A lot can change over the course of a week in the NFL.
Just last Tuesday, Colin Cowherd had the Patriots ranked as the top team in the AFC after their two-touchdown win over the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, “The Herd” host had New England slotted as the No. 2 overall team in the league, only behind the New Orleans Saints.
But after Week 14’s slate of games, Cowherd has altered his thinking and then some.
In the latest edition of the “Herd Hierarchy,” Cowherd has the Patriots pegged at No. 6 in his weekly ranking of the league’s top-10 teams. While the Chiefs unsurprisingly now rank as No. 1 after their impressive win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Los Angeles Chargers have vaulted all the way up to No. 3.
Cowherd isn’t jumping ship on the Patriots by any means, but he’s starting to believe certain things must go right for the two-time defending AFC champs in order to make their playoff run a long one.
“Here’s what I would say about New England: do they have the best coach? Yeah,” Cowherd said on Tuesday’s edition of “The Herd.” “Do they have the best pre-snap quarterback? Yeah. Are they situationally, usually, great? Yeah. And they will play a home playoff game. Now, this team, the margins are shrinking. They’re 2-4 this year when they don’t rush for 100 yards. They really need (Rex) Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel to be healthy. They’re not beating a Kansas City Chiefs or a Chargers if they’re dinged up in the backfield. Again, like Dallas, nobody wants to admit this, but there’s kind of a certain way New England has to win now. Running backs are healthy, little home field would help. I got them at six.”
There’s no question New England has leaned on its running game much more this season than it has in campaigns past. That said, you’d be a fool to think Tom Brady and Co. can’t get the job done through the air. Cowherd did make an interesting point about the Patriots’ record this season in games they don’t rush for 100-plus yards, but two of those losses came during the first three weeks of the season when New England characteristically plays below-average football across the board.
Sunday will be a massive test for the Patriots, who will be tasked with trying to secure a road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in hopes of keeping their hold on a first-round postseason bye.