It’s safe to say that five games shouldn’t define a season, but given the trouble this Patriots team has had over that span, they’ve made some progress but obviously still have their work cut out for them.
One of the biggest bright spots is the fact that despite the bad place they’ve been in defensively, the one saving grace is the fact that Tom Brady and the offense haven’t been participating in those woes. New England’s offense currently leads the NFL by a considerable margin in yards per game, averaging 419.4 and are third in points per game behind the (this isn’t a misprint) Rams, as well as the Chiefs.
The latter stat in the above paragraph is a reminder of how strange this year has been so far in the NFL. It’s also a reminder of how wide open things still are despite the 3-2 record this team is currently saddled with. All things considered, they’ve surprisingly lost to two teams that will be contenders in their respective Conferences and are currently sitting at 5-0 (Kansas City) and 4-1 (Carolina).
But this year’s version of the NFL appears poised for some surprises, and it’s definitely a little early to write off a team that is among the best in the league on the offensive side of the football. That being said, let’s take a quick rundown over the final 11 weeks to talk about where some of those teams are at this point in the year, and predict week-by-week how things might shake out, including this week’s first AFC Division battle against the Jets.
Oct 15th – at NY Jets – The Jets took the Browns to the wire Sunday and pulled off the win, moving them to 3-2 on the year, matching the same record as both Buffalo and New England in the AFC East. After starting out 0-2, the Jets have surprisingly won three in a row and have the opportunity to make it four when the Patriots visit this weekend. With 10 days to prepare, it’s hard not to feel like Bill Belichick will have his team ready to go in what will certainly be an important meeting as they try and make a push to get back on top of the AFC East. Rob Gronkowski’s return this weekend, which Adam Schefter reported should be a strong possibility and if that’s the case, it’s tough not to like their chances. – Prediction: Win – 4-2
Tom Brady already got the best of Matt Ryan in February.
Oct 22nd – vs Atlanta – After two straight road games, the Patriots will at least get to come home for two weeks and will face the Falcons in a Sunday night game at Gillette Stadium. Atlanta is currently on a bye at 3-1 after having lost their first game of the season last Sunday against the surprising Buffalo Bills. It’s possible Atlanta took them lightly as Buffalo has been the surprise so far after starting out 3-1 before their 20-16 loss to the Bengals put them at 3-2. However, against New England, I’m sure Atlanta will be looking for a little vengeance and one can only hope that the Patriots will still be trending in the right direction defensively by the time this one is played. The bigger question is the health of Julio Jones and the offense. If the Falcons are healthy, this one could be tough, especially if New England’s defense is still allowing big plays. With this one being at home, I do think Brady will have some success against Atlanta’s defense. The bad news is, I still worry about New England’s ability to keep Atlanta from scoring, which could see this club drop another tough one at home. Fortunately, the Patriots won the one that mattered back in February, so if it does play out that way, the Falcons can at least feel good about themselves for one game. – Prediction: Loss – 4-3
Oct 29th – vs LA Chargers – The Chargers look pretty woeful right now, having opened the season 1-4 with little seemingly going right for this team. Playing in an empty stadium has got to be quite disheartening, with each game likely feeling like a road game due to all the transplants on the West Coast flooding the stadium thanks to all the available tickets. They lucked out with some significant mistakes and injuries in New York where the 0-5 Giants fell apart during the Chargers’ 27-22 win. Maybe they’ll play better away from home, but it’s doubtful given that they look like a team that’s simply going through the motions. – Prediction: Win – 5-3
Nov 12th – at Denver – This one should scare most fans given that the Broncos’ defense is back on top of the NFL leader board and they’ve had a history of making Brady miserable in the Mile High City. This one will play out in a Sunday night match-up and may actually end up being a barometer of whatever turnaround they may have made at this point, especially given that the Broncos are currently 4th in the league in time of possession. While their offense might not be lighting things up (they’re 11th in the league in points per game while averaging 24.5), they could still be a problem if New England’s defense is in a position where they can’t get them off the field. Plus it’s in Denver, where wins are rare for Belichick’s club. That being said, the Patriots still have Brady, so anything can happen. The only issue making this prediction now is the fact it’s a little early to be that optimistic until we continue to see them make big stops in key moments. Otherwise, I hate this match-up and I’ll probably hate the outcome more. – Prediction: Loss 5-4
Nov 19th – at Oakland – For anyone hoping for a tough battle, a back injury to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has thrown a wrench into Oakland’s season and will now be the story to follow leading into this much anticipated match-up. However, some reports say he could be back as soon as this week, which is surprising given the severity of his injury. Either way, it’s hard to make too many evaluations of how this one might go, aside from the fact EJ Manuel is his back-up. If it’s Manuel, and not Carr, on the field for this one, the Patriots will have obviously caught a break. If Carr isn’t 100%, that could be another reason to like their chances. – Prediction: Win – 6-4
Nov 26th – vs Miami – The Dolphins are a mess this season and it appears that the loss of Ryan Tannehill and the addition of Jay Cutler isn’t working out too well. They’re 2-2 at this point and things appear to be getting ugly down in South Florida. While some thought the Dolphins might build off of last season and contend for the Division, one win over the Titans isn’t enough to make anyone believe that the Dolphins will be a threat to New England this year. They’ve got plenty of problems, with the most recent one being the fact one of their coaches was recently exposed for cocaine use. I doubt Brady will have an issue outplaying Cutler and expect the Patriots to hopefully get this one at Gillette Stadium. – Prediction: Win – 7-4
Brady still somehow has the Patriots offense at the top of the NFL.
