It’s time to face the facts people. Whether you like it or not, we have to be honest with ourselves. Honesty is always the best policy, I believe that’s true in all aspects of life. The honest truth is, the New England Patriots are a really good football team. Like, they are really really good.
Not just making the playoffs kind of good, I’m talking about making the playoffs and maybe going on a little run in the playoffs kind of good. A trip to the Super Bowl kind of good.
If I had said that a few weeks ago, I would have been branded as a hometown-biased lunatic. Fast forward to Week 11, and people probably won’t try to admit me into a mental hospital for stating that this Patriots team has the makings of a real contender. It’s crazy what a huge difference a few weeks can make. That’s the beauty of the NFL.
Looking at how this Patriots team has performed of late, I truly belive this team could make a run to the Super Bowl. Everyone outside of Patriots fandom is rolling their eyes reading that last line, but bear with me here. This isn’t some shot in the dark. Here are five legitimate reasons why the Patriots could reach the Super Bowl.
Enough said. Plain and simple, this is a Super Bowl caliber defense. It’s up there with the Buffalo Bills for one of the best defenses in pro football right now. It’s the defense that has in large part fueled New England’s current win streak.
The Patriots have surrendered a grand total of just 50 points over their five game win streak. Giving up just 50 points in five games in today’s NFL, regardless of competition, is nuts. If you break it down even further, the Patriots have given up just 13 points in their last three games combined. That equals out to 4.3 PPG allowed defensively over the last three games…..wow.
There are so many stats I could throw out that show how good this defense has been during the win streak. Stats like how the defense has scored more touchdowns than its given up in its last three games. How about how New England has now gone 19 consecutive drives on defense without surrendering a single point.
I could go on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned how the Patriots are top five in the league in both takeaways and sacks this year. Belichick deserves a ton of credit for getting the defense to where it is now. Great drafting and free agent decisions by Bill have brought us to this point.
The additions of free agent Matthew Judon and rookie 2nd round pick Christian Barmore are already paying off. Bringing back former players like Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy versatility and a feeling of familiarity at the same time. This defense is loaded and has depth at key positions.
New England’s defense alone makes them a contender. I think you could put this unit against almost any team in the NFL and feel pretty good about your chances.
OFFENSE FINDING ITS RHYTHM
In the early weeks of the NFL season, there was serious reason to worry about this offense. The offensive line, in large part due to injuries, was in shambles. Rookie QB Mac Jones was under pressure constantly it seemed. The run game was stifled due to poor run blocking.
Speaking of the running game, the running back room was also looking shaky early on. Too many fumbles and ineffective running lead to the Patriots having to trust their rookie signal caller to throw the ball 40+ times a game. When dealing with a rookie, that’s not exactly what you want to see.
Thankfully, those early season woes have gone away. Things are beginning to click, resembling what many people (including myself), thought we would see before the season started. The O-Line is starting to play like a top ten unit, giving Mac time in the pocket to make things happen, as well as opening up rushing lanes for the RBs.
Damien Harris has had a strong season thus far, rushing for 603 yards and 7 TDs on the year. Harris, along with rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, are beginning to form a very prominent one-two punch in the ground game.
Stevenson struggled early in the season battling injuries and fumbling issues, but has recovered nicely over the last three weeks. He has rushed for 231 yards and 2 TDs over the past three games, splitting carries with Harris.
All of this has opened up the passing game for New England in ways that I’m sure Josh McDaniels was hoping for. The play action pass attack has been working brilliantly of late, in large part due to the improved protection and run support.
The Patriots have been averaging an impressive 35.0 PPG during their five game win streak, as well as 387.2 TYPG (Total Yards Per Game) on offense. Mix this with the stellar defense talked about in the pervious section, and you have a recipe for a playoff contender. Scoring points on New England will be tough enough, but having to focus on shutting down a streaking offense as well? That’s not an easy task for anyone.
MAC JONES KEEPS IMPROVING
This is a big one. I was going to throw him into the “offense finding its rhythm” category, but this feels so much more important. Coming into the year, my largest concern with this team was the passing game. On paper, the defense looked really good. The offensive line looked like it was one of the best in the league, and we were going to have a stable of strong running backs.
