Thanks to the dramatic come-from-behind victory in Pittsburgh, the Patriots locked up yet another AFC East title and are currently in the top spot in the AFC. Two more victories will ensure home field throughout the playoffs. But that doesn't mean New England is without its problems.
Injuries are always a concern for all NFL teams, and how those impact certain areas can be vitally important to the big picture. Depth has left a couple of spots on the team in particular a bit weaker, and those would appear to be the team's biggest concerns as the calendar prepares to turn to January.
The two areas are stopping the run and protecting the passer, and both have been problems throughout the season and as of late. This week we're asking for some help from Santa as we're looking for a special gift for the Patriots, but which one to ask for?
That's where we land for this week's Samsonite Make Your Case question: What area of the team has you most concerned heading into the playoffs?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
The Patriots have struggled in this area from the very start of the season when they allowed rookie Kareem Hunt to rush for 148 yards on 17 carries. While it hasn't led to many other losses, things haven't really improved in that area since.
New England is allowing almost 5 yards per carry for the season and ranks near the bottom in most run defense categories. Alan Branch, one of the team's steadiest run defenders, is out with a knee injury. Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower are also out with injuries. I'm concerned teams will do what Pittsburgh did and control the game on the ground and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
The Patriots haven't stopped the run without blitzing all year, and at some point the opponent is going to make them pay.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
There's no doubt that the Patriots have a hard time stopping the run, but in general rushing yards don't translate to a lot of points. Teams need to throw the ball to score points, and so far the defense has managed to keep the points down despite the run defense problems.
But that's only true because the offense is productive. If the pass protection continues to be spotty, that could change. All it takes is one bad game where Tom Brady can't get comfortable and the offense can't produce and the season could be over.
Over the years that is generally the common denominator for most of the postseason failures, and given the inconsistent nature of the pass protection this year, that is far and away my biggest concern.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.