New England Patriots: 10 wins – 7 losses, 6th in the AFC
A year of doubt and it starts again. Since the departure of Tom Brady in 2020, the Patriots have entered a new era. If the first season was complicated without a quarterback and with many players absent for fear of the Covid, the sequel is much more in line with franchise standards.
The team is still under construction, but as the builder is called Bill Belichick anything is possible.
How did they get there?
First with a lot of changes in the offseason. New England was one of the top spending franchises during free agency. Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne… the list is long and the reinforcements have been numerous. The Patriots then found their new quarterback for the next few years (at least they hope so): Mac Jones.
With the former Alabama pitcher leading them and plenty of players who weren’t there in 2020, it’s been a slow start. A record of 2 wins for 4 losses during the first month of competition with close defeats against the Dolphins, Buccaneers or Cowboys. Despite a dubious balance sheet, the ingredients for success are in place and the sequel will prove it. Seven straight wins and a streak that will propel the Patriots to the front of the AFC stage.
Los Angeles, Buffalo, Tennessee, Cleveland…all will go down. Successes that highlight the qualities of Bill Belichick’s players. A solid defense that causes turnovers and a quarterback that avoids errors. At the time of his rest week, New England is even leading the AFC East. The last month of competition will be a little more complicated with three losses in four games, but the Patriots still climb into the playoffs for the first time since the departure of legend Tom Brady.
The key player: Matthew Judon (OLB)
Inevitably, the performance of Mac Jones will be scrutinized during these playoffs, but as a rookie, we should not expect too much from the pitcher. On the other side of the ball on the other hand, a player can switch the meetings: Matt Judon. The former Raven is one of the players recruited at a high price in March.
During his first weeks of competition, he proved that he was worth every penny. The pass-rusher ends the season with 12.5 sacks. New England hadn’t had a player with 10 or more units in that area since Chandler Jones in 2015. In form, Judon is capable of blowing up any offensive line. It puts extraordinary pressure on the quarterback and allows the back lines to be more aggressive.
The concern, however, lies in his last weekends of competition. The defender was more discreet, sometimes borrowed physically. Worse, he made unusual errors in an experienced player like him (personal faults, bad placement…). These playoffs are therefore an opportunity to review Matthew Judon from the start of the season. The one who can allow this defense to take on another dimension.
Why are they going to go all the way?
Bill Belichick. If there was only one name to remember in New England, it would have to be him. The coach not only has experience of these moments, but he has proven again this year that he is far from overwhelmed. This Sunday, he will participate in his 18th final phase with New England. Since he has been in Massachusetts, he has won his first playoff game 14 times, compared to just three losses when his team entered the fray.
Around him, BB managed to create a defense that can look any attack in the eye. From JC Jackson to Dont’a Hightower to Christian Barmore, the squad has playmakers on every floor. It will take at least that against the offensive strike forces in AFC. On the other side of the ball, the attack is capable of making the game very painful for his opponent. Comfortable on the ground, the Patriots proved this season that they could also count on Mac Jones when needed.
Why won’t they go?
Mac Jones is just a rookie. Since the start of the season, the pitcher has far exceeded the expectations the Patriots had placed on him. Calm, precise and mature, he easily imposed himself at the head of this team. But this remains his first year, with all that that entails. Sometimes he slips through. He notably launched three interceptions against the Bills or the Colts.
He is clearly not yet the quarterback who can carry his team on his shoulders like some serious contenders for the title (Kansas City, Green Bay, etc.) have. We do not know how Jones will react on the big stage of the playoffs. To find traces of a victorious rookie in a playoff match, you have to go back to 2012 and the success of Russell Wilson.
In addition to the loss, the Patriots came away with some concerns from the game against the Dolphins in Week 18. Several players appeared to be affected. If the injuries of Rhamondre Stevenson (head) or Damien Harris should not prevent them from being there for the next meeting, those of Isaiah Wynn (ankle) and Christian Barmore (knee) are much more alarming. If these two players were to miss one (or more) game(s), it would be a big loss for New England.
Absent on Sunday, Dont’a Hightower and Kyler Dugger are uncertain. James White and Jonathan Jones are still on the injured list and will not return this season.
The Patriots don’t seem to have the team to go all the way (yet). Everything is too new for Mac Jones and the workforce still needs to improve to compete with the behemoths of the AFC. Despite a victory in Buffalo in difficult weather conditions, this first away game seems to be a challenge that is still a bit high for this team which lacks collective experience.
Defeat at Buffalo during Super Wild Card Week End.