Now we’ll find out how good they can be

True to the nature of this NFL season, the Patriots quietly slipped into first place while spending Sunday at their homes, doing whatever it is that players and coaches do when they have an idle Sunday in November.

It should be noted that the Pats are one-half game ahead of the Bills because New England has played one more game and has one more win. Thank old friend Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee Titans this week for dropping a 41-12 shellacking on Buffalo.

Of course, the Titans could have an elbow aimed at the ribs of the AFC East leader again this week when they visit Foxborough. The last time they were at Gillette Stadium they provided a sour ending to Tom Brady’s Patriots career.

And on Dec. 6, the Pats and Bills will square off on Monday Night Football.

A December night in Buffalo … the prospect promises as much punishment as opportunity.

The Patriots then have a bye week. As they though their extremities, the questions that have quickly taken flight may have definitive answers:

Are the Patriots a lot better than we thought?

Are the Bills fraudulent contenders?

Yes and no.

In September the Patriots seemed to have the makings of an improved, but not fully developed, .500 club. Eight or nine wins would have satisfied reasonable expectations for a club featuring an underwhelming defense and rookie quarterback.

A 2-4 start buttressed those opinions.

A 5-0 middle obliterated them.

Winning five straight games is a tall order for an NFL team that is no more than mediocre. When hearing someone dismiss that streak as fool’s gold, bounty padded by beating up on the likes of the Jets, Panthers and Falcons, note that they also pounded the Browns into submission and clipped the Chargers.

Not to go all Belichickian here, but they simply beat up the teams on their schedule. And a decent case could be cobbled together that they should have beaten the Cowboys and played the Buccaneers on even terms.

Their defense has become dominant. Clearly on an advanced timetable, Mac Jones has become a good NFL quarterback.

Aren’t those the primary ingredients for making an NFL contender?

Buffalo may yet win the division. But the Patriots will be in the playoffs.

And if they meet in the postseason, it takes no genius to figure out where the smart money will land.

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