The hard part is over. The Patriots went 1-2 in their toughest three-game stretch of the season, falling to the Giants and Steelers before beating the Jets last Sunday night in a crucial divisional win to take over first place.
Now comes the easiest stretch of games imaginable. Of the Patriots' remaining games, only one is against a team with a current record above .500, and that's the Bills, who have been falling apart.
At 6-3, it'd be no shock, based on the competition, to see the Patriots finish the season 13-3 and snag the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
A cream-puff schedule that could inflate Tom Brady's stats should more importantly give the Patriots time to get the run game and pass defense on track heading into the playoffs. We saw last season that the Patriots' eight-game win streak to end the season meant little, as their season ended in divisional round of the playoffs.
The no-name secondary (outside of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung) of Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore, James Ihedigbo, Phillip Adams and Antwaun Molden can breathe a collective sigh of relief when it looks at the opposing quarterbacks it has to face. But this is a crucial stretch for the unit to gain some consistency and learn Bill Belichick's defense. It will still face some blue-chip wide receivers. Against the Chiefs in Week 11, the Patriots get QB Tyler Palko, but the corners will have to cover WRs Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston.
The defensive backs are who they are, but they can gain some confidence in this upcoming stretch, which would benefit New England greatly heading into the postseason.
The other unit that needs to take advantage of its weak opponents is the rushing attack — although it's hard to call it an "attack." Since rushing for 152 yards against the Jets in Week Five, the Patriots have averaged 77.5 rushing yards a game over their last four games, including 60 yards against the Jets in Sunday night's win. The Pats are averaging just 3.5 yards a carry during that four-game span.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for eight yards against the Jets and nine yards vs. the Steelers. He has had a very inconsistent season running the football, but in those games where he has struggled, the other backs haven't stepped up, putting the onus on the O-line to improve. That has also been one of the reasons the Patriots, aside from throws to Rob Gronkowski, have stalled more than usual in the red zone, often having to settle for field goals.
The Patriots, on paper, should go 7-0 the rest of the way. Any loss would be considered an upset. We know it's not that simple in the NFL, but the Patriots need to take advantage of this stretch to get their weaknesses taken care of before the postseason arrives.