With ten games remaining, have the 3-3 Patriots played themselves out of a bye-week, or do they still have a real chance at catching the 5-1 Ravens or Texans for one of the AFC's top two spots?
Jason: Normally I'd be concerned, but both the Texans and the Ravens suffered ball-busting injuries last week. I'm not even sure if Baltimore will win their division without Webb, Lewis and Suggs. And even worse, Flacco is still healthy. If the Pats beat the Texans later this year, they'd only need to make up one more game. That's still doable.
Stephen: It's still far too early in the season to count out the Patriots. The Ravens suffered two serious injuries on defense, losing Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb for the season, and stars Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata are banged up, too. I expect the Ravens to fall back a bit because of the lack of depth on defense and I still don't trust Joe Flacco. The Texans have also been exposed as one-dimensional on offense and also suffered a huge injury in losing linebacker Brian Cushing. Don't count out Tom Brady and Co. just yet.
Raj: They certainly still have a shot at one of the top 2 spots in the AFC. Granted, I won't give the Patriots the #1 seed. Houston can savor that all they want. But, Baltimore just lost 2 key players on defense for the rest of the season, Ladarius Webb and Ray Lewis. That creates a huge tear on the Ravens' D. While the Patriots won't play them again in the regular season, if New England keeps winning its games and Baltimore loses its ground (that's what everyone is predicting probably), then look for the #2 spot to go to the Pats. However, there are some quiet AFC teams that can pose a threat. Watch out for them Chargers!
Derek: Before the Ravens had their myriad of injuries, I would have said the chances were very, very slim. Yes, it's still early in the season, and yes, you have to believe the Patriots will find a way to get themselves in the mix, but realistically, the odds were highly stacked against them.
At 3-3, the Patriots are essentially three games behind Baltimore since the Ravens own the head-to-head tie-breaker. If the Ravens finished 7-3 the rest of the way, the Patriots would have needed to go 10-0 to leap frog them in the standings. That 10-0 finish would include wins over Houston and San Francisco, as well as a 6-0 record in the division, which the Brady/Belichick Patriots have managed to accomplish all of once in 11 seasons. If the Pats lost a single game alone the way, suddenly, you'd need Baltimore to finish a pedestrian 6-4, which seemed highly improbable before they were hit with the injury bug.
As for the Texans, you can argue that if the Patriots win their Week 10 match-up with Houston, they would only need to make up one other game along the way. That's certainly possible, but again, you're assuming that New England wins against a very good team and manages to outplay Houston and their cake-walk of a division schedule.
Prior to the Raven's injuries, I would have put the Ravens out of reach, and have guessed the Patriots would have needed to finish 9-1 or possibly 10-0 to overcome Houston. Now with Lewis and Webb out, it's hard to say how the Ravens will respond. If the Pats take care of business, the door had been potentially left open for them to sneak back to the top. Still, it will take near perfection from here on out to do so.