With no Patriots game to focus on this past weekend, fans, media and even the New England team itself had a chance to sit back and watch the rest of the league battle it out.
That action left Bill Belichick's team alone atop the AFC East with a 6-2 mark. New England is also tied with the Steelers for the best record in the conference.
In the NFC the young, upstart Eagles have the NFL's best record at 7-1, coming off an impressive blowout of a Broncos team that the Patriots will take on in Denver this coming Sunday night.
With half the season left to play, the run to the postseason and Super Bowl appears pretty wide open, a massive mix of the usual contenders and the annual uprising of newfound challengers.
In his Monday morning, post-bye conference call with the New England media, Belichick talked about just how fine the line is between winning and losing these days, though he's seen it that way for quite some time.
"Basically half of the games in this league are decided by seven points or less. A quarter of the games are decided by three points or less it seems like every year," Belichick explained. "You have eight divisions. I can't remember exactly what the numbers are but I know that over the past few years there are a number of teams that were in the playoffs one year, that weren't in the playoffs the next year, that weren't in the playoffs the previous year that won the division that year. It's got to be somewhere near half or it's a pretty strong number. It's not just like one team.
"I think the competiveness of this league from week to week, from month to month, from year to year is very, very high. A lot of times it's not even who you play; it's when you play them. When you play a team at one point in the season and when you play a team at another point in the season you're not really getting the same team. That could actually be from week to week, too. But certainly teams go through phases where they're playing well and then sometimes things happen and it drops off a little bit, or vice versa, a team looks like they're not – the Chargers last week; they lost their first games and then came back and played very well and are playing really good football.
"To me it seems like that way every year. It seems like that way every week to be honest with you. It doesn't really matter who you play. If you don't play well then you're probably not going to do well. A lot of times it comes down to the final possession or the final play. That's the way it's been for most of our games this year. It just seems like that's the way it normally is for me."
Beyond his views on the parity in the NFL – and after a bye week that he said was "pretty evenly" divided between looking back at some self-scouting and looking ahead to the coming competition -- other highlights from Belichick's conference call included his thoughts on Brian Hoyer's arrival to back up Tom Brady, Shea McClellin's status and the logistics of New England's upcoming two-week road trip to Denver and Mexico City.
1. "We know what [Hoyer] can do": The biggest story of the bye week in New England was the trade that sent fourth-year budding backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in exchange for a second-round pick in next April's draft. One of the wrinkles of the deal was that veteran backup Brian Hoyer was cut by San Francisco and immediately signed a three-year contract to fill the hole on the Patriots depth chart behind Tom Brady.
Hoyer began his NFL career in New England as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State in 2009, spending three seasons with the Patriots before moving on to stints, including some time as a starter in multiple stops, with Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston and the 49ers.
After 55 career NFL games and 37 starts, Hoyer is now back where it all began trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible as Brady's backup for the second half of the season.
"Well we've had him. We know what he can do," Belichick said in his first comments since re-signing Hoyer. "He's been productive. He's been in a lot of big games and big situations. We'll try to get him ready to go."
But just because Hoyer was starting games as recently as this season in San Francisco, doesn't mean he's immediately ready as the Patriots insurance policy behind the G.O.A.T.
"He hasn't played for us," Belichick emphasized. "I think we have a lot of work to do, but he'll work hard at it and we'll see where we're at."
2. So you are Shea-ing there is a chance?:After opening the season on injured reserve due to a reported head injury, veteran linebacker Shea McClellin began practicing with the Patriots prior to the bye, starting the process of a potential return to the active roster. McClellin is eligible to play as early as this Sunday night in Denver and given the injury to Dont'a Hightower, New England could certainly use him to add depth and experience to the defensive front.
Belichick, though, would not necessarily commit to McClellin joining the roster this week.
"Shea, like he always does, Shea works hard. Shea's a smart football player. He has a lot of position flexibility both athletically and mentally with his experience," Belichick said. "We'll see how it all plays out, see how it all works. He works hard and can do a lot of different things on defense and in the kicking game, so we'll see how it all goes."
3. Two-week road trip: With the Patriots playing this Sunday night in Denver and then the following Sunday afternoon in Mexico City against the Raiders, New England will spend next week working out in Colorado. Not only does that avoid a couple long flights across the country, but will also allow the team to adjust to the high altitude that's an issue for both contests against AFC foes. It's a scenario that team has taken advantage of various times over the years with back-to-back west coast games and includes the opportunity to bond as a team.
But it also creates plenty of logistical concerns for a team. Though Belichick made it clear he was focused on preparing for the Broncos, the coach acknowledged the next couple weeks aren't run-of-the-mill in nature.
"We have people in our organization that have been working on it, are working on it," Belichick said. "I mean, it's like going to Mexico. You just don't jump on the plane and go to Mexico. There's a lot of planning that needs to go into it. Logistically it's a very challenging trip. So yeah, there are a lot of things like that. But that's really not where our focus is right now. We'll get to that when we get to that.
"Right now we're really focused on getting ready for the Broncos and going out there and competing against them this weekend. We'll kind of worry about next week, next week."