The Patriots Seem Destined for an Undefeated Season

Even injuries shouldn't derail them.

After the Cincinnati Bengals’ loss Monday night, the Patriots are now the only undefeated team in the AFC (the Carolina Panthers remain undefeated in the NFC). It will likely stay that way for the rest of the season.

The Patriots’ seemingly inevitable march towards perfection is just as much about the mediocrity of their competition as it is about them. The combined record of the seven opponents left on the Pats’ schedule is 31-32, though that includes the Denver Broncos, who don’t look like a 7-2 team at the moment.

From the start of the season, the Patriots’ trip into Denver November 29 was expected to be their toughest game of the year. The Broncos have the best defense in the league and on top of that, it was supposed to be the last showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But even if Manning plays in two weeks, he’ll be a shell of his former self.

In what is certainly a metaphor for how many Patriots fans view his career, Manning was benched Sunday on the same day he broke the NFL’s all-time passing yards record. He threw four picks in the Broncos’ 29-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and now leads the league with 17 interceptions on the season.

After the game, news broke that Manning is battling torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Backup Brock Osweiler will start for the Broncos this week for the first time in his career.

But even if Manning is able to take the field against the Patriots at the end of the month, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to do much damage against this defense. For all of the accolades the high-scoring offense has received, the Patriots’ D has proven to be a worthy co-star.

Over the first nine games of the season, the Patriots have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL. Bill Belichick has selected a defensive player with his first pick in the draft for seven of the last eight years, and it shows: This is one of the best young defenses in all of football.

Defensive end Chandler Jones leads the league in sacks and Malcolm Butler has developed into a lockdown corner. He smothered Odell Beckham Jr. Sunday, only allowing the star wideout to bring in three catches on 11 targets after surrendering an 87-yard touchdown pass on the Giants’ second play (which was largely the fault of Devin McCourty, who took a poor angle on the play and failed to bring Beckham down).

The Patriots are batting a litany of injuries on the offensive side of the ball, as Brady is working without Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, and several starters on the O-line. But a Patriots offense centered on Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Brandon LaFell should still put up its share of points. Remember, we’ve seen Brady take a team to the AFC Title Game that had Reche Caldwell as its No. 1 receiver.

If Edelman is inactive or limited for the playoffs, then the Patriots’ Super Bowl hopes will take a hit. But they should be able to survive the rest of their regular-season schedule, which is largely a sad collection of ineptitude that includes Rex Ryan’s Bills, the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins, and the 2-7 Tennessee Titans.

Brady may say an undefeated season is the “furthest thing from anybody’s mind,” but the possibility is becoming more difficult to ignore with each passing day. For the second time in eight years, perfection is within the Patriots’ grasp.