Each Wednesday, we take a look at the New England Patriots’ next opponent. Since the Patriots’ are on a bye this week, here’s a quick scouting report on each of their five remaining foes:
Week 12: at New York Jets (3-7, fourth in AFC East)
Remember when the Jets thrashed the Detroit Lions in Week 1? Boy, does that seem like a long time ago. Todd Bowles’ club has lost seven of its last nine and four in a row, including a pathetic 41-10 showing Sunday against a Matt Barkley-led Buffalo Bills team that hadn’t scored more than 13 points in a game since late September. So, yeah. Things aren’t great right now in East Rutherford. The Jets have scored 17 or fewer points in all seven of their losses, and it’s currently unclear who will start at quarterback next weekend: injured and struggling rookie Sam Darnold or veteran journeyman Josh McCown.
Week 13: vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1, second in NFC North)
The Vikings endured their own blowout loss to the Bills earlier this season (27-6 in Week 3), but that now looks like an anomaly. Since then, they’ve gone 3-2 with close losses to arguably the NFL’s two best teams (38-31 to the Los Angeles Rams and 30-20 to the New Orleans Saints). Minnesota’s defense hasn’t been as suffocating as it was last season, but it still ranks seventh in the league in DVOA. Offensively, wide receiver Adam Thielen has been ridiculously productive, surpassing 100 receiving yards in eight of the Vikings’ nine games and catching a touchdown pass in each of their last six.
Week 14: at Miami Dolphins (5-5, second in AFC East)
The Dolphins are 2-5 since their unexpected 3-0 start, and they’ve been hit hard by the injury bug. They’ve placed nine players on injured reserve since the season began, haven’t had starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill since Week 5 and lost wideouts DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant during Sunday’s 31-12 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots dominated these teams’ first meeting back in Week 4, rolling to a 38-7 win at Gillette Stadium in their perhaps their most complete performance of the season. Tannehill was awful in that game, averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt and posting a passer rating of 47.9. There’s the Miami factor to consider here, though. The Patriots are 1-4 in their last five trips to South Florida, including a 27-20 loss to Jay Cutler last season.
Week 15: at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1, first in AFC North)
This is the big one — the game that very well could determine which team receives a first-round bye and which one will be forced to play on wild-card weekend. Even without star running back Le’Veon Bell, who missed his final deadline to report Tuesday, Pittsburgh boasts the NFL’s fourth-highest-scoring offense, thanks in large part to the emergence of James Conner, who’s thrived in Bell’s absence. The second-year Pitt product ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards (771) and rushing touchdowns (10) and is tied for the league lead in runs of 20-plus yards (eight). The Patriots and Steelers squared off in one of the best games of the 2018 season last December, with New England prevailing after the infamous “survive the ground” ruling.
Week 16: vs. Buffalo Bills (3-7, third in AFC East)
This has been a banner week for the Bills. First, they decimated the division rival Jets on the road. Then, they officially ended the Nathan Peterman experiment, cutting the much-maligned QB on Monday after he tossed 12 interceptions with just three touchdowns in eight appearances over the last two seasons. Peterman is one of four signal-callers to start a game for Buffalo this season, along with Barkley, Derek Anderson and rookie Josh Allen. The Patriots faced Anderson in their 25-6 victory at New Era Field in Week 7. Allen has been sidelined since mid-October with an elbow injury but is expected to reclaim his starting spot after the Bills’ Week 10 bye.
Week 17: at Jets
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images