Patriots Still ‘Elite’ AFC Team After Close Win Due to Weakened Conference, NFL Parity


Patriots Still 'Elite' AFC Team After Close Win Due to Weakened Conference, NFL ParityDon't fret Patriots fans, the team has looked bad this season, but not as bad as most of the AFC.

Even after New England's near debacle against the Jets on Sunday, you can still count the Patriots among the AFC's top three teams.

After blowing out the Ravens, the Texans can be firmly penciled in to the No. 1 slot so far in the AFC. They have a good enough offense built off an impressive zone-blocking rushing attack and just above game manager-play from Matt Schaub. The defense is what really propels them, with possible-MVP J.J. Watt swatting passes and sacking quarterbacks at a historic rate. The team is still ticking despite losing star linebacker Brian Cushing because they have so many other strong pieces to work off.

The Ravens may have beat the Patriots in Week 3, but that was before losing Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb for the season, and before Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata got banged up. Terrell Suggs may have been back in Week 7 — and he certainly made an impact — but he's not enough to make up for what the Ravens have already lost this season. If New England and Baltimore played again, the results may be much different from the one-point loss the Patriots suffered in late September.

Beyond the Texans, Ravens and Patriots, the AFC gets murky fast. The rest of the AFC East is either inexperienced, disfunctional or can't stop the run. The Steelers simply aren't as good without Troy Polamalu, the Bengals are a Jeckyl & Hyde team and the Colts and Titans are probably one more year away from being within the top three teams' level.

In the AFC West, the Broncos are the top dogs, but it's mostly by default. Their most impressive victory came against Pittsburgh in Week 1, but they've been trounced by their three best opponents — the Texans, Falcons and Patriots.

The power of the NFL has shifted over to the NFC. The Giants, Bears, Vikings, Packers, Falcons, 49ers and Seahawks are all on the same level as the best teams in the AFC. The Cardinals, Rams, Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins are all better than the other 13 teams in the AFC as well. After Week 7 concludes, the AFC will stand at 47-57, while the NFC will be 57-47. The NFC will also feature the only undefeated team left in the NFL and eight teams with winning records.

The Patriots may not be playing pretty, but they're certainly still on pace for an AFC East crown, and they're still among the conference's elite teams. They have issues with closing out games, and there are still question marks in their pass defense, but a strong bye week could solve some of those toughness and scheme issues.

Hang tight Patriots Nation, you're still in good company.

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