At the start of the 2014 season, mostPatriots fans would have signed for a 7-2 record by the Week 10 bye. While the Pats definitely took an unconventional route to get to the top of the AFC standings, starting the season 2-2, the expectations surrounding the 2014 Pats are as high or higher than they were on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 7 – opening day of New England’s season.The next time the Pats have an extended break will be the first week of January – so long as they can rattle off five or six more wins these next seven weeks. A look at which players will have to keep performing at an elite level in order to get a playoff bye, as well as which players will have to up their games in the second half:
Tom Brady: Stock UP
Remember the Patriots pre-season? That’s OK. No one does. Because, as always, the NFL pre-season was largely irrelevant. There was zero indication in the pre-season that Tom Brady was about to endure a few regular season weeks in which people were going to question whether or not he was washed up. Brady was magnificent in his two pre-season appearances, against the Eagles and Panthers, as his combined stats read like this: 25-of-31, 285 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and an average QB rating of 116.5. Four games into the real 2014 season, he had an average QB rating of 81.05. These past five weeks, Brady’s average QB rating is 119.9 and he is suddenly an MVP candidate again. It’s safe to say his stock is up.
Danny Amendola: Stock DOWN
Danny Amendola needs to send Julian Edelman a Christmas card – like this week. And the next week. And the week after. Edelman has been able to make people forget Wes Welker with his play. Amendola, since signing as “Welker’s replacement” in March of 2013, has been the epitome of invisible. As bad as the slot receiver was last season, he at least had three games in 2013 in which he had over 100 yards receiving. This season, he has only one game in which he's caught three or more balls (Week 1 in Miami) and has had only one game in which he’s had over 20 yards receiving (last week against Denver). Between the Week 2 Minnesota game and the Week 6 Buffalo game, Amendola was targeted by Brady just once. He’s been targeted eight times over the past three games, so Brady may be getting slightly more comfortable with No. 80. But 23 games into his Patriots career, you'd expected more – A LOT more.
Brandon Browner: Stock UP
The sample size is miniscule, but Brandon Browner’s Patriots career has been tremendous so far - as far as team results go. Browner was suspended the first four games of the 2014 season for substance abuse violations and, according to a Boston Herald report, the cornerback was not activated off the suspension immediately because he was having issues picking up the team’s defensive schemes. But the 6-foot-4 inch, 221-pound corner has seen action against the Jets, Bears and Broncos these past three weeks and none of those opponents scored more than 25 points. Opposing quarterbacks in those games have had a 92.7 QB rating average.
Shane Vereen: Stock DOWN
Shane Vereen is a tantalizing talent, a player that on his best day looks like Marshall Faulk circa 1999. He thrives as a pass-catching back and his numbers in that department have been steady as he has 13 catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns over the past three weeks alone. In terms of Stevan Ridley’s full-time replacement as a ball-carrier out of the backfield, however, Vereen doesn’t exactly dominate. Since becoming the No. 1 option, including the Buffalo game in which Ridley was lost for the season, Vereen has averaged just 24.5 yards per game on the ground.
Brandon LaFell:Stock UP
Brandon LaFell was not targeted by Brady in Weeks 1 and 2. Strange enough, LaFell’s breakout game came in the blowout loss to the Chiefs as he caught six balls for 119 yards. Brady has not been shy about throwing to the receiver since that game. Despite some key drops, Brady has developed a good amount of trust this year with the former Carolina receiver. In the past two weeks alone, LaFell has been targeted 25 times.