That’s the question, assuming they handle their business on Sunday against the Jaguars and clinch the AFC East crown.
There are undeniable issues right now with this Pats team. The all-everything quarterback is hurting. The star wide receiver seemingly has to be coddled in order to get anything out of him. A series of injuries have thinned the defense up front. And, as it turns out, they’re just plain thin in the defensive backfield.
Oh, and this team struggles to win on the road, which they’ll have to if they plan to advance deep in the postseason.
Other than that, everything’s fine in Foxboro. Thanks for asking.
The expectation coming into the season was high, even by Patriots standards. We were focusing too much on the offense, foolishly wondering aloud if they could top their 2007 numbers (guilty, as charged) without even stopping to consider two very important details:
1. Tom Brady needed time to recover from major knee surgery, and …
2. This season was more about transition than we initially thought.
So many out there in Patriots Nation counted on at least 13 wins and home field, even as they struggled through two weeks. So naturally, by those standards, 10 or 11 wins and a ho-hum AFC East title just seem disappointing. But 13 wins and an AFC East cakewalk weren’t in the cards, even from Day One.
The trade of Richard Seymour should have signaled to us, more than anything, that we needed to lower our expectations this season.
Looking ahead, there are serious questions about the Patriots that will need answering. Bill Belichick needs to get more from his drafts, and maybe more out of his coordinators too. The defense may need to move on from what now appears to be an outdated 3-4 scheme.
But when you take all of that into consideration, if this team ends up winning the division in a down year, how can you argue with that?
Four Downs: Patriots (9-5) vs. Jaguars (7-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
First: Taylor Made
Will Fred Taylor get a shot at his old team on Sunday? He’s practicing like it. The Patriots have steadily brought along the veteran running back in practice the last few weeks and, provided he’s healthy again, would be wise to hand him the ball against the Jaguars a couple of times just to shake the rust off before the playoffs.
Said Taylor this week, about potentially facing his former team: “We were ranked number one or two in run defense when Jack Del Rio first got there and I would always tease the guys, ‘Hey, I would bust y'all up if I was somewhere else.' Part of it is joking, but part of it is serious in me being confident in my abilities. It will be a whole lot of fun to go out there and see all the former guys and go up against them."
Second: A Breather for Brady
You remember the last time the Patriots and Jaguars met, right? January, 2008. The playoffs. Tom Brady completed 26 of 28 passes and tossed three touchdowns en route to a 31-20 win that was a lot closer that that final looks. Given that Brady appears to be pretty banged up heading into this Sunday, don’t expect him to just pick his way through the Jags defense this time around. Tom isn’t feeling so terrific and needs his running game to back him up. He could also use the breather next week that a win over the Jaguars would surely bring.
Third: More from Mayo
Jerod Mayo may be experiencing a tad of a sophomore slump. An early season injury set him back, but since returning you just don’t hear his name much. He’s averaging almost a tackle less per game (7.3 in 2009 vs. 8.0 in 2008) this year, but that’s nothing to panic about. Actually, I’ll take his play on the field. It’s just this defense desperately needs a vocal leader, and Mayo still has to prove he can deliver in that department.
Fourth: On Garrard Forward Progress
Jarvis Green pointed out this week that you’re not exactly facing Peyton Manning when going up against David Garrard — and that’s not exactly a knock on the Jaguars quarterback. While his 13 touchdown passes are the lowest total among quarterbacks who have started every game this year, he can scramble and deliver the big throw when given the opportunity.
1. Ben Roethlisberger: If I’m picking a current NFL quarterback to start a franchise, it might not be Big Ben. But if I need one guy to make one throw to win one game, I’d feel as good with Roethlisberger as I would with anyone else.
2. Chris Johnson: Needs 234 yards in his final game to match Eric Dickerson’s single-season mark of 2,105 rushing yards in one season. At 7-8, it’s the only thing the Titans have left to play for in their finale against Seattle.
3. San Diego Chargers: Forget the Saints and the Colts, I’m thinking the Chargers (11-3) are looking like the best team in the NFL heading into the playoffs.
Down and Out
1. Washington Redskins: Too bad you can’t fire an owner, because Daniel Snyder is the one who needs to go in D.C.
2. JaMarcus Russell: Benched for Charlie Frye. Again.
3. Brett Favre and Brad Childress: A marriage on the rocks? The Vikings have been blown out of two of their last three games and Brett Favre suddenly doesn’t look like a savior. Favre hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since Week 12, has three touchdowns and four picks in his last three games, and is bickering with his head coach. Granted, this is Favre we’re talking about — it is December.
The NFL gives us a pretty interesting look inside Favre and the Vikings here. I kind of got the chills the few times Favre and Childress exchanged words — especially when Brett tells his head coach not to get smart with him after he audibled a touchdown run to Adrian Peterson. (Right before that touchdown, Favre sees Lions guard and fellow Gulfport, Miss. native Stephen Peterman lining up on the defense and calls him out!).
Somehow, the sixth-seeded More Cowbell — the Little-Engine-that-Could of the NESN Fantasy Football league — advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Something tells me the dream dies here.
A couple of good matchups to watch here: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. the Seahawks (duh!) and Cardinals RB Chris “Beanie” Wells against the 27th ranked Rams rushing defense. Wells has been getting a lot of love lately, and should find the end zone.
If you’re thinking of starting Browns running back Jerome Harrison coming off of a team-best 286 yard day last week against the Chiefs, you might want to ponder that for a minute or two. Yes, the Raiders rushing defense is ranked 28th in the NFL, but they stuffed the Broncos run last week. Somehow, Oakland has put together a string of upsets late in the season and could do the same to the Browns on Sunday.
Wait, I just called for a team to upset the Browns, didn’t I? Wow.
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