It is early to speculate about playoff berths, but because of the quick starts by Baltimore, Denver, Oakland and even Miami, the New England Patriots can hardly put their hopes on a wild-card spot.
The Patriots find themselves in pretty much a "must-win" circumstance against the Colts today in Foxboro, Mass., because they already have lost two games.
The Colts and Broncos are 5-0, the Raiders 4-1 and not figuring to lose many more, and the Dolphins 4-1. The Patriots are 3-2.
TTThe Patriots figured to have the easiest schedule in 1976, but won the division through the system used to break such ties. New England made the playoffs as a wild-card d team.
The Patriots figured to have the easiest schedule in the National Football Leagure for 1977, based on how many games their opponents won last year. The Colts figured to have the second-easiest schedule on that basis.
The Colts so far have defeated Seattle, the New York Jets, Buffalo, Miame and Kansas City.
The Patriots beat Kansas City, but lost in overtime to Cleveland, 30-27, and by the same score to the Jets, who had a 3-11 record last year. Then the Patriots beat Seattle and San Diego.
In 1976, the Patriots gave up fewer points than the Colts. So far this season, it is the other way around, although New England has scored 130 to lead the AFC while Baltimmore has scored 128.
The Patriots also lead the AFC in rushing, but they will be going up against the No. 3 rushing defense.
New Englandd will be a slight favorite playing at home and it shoulod be an entertaining game for those who watch the nationally televised match at 4 p.m., WRC-TV-4.
It figures to be a ball control and short-passing game.
Bert Jones of the Colts leads the conference in passing with a 62.0 completion percentage, with 48 of his successful 75 throws split evenly between running backs Lydell Mitchell and Don McCauley.
Steve Grogan of the Patriots has a 56.4 completion percentage, but he has a higher average gain per pass, and nine touchdown throws to Jones' six, Grogan has thrown 21 of his 62 completed passes to running back Sam Cunningham.
Mitchell led as the AFC in rushing with 511 yards; Cunningham is second with 482.
Other immiportant games today pit unbeaten Denver against the Bengals (2-3) in Cincinnati; undefeated Dallas against the Eagles (2-3) in Philadelphia; Houston (3-2) is at Pittsburgh (3-2). Atlanta (3-2) is at Chicago (2-3) and Monday night Minnesota (4-1) is at Los Angeles (3-2).