Even without Tom Brady, Patriots Still in the Mix To Win AFC

Sean CroweSenior Writer ISeptember 28, 2008

If September has proven anything, it’s that the New England Patriots are still in the mix to win the AFC, even without Tom Brady.

The Denver Broncos are a tremendous offensive team, but their defense might be the worst in the NFL.

The Buffalo Bills are undefeated, but is anyone seriously scared of Trent Edwards and company?

The Indianapolis Colts have looked mortal, and even with their starting quarterback, they’ve barely won a single game.

The Jaguars’ offense looks disorganized, and their defense can be scored upon.

The Chargers were dominated for three quarters by the Oakland Raiders, and they’re lucky to be 2-2 right now.

The Titans are undefeated, but nobody’s really sure how.

The Steelers are probably the best team in the AFC, except they’re eventually going to get Ben Roethlisberger killed.

Is there really anyone in that group that scares you?

The AFC, luckily for the Patriots, seems to be in the middle of a down year. The power conference is the NFC this season. Even without Tom Brady, the Pats are right square in the middle of the AFC playoff race.

There are a couple of things the Patriots need to do if they’re going to take advantage of a weak AFC.


Better Quarterback Play

If that’s going to come from Matt Cassel, then great. If not, they need to make the switch to the rookie Kevin O’Connell.

Matt Cassel isn’t the worst quarterback in the NFL, but it’s clear he lacks any mobility whatsoever. If he doesn’t get better reading defenses and getting rid of the ball, the Patriots need to make a change.

O’Connell, at the very least, gives you a guy who can move around in the pocket and make plays with his feet. And frankly, he’s outplayed Cassel every time he’s taken the field since the first preseason game.


Get the Rookies Involved on Defense

The Patriots need contributions from Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite on the defensive side of the ball. Ellis Hobbs, Lewis Sanders, and Deltha O’Neal are all decent professional football players, but none have the speed and potential of the two Patriot rookies.

The secondary has been picked on a little this season. Wilhite and Wheatley both need to mature quickly and get involved if the defensive secondary is going to improve as the season goes along.

Shawn Crable needs to add a pass-rushing force to the front seven.

Mike Vrable seems to have lost a half step—Crable is the guy they drafted to eventually replace his pass-rushing prowess.

His improvement would also allow Vrable or Adalius Thomas to play a little more in the middle, getting the slow and aging Tedy Bruschi some much needed in-game rest.

If the Patriots are going to contend for the Super Bowl this season, they’ll need their rookies to help get them there.


Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at scrowe@gmail.com. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.