Underestimate New England at Your Own Peril

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) grabbed a third-quarter fumble against the Jets and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. Photo Credit: Jim Davis, Boston Globe Staff

The New England Patriots have certainly gone through a roller coaster this year.

Full of highs and lows, the 2018-19 Patriots finished 11-5, going undefeated at home in Foxborough. Most talking heads in the national media have already written off the Patriots, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and spelled their demise.

But these are the same commentators that have predicted doom and gloom for the Patriots for the last five-plus years. The news headlines just change the year and are the same old recycled material. Fans of AFC teams are more hyped than ever with the thought that the conference is there for the taking. Don’t sleep on the Patriots—this year’s squad may be worse than previous teams, but it is still plenty dangerous.

This is the first time in nine(!) years that the Patriots will finish with a record less than 12-4. 11-5 meant more this year than in past ones though, as the Patriots still got a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed. One could argue that they were a fluky ‘Miami Miracle’ play away from not only being .500 on the road but the number one seed in the AFC. If the road to Atlanta went through Gillette, then fans would be a lot less worried.

The other important factor in terms of the big picture is the overall AFC. Patriots fans, do the Kansas City Chiefs scare you? They haven’t won a home playoff game in over two decades, and Andy Reid has shown his playoff ineptitude time and time again. The Houston Texans? They would have to come to Foxboro, a place they have never won.

Brady has the Indianapolis Colts’ number as well, and the Los Angeles Chargers are a warm weather team traveling east to frigid Foxboro. If there is one team to be feared, it might be the Ravens, but they have a rookie signal caller, something Belichick and the Patriot defense routinely prey upon.

Now obviously, this Patriots team has proven to be weaker than its recent predecessors. But at the end of the day, they still have the greatest coach and quarterback in the dance every year. With the money on the line, there is still no tandem fans would rather have than Brady and Belichick.

The offense has been the subject of much scrutiny throughout the season. Brady is suspected to be playing with either a meniscus, ACL, or MCL problem, which has hampered his production. Because of this, the Patriots have been forced to rely on the ground game. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have been gashing opposing defenses, and James White may be the MVP of the offense catching passes out of the backfield. The receiving corps suffered a blow losing Josh Gordon, but Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan are still around, seasoned playoff performers.

Now to the defensive side. The defense has rightfully gotten destroyed throughout the season, and yet as the dust settles the Patriots rank seventh in scoring. They give up a ton of yards, but this is a classic bend but don’t break Patriots defense. They have a force in Trey Flowers along the defensive line, as well as All-Pro Stephon Gilmore on the back end. While Kyle Van Noy has had a great year, the linebacking corps as a whole needs to step up in the playoffs. Dont’a Hightower has made big postseason plays before, and there is no reason to believe he can’t do it again.

Look no further than the last game, a 38-3 demolition of the Jets. Forget the opponent; you don’t think a thrashing like that doesn’t give a team confidence heading into the postseason on a high note?

At the end of the day, it’s still Brady, it’s still Belichick. Do you really want to bet against them? They have at minimum one home playoff game, and if they have to go on the road it will be against a rookie in an albeit tough environment. Then in the Super Bowl, would you really bet against the Patriots? Despite all the criticism, all the prognostications of doom, the Patriots are still standing. And they are the one team no one should want to face.

 

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