Tom Brady's game face
No, the 10-3 record does not present such a case as the Houston Texans still remain one game ahead at 11-2.
But after Brady eviscerated J.J. Watt's defense with four touchdowns passes and Houston only sacking him one time, the Pats are playing the best.
If anything, Brady's dazzling performance also reveals the emphatic weakness that is the Texans' pass defense.
After all, other quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Chad Henne and Matthew Stafford each picked Houston apart this season, as well. So, it was not surprising to see Brady echo those signal-callers and expose Wade Phillips' vulnerable coverage.
On the other hand, Bill Belichick's defense minimized Arian Foster's production to a mere 85 total yards and one touchdown. For an offense that has sustained a high level of balance and efficiency throughout the course of 2012, New England limited Houston to just 14 points and 323 total yards.
Which AFC team is most dangerous to New England?
That said: What makes Brady and the Pats so good?
Well, New England is no longer a pass-happy offense. Without question, Brady is still the main focal point, but he's backed by one impressive rushing attack.
Entering Week 15, the Patriots rank No. 7 in rushing offense and average 4.2 yards per carry.
Even better, Stevan Ridley gets 4.5 per rush and Brandon Bolden is punching for 5.4 per attempt. On Monday, the Patriots combined for 130 rushing yards against the now No. 3 ranked rushing defense.
It's expected that Brady spreads the field and thwarts any opposing defense using his array of targets. Still, factor in a consistently reliable running game that features a two-back tandem and you have a recipe for dominance.
In short, Brady's offense can punish between the tackles and win any down-and-distance situation. The end result is this strong balance keeping defenses honest and allowing Brady even more time when working off play-action.
Defensively, New England does occasionally bend, but it doesn't break.
Houston averaged only 3.7 yards per rush in Week 14 and went a dismal 4-of-14 on third down. No matter how much star power or effective balance an offense presents, facing an explosive team with a legendary quarterback will result in a loss when third down doesn't get converted.
New England's offense averages 36.3 points per game, so failing to keep Brady off the field is what costs teams. Houston face-planted in that regard, which was a key difference.
Also, Belichick's defense is well-versed at forcing turnovers.
Along with having 15 picks on the season, New England has recovered 19 of 31 forced fumbles. Given how few times Brady turns the ball over and the Patriots are playing better than anyone in the conference.
And in an article by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Rosenthal writes:
It's December. The New England Patriots are peaking on both sides of the ball. Welcome to the last decade.
This was supposed to be a battle of AFC titans. Instead, the Patriots made an 11-1 squad look like the Kansas City Chiefs. Or maybe the Kansas City Royals. The game was such a laugher that backup quarterbacks played for both sides down the stretch. It was the type of loss that lingers.
One can't help but agree with Rosenthal, because it's the Patriots' elite level of consistency that is always most impressive.
Brady and Belichick have been to five Super Bowls dating back to 2001: But if Monday night is evidence of anything, the Texans are not quite yet prepared to match pro football's most consistent franchise of the 21st century.
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