At the midway point in the season the last few years, the biggest worry on the minds of Patriots fans has been whether their team has the inside edge at a first-round bye. This season, however, they have to be concerned about their team making the playoffs altogether.
At 5-3, the Patriots aren’t exactly hitting the panic button. But they’re not sitting pretty, either. After dropping their second straight game (their first regular season losing streak since 2009), the Patriots find themselves in a three-way tie atop the AFC East with the Jets and Bills.
They’ll need to beat out at least one of those teams -- possibly both -- to get into the postseason because the AFC North is equally as strong a division as the East. The Steelers, Ravens and surprising Bengals all have a better record than New England and the Steelers own a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Patriots.
All of which makes next Sunday night’s Patriots-Jets clash at the Meadowlands the biggest game of the season to this point. A New England win secures the tiebreaker over New York and gives the Patriots a 3-1 division record (Buffalo is 1-1). If the Patriots lose that game (keep in mind the Patriots are 0-2 against the Jets at the Meadowlands in the Rex Ryan era) they’re suddenly just a game over .500, staring up at both the Jets and Bills in the division and still trailing all three teams in the AFC North as well.
The good news is the Pats still have the easiest part of their schedule to come. After facing the Jets, Chiefs and Eagles, December looks like a time to make hay. The Patriots will play the Colts, Redskins, Broncos and Dolphins (teams with a combined 7-26 record) consecutively before closing the season against the Bills on Jan. 1 in what could be a battle for the AFC East crown and a first-round bye.
Are we getting a little ahead of ourselves? Maybe. But it’s worth noting this is the team’s worst record at the midway point since 2008, when the Patriots were also 5-3 and missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record. You have to go all the way back to 2005 for the last time a Tom Brady-led team wasn’t at least 6-2 through eight games.
What do you think? Are we crazy for bringing up playoff scenarios in Week 9 or are you concerned about this team going forward? Vote in the poll and share your thoughts in the comments section.
(Updated with the result of Sunday night's Steelers-Ravens game.)