At 7-2, the New England Patriots are in sole possession of the second seed in the AFC, and primed to earn a first-round bye for the fourth straight season. While that streak would be a remarkable accomplishment in itself, simply earning a nice playoff seeding is not the goal in Foxboro this season, nor has it been for quite some time.
The Patriots are a hard team to evaluate as they come out of their bye: On one hand, they are fortunate to hold such a shiny record, as New England's 4-2 mark in one-possession games is tied for third-best in the league, an indicator of some good fortune. However, with an offense that has gradually gained reinforcements, the Pats have shown glimpses of potentially being one of the NFL's most well-rounded teams.
If the Patriots are to achieve that potential, however, they need more consistency from more players on the roster. Too often, the Pats have been bailed out by individual moments of brilliance—think of Tom Brady's final drive against the Saints, or Aqib Talib's shutdown performances against top receivers. But New England has been prone to long lapses of poor play at times, something they cannot afford going into the playoffs.
Not all of the players on this list have necessarily performed poorly. Rather, they are the players who can most help eliminate those lapses, and often elevate a unit. With that in mind, here are six Patriots to watch coming out of the bye.
*All stats courtesy Pro Football Focus' premium section (subscription required) or Pro-Football-Reference.