After something of a shaky start (only by their own high standards), the Patriots have managed to scrape together a 9-3 record en route to yet another AFC East title. Many of the trends we’ve gotten used to over the past few seasons have come to fruition once again – Tom Brady is in the midst of another MVP caliber season, the Patriots offense has been far and away the best in the NFL, and the Patriots pass defense has been pretty damned terrible. After a series of promising seasons ending without the Pats hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, how are we to know if this year’s Patriots team has what it takes to win it all?
In short, I think that we don’t know yet – but the next two weeks will be telling.
Tonight the Patriots play the NFL’s top team, the Houston Texans, on Monday Night Football. This game will not only have playoff implications, but will undoubtedly be played by both sides as if it were a playoff game. To the winner goes a major sense of validation, and certainly a jolt of confidence. After several weeks of blow out wins over weaker teams, the Patriots need a true test.
Whether the Pats win tonight or not (I think they will), they’ll get another test next week when they face the San Francisco 49ers. Even in the playoffs the Pats are unlikely to face a two-week test as harsh as the Texans followed by 49ers. Both are defense first teams that very much play the type of football blueprinted by the Giants as the recipe for taking down the Pats.
With the Ravens losing this week, the path to a first round by is open for the Patriots taking. We need Rob Gronkowski back, sure, but that seems likely in time for the playoffs. The next two weeks will tell us what the Patriots are made of – and it all starts tonight on Monday Night Football.