The national media is beginning to look at the New England Patriots as not only a serious threat to win the AFC East, but also a legit contender to win the AFC title and compete in Super Bowl LVI.
The Patriots occupy the No. 3 seed in the AFC as the division leaders with a 7-4 record. New England defeated the Atlanta Falcons 25-0 on the road in Week 11, extending its win streak to a league-best five games.
The Pats have risen up NFL Power Rankings in recent weeks, and many observers have placed them in the top seven or 10.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith ranked his top five teams in the league entering Week 12, and he views the Patriots as the top team in the AFC.
“When you look at them right now and the way they’re flowing, Bill Belichick, he’s got a running game. Mac Jones, a rookie is ascending. He ain’t making mistakes,” Smith said on Tuesday's edition of "First Take".
"And they got one of the top two defenses in the National Football League. They’ve taken over first place in the AFC East. They’re coming, we can’t ignore it. We’ve got to pay attention to that.”
Here's the full segment:
The Patriots are definitely in the mix for the title of "AFC's best team".
They lead the league with a plus-123 point differential, and their defense has allowed the second-fewest points through 11 games. The offense has found its identity with an effective rushing attack and a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones who is not committing critical mistakes. The coaching, of course, is world class with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels leading the way.
We'll find out where the Patriots really stand in the AFC over the next five weeks.
New England plays the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans, the Buffalo Bills (twice) and Indianapolis Colts during that span. The Patriots should be in the mix for the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye if they come out of that stretch with a winning record.