BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots are off this weekend, leaving the WBZ-TV and CBS Boston sports team without a game to predict. But we're not going to leave you empty-handed this weekend.
Just because there is no game doesn't mean we don't have the Patriots on our minds. And we've been doing a lot of thinking these last few days.
The Patriots are 8-1, but there's a lot of work left, especially after a 37-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Pats are about to hit their toughest stretch of the season, a true test for their dominant defense and struggling offense.
So without further ado, here are the most intriguing storylines that the sports team will be watching throughout the final seven weeks of the regular season.
Steve Burton: Building A Running Game And Racking Up Picks
There are a few things I'll be watching for in the second half of the season. The first: the running game. Can the Patriots get that going? That leads me to the offensive line. I'm intrigued to see how O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia works his magic to bring the line together, with Isaiah Wynn coming back.
Also, how many interceptions will the defense finish with? They have 19 on the season nine games thus far. Can they finish the year with 30 picks? It's asking a lot, but time will tell.
Dan Roche: Finding Their Way On Offense
The beauty of watching the Patriots the past several years is that each season has been different en route to the AFC title game or the Super Bowl. Last year they were 9-5 but then turned it on for their last five games, with the offense taking to the running game while the D got better and better.
This year, I'm curious to see what Josh McDaniels will do with the personnel that he has. He's been so good at adapting to a unit's strength. Watching him (along with Tom Brady) find that strength will be fun to watch. And, he does it as well as anyone in the game. So not only am I interested in seeing how far this team can go, but how the week-to-week game-planning and overall process unfolds too.
Levan Reid: The O-Line -- And A Rematch With Baltimore
Very quick and very simple: The Pats getting left tackle Isaiah Wynn back should lead to a somewhat balanced offense. New England will be able to run the ball better, and with the new acquisition of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, the passing game should be off the charts.
They'll meet the Ravens in the playoffs and Bill has so much tape on Lamar Jackson and that offense from last weekend, the Pats will smother and beat the Ravens on their way to another AFC title.
Michael Hurley: Patriots D Vs. Deshaun Watson
Barring a complete and utter collapse (which I do not foresee), I am solely interested in the Texans game in Week 13 – even more so than the Chiefs game. Maybe that's foolhardy, but after seeing what Lamar Jackson could do against that great defense, I'm now curious to see what Deshaun Watson will be able to do.
I've been extremely high on this Patriots defense, and I still am. But if you map out the playoff setup, the Patriots are very likely to be welcoming either the Chiefs, Texans or Ravens into Gillette for the divisional round. Unlike some Tebow-rific years, it's going to be a very difficult game facing the Patriots in that round, so a Regular Season Round One vs. Watson while he's having an incredible season? That's going to be a very big game for a number of reasons.
Matthew Geagan: Brady's Targets
It would be nice to see the run game dominate like it did late last season, but I don't think that's going to happen with this offensive line -- even if Isaiah Wynn comes back healthy. So my focus will be on Tom Brady and whom he slings the pigskin to the rest of the way.
Julian Edelman has 90 targets so far this season and is on pace for a career-high 160 targets. That seems like a lot for a 33-year-old who takes beatings every single week. His career-high is 158 targets in 2016.
It would be nice to see Brady spread the ball around, which should help preserve Edelman a little bit more for the playoffs. It was promising to see Brady go Mohamed Sanu's way 14 times in Baltimore, a sign that he already trusts the veteran. And we know how much trust he has in Phillip Dorsett. That duo should get their share of targets over the last seven weeks, along with running backs James White and Rex Burkhead.
Edelman and Sanu played every offensive snap against the Ravens, and Dorsett missed just one after taking a hit in an awkward spot. That meant there was no love for rookie Jakobi Meyers, who has looked capable of catching passes in the NFL. But Brady has gone his way only 17 times this season, and it would be nice to see that number go up over the next two-plus months. And with first-round pick N'Keal Harry coming back, it would nice to see him get some chances as well. The Patriots should try to get something out of a kid they took in the first round, though really, we shouldn't expect an offense-altering impact from a guy who missed all that time. But Harry could give Brady a big receiver in the red zone, which should help an offense that is batting just 50 percent when they get inside their opponent's 20.
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