Patriots emerge from bye with three key games in 12 days
If the season ended today (and if it did that would mean something really bad has happened), the AFC East would send all four teams to the playoffs.
From first place to last, the AFC East would squat on the automatic berth and all three wild-card spots.
The Patriots are nevertheless in fourth place in the division, at 5-4. They have a chance to gain ground during a key 12-day stretch, which features three games.
On Sunday, the 6-3 Jets come to town. Then comes a short-week, Thanksgiving night visit to the 8-1 Vikings. Finally, one Thursday later, the Patriots host the 6-3 Bills.
Coach Bill Belichick was asked by reporters on Wednesday about the importance of staying focused on the task at hand during this critical trio of games. In his answer, Belichick proved that he’s indeed thinking only about what’s on tap.
“Yeah, we’re focused on the Jets right now,” Belichick said. “So, we’ll worry about next week next week.”
The Patriots had a bye in Week 10. The break interrupted a two-game stretch that consisted of a 22-17 win over the Jets and a 26-3 drubbing of the Colts that got Frank Reich fired. It was an impressive rebound from a 33-14 Monday night loss to the Bears.
The Patriots tend to get better as the season progresses. But they’re facing a significant challenge, given the dramatic improvement of the Jets and Dolphin in 2022. It will take every bit of Belichick’s ability to qualify for the postseason -- and to avoid landing in the basement of his own division.