The Patriots have made the AFC a bore this season, as it is nearly a given that the Pats will be hosting the AFC Championship game this coming January. The Pats are at 7-1, and only two other teams in the conference look like they could maybe – possibly - make things interesting down the stretch. The Raiders (7-2) and the Chiefs (6-2) both only have two losses, and if the Pats slip up against the Seahawks this coming Sunday or at Denver next month – Oakland or Kansas City could challenge for the No. 1 overall seed. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible.

Here are a couple other items to nit-pick as the Pats prep for their first game without Jamie Collins.

 

Julian Edelman

There was a case to be made in recent seasons that Edelman was Tom Brady’s No. 1 target. Yup, even Gronk was playing second fiddle to No. 11 in more than a few Pats games the past few years. Combining 2014 and 2015 (playoffs included), Edelman had five games in which he caught 10 balls or more and he had a whopping 15 games in which he had over 80 yards receiving.

In eight games this season, though, Edelman is averaging just 5.1 catches per game and just 44.7 yards per game. He does not have a double-digit catch game, his high yardage-wise was a 76-yard day against Miami in Week 2, and he has just one touchdown reception on the year (to be fair he’s never been a TD machine).

Edelman popped up on the Pats’ injury report in early October as he is still having issues with the foot he broke in November of 2015. Hopefully for Edelman and the Patriots’ sake, this bye week gave him a chance to get back to 100 percent – and maybe he’ll break through against Seattle this weekend.

 

 

Malcolm Butler

Now that Collins is out of town, it appears that the Patriots will pony up the cash this coming offseason to re-sign the hero of Super Bowl XLIX. But make no mistake, Butler still has a ways to go to earn that pay day.

There are plenty of times when Butler is lined up on the opposition’s No. 2 or No. 3 receiver – so this list is not entirely fair given the Pats’ scheming. But with Pats fans making plenty of Darrelle Revis jokes these days, and even claims that Butler is one of the top shutdown corners in the game – this must be pointed out.

Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald lit up the Pats with eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, Miami’s Jarvis Landry hauled in 10 balls for 135 yards in Week 2, Buffalo’s Robert Woods had seven catches for 89 yards in Week 4, Cincy’s A.J. Green had six catches for 88 yards in Week 6, and Antonio Brown had seven grabs for 106 yards in Week 7.

A true shutdown corner does not allow top receivers to have those kind of games. So as it stands now, Butler is a lot closer to “good” than he is to “great.”