Going into week 14, the top echelon of the AFC includes the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. Those four division leaders have separated themselves from the rest of the conference. But even sitting on a six game win streak, some still question whether the Patriots are on the same level as the other division leaders. On Monday night on national television against the Texans, the Patriots can show the country how good they are.
Prior to this upcoming two game stretch against the Texans and San Francisco 49ers, the Patriots’ toughest stretch of games was between weeks three and six where they played the Ravens, Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. They entered that stretch at 1-1, having lost to the Arizona Cardinals, and then they went 1-2 in those three games. So far this season, they’ve only won two games against teams with a record over .500.
In this six game win streak, the Patriots have beaten a rebuilding St. Louis Rams, a mismanaged Buffalo Bills, an inconsistent Miami Dolphins and twice a New York Jets team that is in complete disarray. The only competitive team the Patriots beat during this run was the young Indianapolis Colts, which has a rookie starting quarterback and defense ranking near the bottom of the league.
The Patriots were wildly inconsistent in every aspect of the game early in the season. One week they looked like they were the best team in the league, the next they had trouble against teams that were floundering near the bottom of the NFL. To make matters worse, the offense, which has been known for late game touchdowns in the past, was seemingly unable to convert touchdowns when needed in fourth quarters.
Lately, the Patriots have looked much better. The defense is beginning to hold teams under 20 points and the offense is finally putting opponents away late with long scoring drives. But questions remain about whether it’s the team playing better or if it’s their soft schedule down the stretch. Those questions will be put to rest with a strong performance Monday night.
The Texans this season have been solid on both sides of the ball. Currently sitting at 11-1, they have solid wins over the Broncos, Ravens and the Chicago Bears. Their only loss this season came to the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers. Many hold them as the benchmark of the NFL so far this season and favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC.
Over the past six games, the Patriots have looked like a different team than the previous six weeks, but some question whether it’s the play of the team or the opponents they faced. There is little doubt that the Texans have been the best team in AFC to this point, which gives the Patriots a unique opportunity to prove themselves on the national stage. A win Monday night will show the naysayers what the Patriots truly have to offer.