It's hard to have a do-or-die game in Week 4 of the season. No matter what type of trouble a team finds themselves in, twelve weeks is still plenty of time to dig yourself out of a hole. Still, if the Patriots fall tonight in Miami, they'll find themselves in a very difficult spot, essentially two games behind the 3-1 Jets and Dolphins as both teams would hold a tie-breaker edge in the race for the AFC East title. Winning the division is going to be critical for the Patriots' post-season hopes. With the way the rest of the AFC is shaping up, it may be that the only AFC East team to make the playoffs is the winner. The other three divisions have the benefit of having two-horse races. In down south, you have Indy/Houston, up north is Pittsburgh/Baltimore, and out west is Kansas City/San Diego. The AFC East teams have the unfortunate luck to be involved in a triple threat match, which means that while the Chiefs get to pound on Oakland and Denver twice, the Pats, Jets, and Phins have to constantly beat on each other and likely drop each of their winning percentage in the process. Sure, teams like the Colts can always stub their toe like they did against Jacksonville, but in terms of the overall picture, the top three AFC East teams have the toughest road to the playoffs, by far.
Like I said, twelve weeks is plenty of time to make up two games, especially when a win over the Jets and Dolphins at Gillette late in the year would put everything back to neutral. However, the last thing this young Patriots team wants to do is spend the rest of the season playing catch-up. After they finish off this three-game divisional stretch, they get the privilege of meeting up with Baltimore, San Diego, Pittsbugh, Indy, Green Bay, and Chicago. That's a stretch where they need to find themselves treading water, not trying to make up ground.
Like I said, it's not "do-or-die" four weeks into the season. The 2003 Patriots started 2-2 before winning the Super Bowl. The 2001 Patriots began 1-3. Still, given the divisional implications, the rest of the AFC standings, and the Pats' upcoming schedule, there's a big difference between 2-2 in third place and 3-1 tied for first. It's time for the Patriots to regain some of that swagger that carried them through the last decade and do something they didn't do for all of last season by wining a big game on the road. If they don't, the Patriots might not be dead, but the season will definitely be needing some life support.