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Friday, November 23, 2012
Moving forward: New England Patriots

By James Walker

The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots pummeled the rival New York Jets, 49-19, in a snoozer on Thanksgiving. The game was a further indication of how significant the gap is between the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East.

New England will win the division again this season. But there are still five games left to play until the playoffs.

Here are some things New England must take a look at moving forward:

Chase down Houston or Baltimore

The chase for the top two seeds in the AFC is going to be exciting down the stretch. New England (7-3) trails both the Houston Texans (9-1) and Baltimore Ravens (8-2).

Houston is two games up but must play the Patriots in December on “Monday Night Football.” The Ravens beat New England earlier this year and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

All the Patriots can do is keep winning and hope one of those two teams slip up down the stretch. But New England is guaranteed a home playoff game by locking up the AFC East.

Continue to improve secondary

New England’s struggling secondary is most likely the biggest thing that could derail the team this season. But this group has made strides the past two games.

The trade for talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib is paying some early dividens. Talib already has a pick six in his first two games and should only get better once he fully gets used to the system. Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard also is playing well and showing some confidence.

Get healthy for stretch run

It is scary to think that New England is playing this well while not at full strength. Key starters like Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm), Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (calf) and rookie defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) are all sidelined with injuries.

The Patriots have performed well through injury and expect all these key plays back by December. This will allow the team to mesh well at full strength before the postseason.