Prior to this season the upcoming schedule seemed like an easy one for the New England Patriots. But many of those opponents have surprised everyone with their play. All of the sudden the Patriots’ road to the division title looks tougher than before.
The Patriots’ division, which contains the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets, seemed like an easy path to the playoffs at the beginning of the season but, along with Patriots’ struggles, those teams have played much better than expected. The Patriots have already played the two teams that sit at the bottom of the division and neither game was easy. The Bills led heading into halftime of week four before the Patriots stormed back in the second half outscoring their opponent 45-14. Three weeks later the Patriots had the Jets beat heading into the fourth quarter until the Jets outscored them 13-0 to take a late lead. It took a last second tying field goal and overtime to come away with the win.
Of the four games remaining out of division, three will test the division leaders. The Patriots will host the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, two of the league’s best teams, at home in back-to-back weeks. With two of the league’s best defenses, the Patriots offense must be at their best for those two consecutive weeks. Before that test the Patriots will take on an Indianapolis Colts team that has stunned everyone with their play. Led by the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft Andrew Luck, the Colts have started the season 5-3. Expectations for that team have gone from attempting to be .500 to pushing for a playoff spot.
Sitting a game in front of Miami and two in front of Buffalo and New York, the Patriots are currently in a great position for the stretch run. Despite their rough start and fourth quarter collapses, they have been able to go into their bye week with the division lead. But the season is only half over and the remainder of the season is not easy. It’ll take the same explosive offense and a stronger defense to go back into the postseason. They should repeat as division champions but it’s a tough road ahead for the Patriots.