However, whether it was Cam Newton or the rookie Mac Jones, I had some serious questions and concerns regarding the team’s ability to throw the football. It was and is still in my opinion the key to this team doing well. Even with a strong defense and run game like New England, if you can’t rely on your QB at all, you’re toast. Especially in the playoffs.
Luckily for Patriots Nation, it appears as though we got maybe the steal of the 2021 NFL Draft. Let’s put our cards on the table here: Mac Jones isn’t putting up MVP or “superstar” numbers. On the year he has thrown for 2,540 yards, 14 TDs and 8 INTs with an impressive 70.2% completion percentage. Those numbers are pretty good, especially for a rookie, but no one is mistaking him for Aaron Rodgers right now.
What’s important about Mac is he is doing exactly what the Patriots are needing him to do: win games. With the way the roster is constructed, they don’t need Mac to throw 3 TDs a game and 400 yards to win. What they need is a game manager, someone who can control the flow of the game and help move the chains, with as little mistakes as possible. That’s exactly what Mac has done.
He is getting better and better every week, to the point where the training wheels are coming off and McDaniels is starting to trust him to handle more of the offense. During the current win streak, Mac Jones has thrown for 1,068 yards, 7 TDs and 2 INTs. Again, he’s not scorching the earth here, but he’s consistently putting up solid performances, and keeping the turnovers to a minimum.
If Mac can play as good as he has these past five weeks (and hopefully continues continues improve), this offense will continue to impress. Mac Jones doesn’t need to be a hero here, but neither did Tom Brady back in 2001. Yeah, I went there. I know it might come off as cheap to compare this team to the 2001 team, but they are very similar. Just like 2001, the Pats just needed Brady to game manage and not screw up, which proved to be a winning formula.
This one also seems pretty basic from the surface, but it is very important. Having a team that knows what it takes to win and knows what it’s like to play in those big games is a big advantage. This team is littered with players that have an abundance of postseason experience.
Not just make it to the playoffs and lose kind of experience either. Real Super Bowl experience. Much of that comes from homegrown guys left over from 2018. There are though some guys that were brought in during free agency that carry some Super Bowl experience as well. Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills were both on that Eagles team that beat New England in 2017. Kendrick Bourne was in the Super Bowl for the 49ers in 2019.
The list goes on, but needless to say, this team knows a thing or two about playing big time games. Most of all, it’s Belichick, McDaniels, & Patricia coaching. I think it’s safe to assume they know what it takes to make it to the big game.
This is a team that won’t hide their tail between their legs in those big moments. Expect this crew to handle there business as absolute pros even in the face of serious adversity.
THE AFC CROWN IS THERE FOR THE TAKING
The NFL has been pretty weird this year. Just when you think you have a handle on who’s good and who’s not, the Tennessee Titans lose to the Houston Texans, and the Dallas Cowboys get blanked by a Chiefs defense that couldn’t stop a nose bleed just a few weeks ago. Go figure I guess.
The AFC in particular is a mess. There is really no clean cut favorite to come out on top. The Chiefs are starting to round into form, but even they still have their issues. The Bills have some big question marks. Baltimore in the playoffs, you trust that? The Titans without Derrick Henry look mediocre. Chargers defense highly questionable. The Colts are interesting, but wildly inconsistent.
That leaves New England with a very good chance to go the distance. They matchup well with almost every team in the AFC, save maybe Indianapolis, they scare me a bit. The Patriots have the defense to matchup with almost anyone, and their power run game, mixed with some Mac Jones play action passing can wear down even the stingiest of defenses. In years past, the opponents may have been too tough to overcome. This year however, even the top AFC teams all have very visible weakness and liabilities that make them beatable for a team like the Patriots. Belichick has made a living exposing weaknesses and using them to his advantage.
I’m not saying New England is a lock to get there, but don’t be surprised if Belichick and the Pats are back in familiar territory come February.
Photo by AP Photo/John Bazemore