The New England Patriots arrived safely back in Boston Monday morning after their international destruction of the St. Louis Rams Sunday evening. The Patriots now head into a nicely timed bye week on a high note.
The Patriots now have a week to lick their wounds, which there are many of, and prepare to once again face the Buffalo Bills on November 11. The well-rested, perhaps healthier, Patriots should head into the second half of the season primed to do some damage in the AFC. There are tough opponents still remaining, but Tom Brady and company should still fare well most weeks.
Here is a game-by-game look at how the rest of the season may play out.
When the New England Patriots visited Buffalo in September, despite discouraging early signs, the team showed just what its offense it capable of. In the second half, the Patriots scored a ridiculous 45 points, ending the day with a season-high 52.
The Patriots may not hit the 50 point mark again when the Bills come to town, but they certainly could put up a large number.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted three times in the previous game and with his gunslinger mentality, there is no reason to believe he will not give his underwhelming defense short fields to defend once again.
With the Patriot offense clicking into high gear, and an extra week to prepare for their second matchup with the Bills, it would not be a surprise to see this game get even uglier than the 52-28 rout in September.
Final Score: Patriots 41, Bills 14
Historically Bill Belichick's defenses eat rookie quarterbacks alive. However, with the Patriots already losing to the far-less-talented Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck's chances should not be discounted.
He and longtime Patriots' archrival Reggie Wayne have already become a dynamic duo, with the two already hooking up for 757 yards and two scores. The good news for New England is they will be able to divert plenty of attention to Wayne, as he is the unquestioned top weapon.
If the Patriots' shift coverage to Wayne all day, someone else will need to step up as Luck's go-to man for the day. Coby Fleener and Donnie Avery could make a handful of plays against the abysmal New England secondary to keep this game a little closer than it should be.
If pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are both reasonably healthy, they could give the Patriots' young tackles and Tom Brady some headaches. Look for the Patriots to hold back tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe or Michael Hoomanawanui often to help chip in and neutralize the pass rush.
Final Score: Patriots 31, Colts 21
The New York Jets and the New England Patriots could very well be taking the field against each other for the final time of the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez era Thanksgiving night. The Jets' seem to be in a downward spiral, and I do not see things being much better come late November.
The Patriots were killed by Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller in their near-loss in Week 7. With Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory likely to be back by this matchup, that should be less of an issue. Tavon Wilson and everyone else will be bumped down the depth chart, keeping more sure talent on the field more often.
The secondary should have themselves a much better day and not allow Sanchez to repeat his 300-yard performance from Week 7.
Tom Brady will stay away from the Antonio Cromartie/Brandon Lloyd matchup a lot more in this game and take more advantage of Rob Gronkowski, as he did in the Patriots win in London over the Rams. This game will still be closer as the Jets' funneling of the defense to the middle of the field will still create some issues.
Final Score: Patriots 24, Jets 13
Two weeks after their first look at Andrew Luck, the Patriots will get their first try at fellow first-rounder Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill and the Dolphins have become a team no one should sleep on as they are now on a three-game win streak following a 1-3 start.
The Dolphins and their improving defense will keep Tom Brady on his toes and make this game an uncomfortable one for Patriots fans to watch.
Jabar Gaffney, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have the ability to make plays against the Patriots' secondary, even when they are at full strength. They are not stars, but paired with the threatening Reggie Bush at running back, the Patriots will run into trouble.
The Patriots leave Miami with their first division loss of the season.
Final Score: Dolphins 27, Patriots 21
The Patriots face the Texans for the first time since their 2009 Week 17 loss in Houston that turned out to be Arian Foster's coming-out party. This matchup will have huge playoff implications atop the AFC and could possibly even determine who earns the No. 1 seed.
The Patriots, coming off a loss in Miami, will be looking to make a statement, and they will make it. The Patriots run defense will once again neutralize a star in Foster and make the Texans face a lot of third-and-longs. This will give Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich opportunities to let loose and get after Matt Schaub.
On the other side, the Patriots and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will scheme and divert extra attention to J.J. Watt to ensure he does not ruin this game. This will allow Tom Brady to sit back and have passing success just as Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay's knockout of the Texans in October.
Final Score: Patriots: 37, Texans 21
On a day some will hype as Randy Moss' return to New England, he will be largely an afterthought. Alex Smith will look to match the Patriots on the scoreboard but will not be able to as his defense has an off week.
Frank Gore will be able to rip off a handful of plays but will be limited to under 100 yards, forcing Harbaugh to have Smith throwing much more than he would like. Smith will be able to use Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis to beat the Patriots for a couple of scores, but it will not be quite enough.
Tom Brady will be throwing a lot on the day as Stevan Ridley is shut down by Patrick Willis and company, and Brady will have success spreading the ball around the field to his slew of weapons. This is the kind of game that is talked about as a key matchup all week but is never actually close once it gets started.
Final Score: Patriots 30, 49ers 20
Blaine Gabbert has shown signs of growth in his second-year since being the Jaguars top pick a season ago, but he will not have enough on the day to top the suddenly riding high Patriots.
His big-name receivers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon will continue to underwhelm, but will both likely make a play or two against a secondary that usually will have a lapse or two a game. Maurice Jones-Drew will be relied upon heavily in the game plan, but will be rendered ineffective by Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and friends.
Tom Brady meanwhile will have a quiet day, as the Patriots use their trio of Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen to rack up yardage. The Patriots will control the time of possession by a large margin and this game will be over quickly, though will not have a large margin of victory.
Final Score: Patriots 21, Jaguars 10
In their final game of the regular season, the Patriots will look to avenge the one divisional loss of the season from just four weeks earlier.
This time around, Ryan Tannehill will be met frequently by Chandler Jones and the Patriots pass rush and never have a chance to get settled in. In what could be the Dolphins' ugliest game of the season, the Patriots will impose their will and post a huge score before allowing Ryan Mallett to come in and finish the day out.
The Patriots will be playing for seeding and will be on a mission on both sides of the ball early on, and this one will be over before it is even started. Bill Belichick will not allow himself to be swept by a rookie quarterback.
The Patriots end the season at 12-4, grabbing the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a bye week.
Final Score: Patriots 44, Dolphins 13