Are the Patriots “for real,” yet?
Perhaps it took a 24-point comeback win over the top-seeded Broncos to turn some naysayers into believers. The Pats (8-3) are currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC, behind those same Broncos (9-2). But they hold the all-important tiebreaker against them should the two teams finish with the same record at the end of the season.
The Broncos don’t have the hardest remaining schedule, but they do travel to Kansas City this weekend in a divisional game that will surely be the toughest contest left on their schedule. Meanwhile, the Pats travel to Houston to play a Texans (2-9) team that has gone from a Super Bowl contender to a train wreck, having lost nine straight games.
There’s a chance the Pats are your No. 1 seed in the AFC by Sunday night.
Here are three things to look for in Houston on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS):
1. Get “Rid” of him?
Perhaps the biggest stain on the Patriots’ win over the Broncos was the fact that Stevan Ridley once again put the ball on the ground. It’s the third straight week Ridley has lost a fumble, and they are proving costly. His fumble against the Broncos was returned for a touchdown and immediately put the Pats in a hole.
It’s this simple: Ridley cannot and will not be trusted with the ball right now. With Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and LeGarrette Blount (who also fumbled vs. Broncos) available, Ridley may have seen his last important snap for a while. The Pats won without him vs. Denver, and they can certainly beat the Texans without No. 22.
2. Don’t overlook the Texans
When the schedule came out, this looked like this was going to be a huge game. Now? Not so much. But that doesn’t mean the Patriots can take the Texans lightly. Six of Houston’s nine losses, including its last five, have been by seven points or less. The Texans still rank first overall in passing defense, allowing just 171.8 yards per game through the air. On the flip side, Case Keenum has taken over for Matt Schaub at quarterback, and while he’s certainly not perfect, he does seem to have a good thing going with wide receiver Andre Johnson.
3. Pats taking form
While most teams seem to be getting worse as the season goes, the Pats seem to be getting better. In the secondary, rookies Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon have stepped up when needed. The same goes for linebacker Dane Fletcher, who replaced an ineffective Dont’a Hightower in the second half against the Broncos. Offensively, the Pats have never looked stronger, with a full arsenal of weapons at Tom Brady’s disposal.