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Monday, October 17, 2011
Patriots at the bye: Three questions

By James Walker

The New England Patriots enter their bye week an impressive 5-1. It's the perfect time to reflect and improve on the team's weaknesses.

Here are three questions facing New England during its time off:

1. Can the defense continue to improve?

Analysis: The Patriots' defense is gaining momentum at the right time. New England has allowed just 37 points the past two games, is starting to sack the quarterback and has improved on third downs. This group doesn't need to be elite. The Patriots' offense is clearly the strength of the team. But signs of progress and two weeks to make further improvements make New England an even more dangerous group.

2. Can WR Chad Ochocinco get involved?

Analysis: It's clear the Patriots do not need Ochocinco to be successful. His playing time has fluctuated and the Patriots keep winning. According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, Ochocinco played just seven snaps against the Dallas Cowboys. Ochocinco also had zero receptions in the game. The two-week break should provide Ochocinco a chance to get up to speed. The Patriots might need a big game from the Pro Bowler eventually.

3. A look ahead to a tough slate

Analysis: The Patriots are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time this season. But to hold it, they have to survive a tough, three-game stretch after the bye. New England plays two of its next three games on the road. The Patriots will play at the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) on Oct. 30, the New York Giants (4-2) at home on Nov. 6, and at the Jets (2-3) on Nov. 13. Winning out in this stretch could create distance from the Bills (4-2) and Jets entering the second half of the season.