Point/Counterpoint: Ranking Patriots' opponents in this challenging four-game stretch

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. This week, they debate the Patriots schedule. Which of their next four games is the toughest? They've ranked them here in order from strongest to weakest.

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WHICH OF THE NEXT FOUR PATRIOTS GAMES IS TOUGHEST...RANK 'EM

EAGLES: On the road. Talented team. They turned the corner after getting smashed in back-to-back weeks by the Vikings and Cowboys. They've now won two in a row (at Buffalo, 31-12 and home with the Bears, 22-14). They've run for 364 over their past two games and are going to go right at the Patriots to see if they've spruced up their run defense over the bye. Philly's also coming off a bye. Carson Wentz has been quietly efficient and tight ends have been finding success against the Patriots. Zach Ertz is the best one they've faced.

TEXANS: They have two tough ones in a row before the face the Patriots (Ravens and Colts). But they've won four of five and Deshaun Watson can be a handful. If the Patriots can get the pressure on him that they've been getting all season, they'll be able to hold the Houston offense mostly in check. But when Watson is well-protected he's as dangerous as any quarterback in the league.

CHIEFS: The one thing that would concern me here is if it gets into a shootout. The Patriots hadn't shown a clockwork offense until the Ravens game. Did they find something that will spawn a more consistent approach especially on third down and in the red zone? And how does the back end hold up against the unfair speed combo of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman? At Gillette? They should take care of business.

COWBOYS: Bill Belichick vs. Jason Garrett? I'll take the Patriots in this one fairly handily. The Cowboys will also be coming off a game at Detroit before heading to Foxboro, so I wouldn't underrate the chance to pick the brains of the Lions coaching staff and see how Dallas reacts to what Detroit does as being a key subplot to this one.

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CHIEFS: Patrick Mahomes. The combination of their team speed, the quarterback's arm and Andy Reid's scheme will be a handful for anyone the Chiefs see the rest of the way. Patriots included. Kansas City also seems to be adjusting to its new defensive identity under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who's assisted by former Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly. That's not a very good unit, but it might be a serviceable one by the time it gets to Foxboro. It'll be interesting to see Isaiah Wynn and Frank Clark match up. It might not be the preview of the AFC title game we all expected. But, given where the Chiefs record is, it might be a preview of the divisional round.

TEXANS: The Patriots will be on the road against the player who is probably, at the midway point of the season, the runner-up for league MVP. Deshaun Watson has been pressured at a rate higher than all but five quarterbacks in the league, yet he's sixth in yards per attempt, fourth in quarterback rating and fourth in completion percentage. Only Russell Wilson has been better. The Texans will be without JJ Watt, and their offensive line is still a mess. But if they're healthy at the receiver position -- as lock-down as the Patriots have been on that spot all year -- their second and third options could give the Patriots headaches. 

COWBOYS: Jason Garrett is still the boss in Dallas, but the offense has been handed over to Kellen Moore and the results have been impressive. Dak Prescott truly looks like one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league (third in yards per attempt, 8.71), and the Cowboys are no longer totally reliant on their running game. In fact, they've been an explosive play waiting to happen. They're first in explosive run rate this year, per Sharp Football Stats, and fifth in explosive pass rate. That's a dangerous combination. The Patriots shut those down with regularity (No. 1 in the NFL in limiting explosive plays), but if they're forced to bring additional forces into the box to try to slow down Elliott, they may make themselves vulnerable deep against Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.

EAGLES: The Patriots should be able to take care of business following their bye. Philly's about to be in a situation where they have to start recently re-signed receiver Jordan Matthews. They don't scare anyone at that position. Zach Ertz should be doubled. And as long as Miles Sanders is bottled up in the passing game, the Patriots will be OK. The Eagles running game has been potent, but if the Patriots score early on Philadelphia's generous secondary, that should force Doug Pederson to chase points and eventually abandon his ground game. Against 11 personnel, which the Patriots ran for the entirety of their last game, the Eagles allow over 7.0 yards per pass attempt, a 3-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and 5.0 yards per carry. 

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Point/Counterpoint: Ranking Patriots' opponents in this challenging four-game stretch originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston


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