ready to take the next step. The bye week also bought Aqib Talib another week to heal, and it appears he will be active for this week’s game.
The second half of the season kicks off with a trip to Carolina backed up by a Sunday night game in Foxboro against Denver; two tough tests for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. After that, the Patriots face the Texans, Browns, Dolphins, Ravens, and Bills. Assuming New England takes care of business, they should have a good shot at a bye in the first round of the playoffs. If that happens, don’t be surprised if the Patriots are playing in their sixth Super Bowl since the 2001 season.