Three weeks ago, it appeared that this might just be a tune up game for the New England Patriots. Now, it could be argued that this is as crucial of a game as they have had all year.
First and foremost, the Patriots are still in the hunt for a first round bye. Anytime a Bill Belichick/Tom Brady led team has a chance to stay at home, get people healthy, and have extra time to prepare, they are in great shape to make a Super Bowl run.
However, in order for them to get that bye, the Patriots will not only need to win, but they will need help from either the Texans or Broncos (which I don’t see happening). Although, an argument could be made that the Patriots would rather lose and go to Houston in round 2 instead of Denver, but good luck telling the Patriots that.
Also, this will be Rob Gronkowski’s first game back after missing 5 weeks and will be his only tune-up before the playoffs. If you think Gronkowksi not playing hasn’t been a big deal, think again. Getting Gronkowski back, healthy, and playing well before the first playoff game, I believe is a MUST for the Patriots.
With all that being said, the main reason that I believe the Patriots need to win—and win big—is for their confidence. The LAST thing the Patriots want to do is back into the playoffs with a loss to San Fran and two subpar wins against Jacksonville and Miami. Brady, Bellichick and the Patriots faithful will feel much better having some momentum going into a playoff game against a pretty hot Bengals team.
In the end, I think the Patriots exert some of their recent frustration and win this one going away. Patriots by 12.
Follow Cole Stevenson on twitter: @Cole_Stevenson