Dec 3rd – at Buffalo – This might end up being one of the most interesting games of the year depending on where these two teams are heading into the final month of the season. If the Bills are still fighting for the top of the AFC East and playing well, it could end up being one of the more intense battles we see this season. We’re only five games in and the Bills’ new coaching staff and personnel moves have seemingly righted the ship, and their defense has been a big part of that. Buffalo’s secondary has been forcing turnovers, with the Bills currently third in interceptions with eight. Let’s hope that by December New England’s own defense will have finally worked out the kinks. If they have, Brady and the offense should be able to score enough points to remind Buffalo that they’re not done yet. – Prediction: Win – 8-4
Dec 11th – at Miami – Thankfully the NFL’s schedule-makers put New England’s trip to Miami in December and on Monday night for that matter. Hot afternoons in Miami have spelled trouble for the Patriots in past seasons, but with an evening battle on tap, this one should be a little more manageable for New England on both sides of the football. Having played this team two weeks ago at this point, it will be interesting to see how the second match-up shakes out. Hopefully it will be a game where the Patriots take advantage of the last potentially comfortable weather they’ll see for a while as they start their playoff push, and one would have to believe they’ll be able to get this one. – Prediction: Win – 9-4
Dec 17th – at Pittsburgh – One thing working against New England in this one is obviously the fact this one’s on the road, with the Patriots set to face a Steelers team that really could be heading one of two ways by this time. Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville saw Ben Roethlisberger throwing a staggering five interceptions, leaving the veteran questioning his future. “Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the game, with the quarterback also acknowledging that “I’m not playing well enough.” The biggest question heading into this game may be the health of everyone on the offensive side of the football for the Patriots at this point in the season. If Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, James White and Chris Hogan have survived this far, it’s hard not to like their chances against a Pittsburgh defense that always seems to struggle with coming up with ways to stop Brady. Either way, this is another game where the odds are probably in their favor. – Prediction: Win – 10-4
Belichick will likely have his team much-improved by December.
December 24th – vs Buffalo – This one will probably have significant playoff implications at this point, making it another big game for Belichick’s team. With just two games left in the season, a loss here or there may make this a key contest for New England if they’re still contending for a top playoff seed, which could make this one a nail-biter. However, Brady and the offense are home where they tend to move the ball fairly well and it’s hard not to give Brady the edge if this one turns into a shootout. – Prediction: Win – 11-4
December 31st – vs NY Jets – With the Jets coming to Foxboro during the final week of the season, it’s going to be interesting to see what’s at stake for both teams at this point in the year. The Jets have a tough final five weeks before this match-up, with battles against Carolina, Kansas City, Denver, New Orleans, and the LA Chargers on tap before they come to New England. By then, they may be out of the AFC East race and probably out of the playoffs, making this a dangerous match-up given that they’ll have nothing to lose. However, unlike their first meeting, they’re at Gillette and I feel like they’ll have it together by then. – Prediction: Win – 12-4
Final Record Prediction: 12-4 – The big question will ultimately be where they finish from a playoff seeding standpoint, but barring injuries or unforeseen issues in Kansas City, the top seed in the Conference may be a little more elusive this year. Injuries will be the other big concern as they’re probably also going to need a little luck for things to play out this way.
Who knows? Anything is certainly possible and Thursday night’s win was still certainly encouraging given the forward progress we saw defensively. But as we’ve already seen, there’s been some crazy things that have happened already around the league and it goes without saying that the Patriots have already played their part in that. While previous seasons have no bearing on what happens this year, history has shown that Belichick will do whatever is necessary to have his team playing better in December and even more so if they’re in the mix in January. We’ve seen enough evidence to believe they’ll work through this and if they do, depending on a potential trade deadline acquisition and who’s healthy by the end of the year, the team we see now will probably look a little different in two months.
Needless to say, expect the unexpected, but don’t count them out just yet.