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The AFC Elites

The Patriots kept pace with the AFC elite teams on Sunday with a 27-10 win over the Washington Redskins.  As expected, this game was not much of a challenge for the Patriots.  They took an easy 14-0 lead and never looked back.  The Patriots continue to look very good and normally when a team finishes the first half of the season with an 8-0 record, you could say the team is, hands down, the best in the conference.  They may very well be the best team in the conference.  However, there certainly are two teams that are right there with the Patriots in the Bengals and the Broncos.  Heading into the Broncos – Colts game on Sunday afternoon, all three teams were undefeated.  The Broncos just lost to the Colts. Two of these teams will almost definitely get a first round bye considering the landscape of the next tier of AFC teams.  The team that ends up with three or more losses will likely be the #3 seed in the conference and playing a wild card game.  Let’s take a look at the Patriots two major threats.

The Bengals

Most Patriots fans are brushing off the Bengals.  They haven’t won a playoff game under Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton has been known to choke away playoff games.  Having said that, doesn’t this look like a completely different team this year?  They’re loaded with weapons on offense.  Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard lead a strong rushing attack.  A.J. Green and Marvin Jones are a solid receiver duo with Green being one of the elite threats in the league.  They also have Tyler Eifert at tight end who is one of the best red zone targets in the league.  He has nine receiving touchdowns which leads the league.  Dalton looks like a different player.  He’s coming up clutch in the 4th quarter of games.  Defensively, the Bengals are very solid.  They rank 4th in the league in scoring defense giving up just 17.8 points per game.

Let’s take a look at the Bengals remaining schedule:

Week 10: vs. Houston

Week 11: @ Arizona

Week 12: vs. St. Louis

Week 13: @ Cleveland

Week 14: vs. Pittsburgh

Week 15: vs. San Francisco

Week 16: @ Denver

Week 17: vs. Baltimore

Other than the Arizona and Denver games, are there any games on the schedule that look to be major threats to beat the Bengals?  In fact, there are four games against teams with three wins or less.  That right there puts them at 12 wins.  This looks like it could be a 14-2 team or possibly even better.  A first round bye is a very realistic possibility.

The Broncos

Similar to the Bengals, the Broncos have two running backs that can make plays in Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson.  Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas make up the top WR duo in the NFL.  And then there’s Peyton Manning.  It seems like Manning is on the decline.  However, he has shown signs that he can still regain his old form as he did last week against the Packers.  The Broncos have the best defense in the NFL.  They allow just 16.0 points per game.

Here’s the Broncos remaining schedule:

Week 10: vs. Kansas City

Week 11: @ Chicago

Week 12: vs. New England

Week 13: @ San Diego

Week 14: vs. Oakland

Week 15: @ Pittsburgh

Week 16: vs. Cincinnati

Week 17: vs. San Diego

There aren’t a lot of losses that can be predicted on this schedule.  The Patriots game will certainly be a major challenge, but it’s at home.  It’s a completely different ballgame playing out there compared to in Foxboro.  There’s the Bengals game which could be a playoff preview.  13 or 14 wins seems like a realistic possibility here as well.

Patriots Schedule

Week 10: @ NY Giants

Week 11: vs. Buffalo

Week 12: @ Denver

Week 13: vs. Philadelphia

Week 14: @ Houston

Week 15: Tennessee

Week 16: @ NY Jets

Week 17: @ Miami

Same story here.  There are two potential tough games here with Denver and the Jets on the road.  14-2?

Summary

Here are some interesting points regarding the rest of the schedule for these three teams.

1.  The Broncos and Bengals both have five home games remaining of their final eight games.  The Patriots have three of eight at home.

2.  The Broncos and Bengals play three of their last four games at home.  The Patriots play three of their last four on the road.

3.  All three teams have three remaining games against teams above .500.

While these recent Patriots games have seemed somewhat irrelevant as we’re watching them, they will get more interesting in the upcoming weeks.  They are not simply battling for an undefeated season.  They are going to have a very tough battle for a playoff bye this year.  14-2 or better is a possibility for all three teams.  The seeding here will have a major impact on who goes to the Super Bowl.  If the Patriots are the #1 seed, they’re the obvious favorites.  If they were to play in Denver or in Cincy, it could be a different story.  There’s a lot of football to be played and it may come down to Week 17.  Every game is big from this point on.

Enjoy the ride…

 

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