New England Patriots

5 pothole games where Patriots can struggle in second half of season

27 December 2015: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up before the NFL game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)
Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire

Tom Brady is back and the New England Patriots are off on another roaring rampage of revenge, pummeling three teams in a row as we head into Week 8. It’s safe to think that they might be undeafeated had Brady not been suspended against the Buffalo Bills, a team they face again this weekend.

The AFC East is still well in the Patriots’ hands while the AFC has seen some contenders to their title bid stumble due to injury (Pittsburgh Steelers) or stiffer competition (Denver Broncos). But while the Patriots are playing well—Brady in particular—and the AFC seems theirs for the taking, there’s still ample opportunity for New England’s rampage to come to its own bloody end.

Here are five games which could give the Patriots trouble on their road to the playoffs.

At Buffalo Bills: Week 8

If there was ever a time for a revenge game, it’s this week against the Bills. After all, Buffalo is the only team to beat them this season, and they did it when the Patriots were shorthanded.

That said, this could be trouble.

Bills coach Rex Ryan does a very good job with Brady, and he knows the best ways to bring pressure at the Patriots quarterback. For the most part, the Bills defense has been playing very well since it collapsed against the New York Jets in Week 2. It did collapse late last week against the Miami Dolphins (losing the game for the Bills, 28-25), but expect a bounce-back effort this week.

The Bills’ pass defense allows 235.7 net passing yards per game (11th in the NFL) and has only been scored on for four passing touchdowns while intercepting the ball six times. Here’s the important stat though; they have 21 sacks (2nd in the league).

All this and the game is in Buffalo too.

As mentioned up top, the Bills won the last meeting when Brady wasn’t around. But at its best, the defense could make him wish he wasn’t.

Seattle Seahawks: Week 9

At least it’s not in Seattle.

We all know how good the Seahawks are, and this year the offensive line seems to be playing well to boot. As per usual, the pass defense is one of the best (3rd overall in DVOA per Football Outsiders, 5th vs. the pass) averaging just 226 net passing yards per game (9th in the NFL), with just four touchowns allowed through the air. This is another pressure producing unit as well, with 20 sacks (tied for third) generated this season.

With Russell Wilson under center, and getting healthier, the Seahawks can move the ball and while Christine Michael isn’t Marshawn Lynch, he’s been pretty successful on the ground.

It’s tempting to think that the Seahawks struggle when on the road, but they always get up for a game like this and there’s no way fans should overlook this matchup.

At New York Jets: Weeks 12

02 OCT 2016: New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) celebrates after catching a touchdown during the game between the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

02 OCT 2016: New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) celebrates after catching a touchdown during the game between the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

You can add Week 16 into this if you want, but it’s our guess that by then the New York Jets will be folding up the tents and trotting out Bryce Petty.

And sure, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a hot mess on the best of days, the defense isn’t playing well and the coaching staff seems to forget to coach during games, but the Jets almost always get up for these games, especially at home.

We’ll have more data to process by the time this game comes by but in the win over the Ravens, this looked a lot more like the Jets team everyone expected to see this season. The run game was effective, the passing game conservative but moving the ball and the defense causing pressure as well as defending the pass in the secondary – Joe Flacco could only produce 239 yards passing, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Jets are going to struggle against Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett because they have no idea how to defend a tight end, but they will play the Patriots tough, especially at home. This will also be the second of two road games, the first all the way in San Francisco against a bad 49ers team.

It’s a long trip, though, and can leave a team a bit tired—something to factor in as well.

Baltimore Ravens: Week 14

Speaking of the Ravens, last week’s meltdown against New York was a bit of a surprise, but they’re banged up, and Week 8 is a bye week. Expect a more consistent team coming out of the break as we head towards this matchup.

Joe Flacco has had some issues, in part because he is missing guys like Steve Smith, who should be back by Week 14. The ground game has been good—though they ditched it in favor of balance against the Jets, which didn’t exactly work—and they will have a healthy Kenneth Dixon post-bye in addition to Terrance West, who has been very good this year.

Baltimore currently features the No. 6 defense according to the FO DVOA metric, though the strength of their defense is against the run (1st overall in the metric) not the pass (a middling 15th). Expect some changes coming out of the bye, and an improved effort there.

The Ravens will be fighting for a playoff spot—and with Ben Roethlisberger out, could be neck and neck or even ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC North—and determined not to lose ground. They’ll be a tough team in Week 14.

At Denver Broncos: Week 15

The Denver Broncos defense will be the chief problem in this road game, and if it isn’t playing at historic levels like it did in 2015, that makes it no less dangerous.

As of this week, the Broncos are the best statistical pass defense in the NFL, allowing just 175 net passing yards a game and coughing up just four passing touchdowns. They’ve only snagged five interceptions, but they are another high-pressure team, totaling 22 sacks to date (best in the NFL).

The Broncos do have an obvious weakness—neither Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch are great quarterbacks right now, and get by due to a fantastic running game and two magical receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryious Thomas (thought Thomas continues to have issues with drops).

Siemian is the guy as of Week 8 but by Week 15? Who knows?

This is a tough road game at a point when both teams are likely to be fighting hard for playoff seeding and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Denver could be in a more precarious position and more desperate.

Without a doubt, this is a potential pothole on the path to a Super Bowl for the Patriots.

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