4 Questions the New England Patriots Still Must Answer in the Playoffs
After embarrassing the Houston Texans—who many believed to be the best team in the NFL—on Monday Night Football in a 42-14 trouncing, it's hard to pinpoint many imperfections that the New England Patriots may have.
But here in Patriot Nation, we demand perfection.
And for that reason, there are still a few questions the Pats must answer in the playoffs.
So without further ado, let the nitpicking begin!
Can They Play Their Best After Some Time Off?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
At 10-3, and trailing only the Texans (11-2) in the AFC, the Patriots are in great position to land one of the top seeds in the playoffs, which means they would be rewarded with a first-round bye week.
Well as it turns out, the Patriots don't seem to play their best ball after some time off.
After their bye week this season, the Patriots barely beat the woeful Buffalo Bills and gave up 31 points in the process.
Look, a win is a win, but the competition is going to be light years ahead of the feeble Bills and Dolphins in the playoffs.
The Pats need to prove they can still bring it after a few days off.
Can They Stay Healthy?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Despite playing some dominating football, the Patriots have been the victim of the injury bug all season long.
Aaron Hernandez hurt his ankle, then got better (eventually), but then Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm.
Julian Edelman looked like he was about to have a breakout season, then he breaks his foot and lands on injured reserved.
That's OK, though, because the team signed Donte Stallworth to fill in...oh wait...he's on injured reserve now too.
Chandler Jones missed two games.
Starting guards, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, have both missed substantial time because of injury as well.
This list could go on forever!
You get the point, though. The Patriots have the best chance of hoisting the Lombardi in February if they are at full strength throughout the playoffs.
Can the Defense Win a Game When Brady Has a Bad Day?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
When Tom Brady had a less-than-stellar day in Miami a couple weeks back (238 yards, one TD, one INT), the defense pulled through and made a bunch of stops on third down (Miami was 3-of-13) and helped the team once again become AFC East champs.
Then, back in Week 2 when Brady was a bit off his mark against the Arizona Cardinals, the defense again pulled through with a forced fumble and recovery late in the game.
Stephen Gostkowski missed the game-winning field goal, but the defense still did its job.
So, to some degree, New England's defense has already proven that it can win when Brady isn't himself (which isn't often), but they did it against the Dolphins and the Cardinals.
While the defense has been playing at a high level over the second half of the season, it still has to prove it can shut down an elite offense when the game is on the line.
Can the Defense Hold When Turnovers Dry Up?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
The Patriots are creating turnovers at a ridiculous rate.
Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich both have five forced fumbles apiece.
The back end of the defense is snagging the pigskin too, with guys like Devin McCourty (four interceptions), Alfonzo Dennard (three interceptions) and Tavon Wilson (four interceptions) all chipping in.
As Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston points out—and this should come as no surprise—the Pats lead the league in turnover differential at plus-24 (34 takeaways, 10 giveaways).
With that said, the question is: Can New England's defense still get the job done when the turnovers dry up?
Over the last three games, the Patriots have held their opponents to a combined 10-for-37 on third down (per Christopher Price of WEEI.com).
That is an incredibly impressive 27 percent.
If I were a betting man, I'd bet on the defense being able to make stops in the playoffs, but they still need to prove it.