Patriots' Schedule Looks Promising

A quick look ahead at the rest of the Patriots' regular season schedule looks promising for their chances to earn a home playoff spot.

   You can't fault the Patriots for the lack of difficulty on their upcoming schedule.

   New England has won three consecutive games, the past two against teams with losing records. Of the five remaining games, only one is against a team with a winning mark, Denver (6-5).

   The good news for the Patriots is that they are getting the job done regardless of the level of competition.

   On Sunday, the Patriots rebounded from a slot start in which they trailed by 10 points and rolled to a 38-20 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia. Coupled with the previous week's blowout win over the Chiefs, the Patriots have taken care of business against second-division teams. This week, they get the biggest bottom-feeder of them all, the winless Colts.

   While it's in their best interest to not look too far ahead, it'd be understandable if the Patriots were to pencil themselves as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. No team has more wins or an easier schedule down the stretch, but coach Bill Belichick hasn't thought that far in advance just yet, even if everyone else already has.

   "I don't even think about the big picture," Belichick said. "(The) big picture right now is Indianapolis. That's the big picture.

   "I'll leave that to all the experts to figure out. I know you guys spend a lot of time on that. Right now, I think our focus is how to improve our team on a weekly basis and how to get ready for Indianapolis and be competitive against them. That's really only thing we can do anything about, so all the rest of it is just a bunch of garbage."

   Given the Patriots' postseason struggles the past two years, it's hard to argue with his overall point, but the AFC is ripe for the picking right now with no real dominant team, so home-field advantage could be the deciding factor in who makes it to the Super Bowl.

   With the Colts on deck, there's a strong chance the Patriots will be 9-3 after next weekend, and an equally strong chance they will run the table the rest of the way.

   The idea of this weekend's game being a trap game almost sounds preposterous, not only because of how poorly Indianapolis has played, but because of how the Patriots always seem to have tunnel vision, focusing squarely on the task at hand.

   "I don't ever feel like we should lose against anybody if we play the way that we're capable, so when we go into any game, whether it's this game or last week's game, it's about what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We're playing against Indy. I know they're not having the year they want to have or they expected to have, (but) their defense looks the same to me. I know we have our work cut out for us on offense. I don't give a damn what their record is. We're going out there and we've got to try to execute very well against a team that always gives us problems."

Patriots maintain league's longest string of winning years

   --After beating Philadelphia on Sunday, the Patriots are guaranteed to finish with at least a .500 record for the 11th consecutive season.

   The Patriots are the only team to have accomplished the feat for 11 consecutive seasons; every other team in the league had at least one losing season between 2001 and 2010.

   --Quarterback Tom Brady earned his 119th win Sunday, tying Johnny Unitas for sixth place on the all-time list, which only includes regular-season games.

   --Rob Gronkowski broke his own team record for most touchdowns in a single season by a tight end with his 11th TD catch Sunday.

   Gronkowski leads all NFL tight ends with 21 touchdowns over the past two years and is now only two touchdowns away from tying the league's single-season record of 13, set by Vernon Davis (2009) and Antonio Gates (2004).

  --OT Sebastian Vollmer left Sunday's game with a right foot injury and did not return. His availability for this weekend will depend on his daily practice participation.
   --S James Ihedigbo suffered a shoulder injury Sunday, but he returned to finish the game.
   --WR Tiquan Underwood, a recent addition to the active roster, played during Sunday's game, but he did not catch any passes. His activation is interesting considering the team seemed insistent on working Taylor Price into the lineup.
   --WR Julian Edelman continued to serve a role on defense Sunday, playing on 16 snaps and tackling Eagles QB Vince Young near the goal line.
   --LB Rob Ninkovich played some snaps as a defensive end in the Patriots' 4-3 scheme and did a nice job setting the edge on several occasions. He's showing tremendous versatility in the latter stage of the season.

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