The New England Patriots are on a much-needed bye week for Week 10 and they go in with a 7-2 record. This is surprising to many people who thought the Patriots would struggle more than they have over the first nine weeks of the season. Up until this point they have had an easier schedule. They did play two very good teams in the New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals, and what was thought to be a good team in the Atlanta Falcons. But once they get through their bye they will play some tough games right away, and the most anticipated one will be Week 12 when the Denver Broncos come to town.
Their first game out of the bye will be against the Carolina Panthers. Looking at the schedule before the season, many thought this would be an easy game for the Patriots, but Carolina has played well this year with a 5-3 record. The Panthers are only a game behind the Saints for the division lead and have given plenty of teams trouble this year. The Patriots will have their hands full with Cam Newton as most teams do, but its the Panthers’ defense that has really stepped up this year and is statistically one of the best in the league. The Patriots are notorious for being great in the game coming off of a bye, but they will have to be ready when they travel to Carolina for their Week 11 Monday night showdown.
The Patriots will get some much-needed help when Shane Vereen returns from suffering a broken wrist Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots will hopefully be healthier once they come out of the bye on both sides of the ball because they will face a tougher than average offense and a very good defense in the Panthers, and then a week later they will see one of the best offenses in the league come to Foxboro in the Broncos. The Broncos game will most likely be more of shootout, but the Patriots will rely on their defense to keep the game close and give the offense a chance to keep up with Peyton Manning.
Though the Patriots still have to face two teams in their weak AFC East division, they will face some teams who have underachieved this year and will have a lot to prove. Teams like Houston, Cleveland and Baltimore may not have the best records, but they are teams that are out to prove something and will bring their best game against a team like the Patriots. The Patriots should be happy with their 7-2 record at the bye, but they cannot just sit back. They need to prepare for the road ahead which will be a good, tough challenge for a Patriot team that still has not found its true identity.