A few weeks ago, it would have seemed ridiculous to suggest, but are the Patriots the best team in the AFC right now?
Well…yes and no. It really depends on what team shows up to play.
The Pats have plenty of powerhouse players on both sides of the ball. Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski make this one of the most dangerous offenses in the league – when they can put it all together. Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich continue to lead this defense in getting the job done – but the secondary is still a huge liability.
So let’s ask the question again…are the Patriots the best team in the AFC? When both offense and defense play to their potential, yes.
While other teams in the conference may have a better record (hello, 7-1 Houston Texans), the Patriots have more potential to be successful down the stretch. Things looked rough there at the end of games against the Cardinals and Seahawks, but the Pats have grown enormously since those losses helped bring them to 5-3. One of the things the Patriots have perennially done very well is assess a problem and rectify it.
That’s been a major key to their continued success over the past 13 years. So the errors they’ve made earlier in the season have actually been a blessing in disguise because they’ve learned. Bill Belichick is, by reputation, a great teacher of football. What better way to help players learn than through their own mistakes?
And it appears to be working; the improvement was evident in London. Except for the opening touchdown by the St. Louis Rams, the Patriots defense was solid. The offense was explosive, with the Brady-to-Lloyd connection finally looking like a legitimate threat. The team just looked comfortable, finally, after weeks of looking skittish and harried.
Plus, it’s a testament to the tenacity of the Pats that they’ve been on the road for about two-thirds of the season so far and came out the other side looking not much worse for the wear. They’ll have five of their last eight games at home and that should add to their feeling more at ease.
The bottom line is that there isn’t a team in the AFC the Patriots can’t defeat. But since no one cares about talk, they’ll have a chance to prove it when the Texans, arguably the other best team in the conference, come to Foxborough for Monday Night Football on December 10. What shape will the Patriots be in then? Who knows. But with Aaron Hernandez continuing to heal and the secondary getting a boost from the acquisition of Aqib Talib, anything is possible.
It could very well be a preview of the AFC Conference game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.