The New England Patriots winning ways ended Saturday Night against the Indianapolis Colts. While the loss drops them to 9-5 and down to a one-game lead in the AFC East. It also forced them from the first seed atop the conference. New England will now head home and prepare for a rematch with the Bills before ending the season with the Jaguars and Dolphins.
So with the Patriots near the top of the AFC, are they the best team in the conference? Let’s take a look and see why they are.
Any Bill Belichick team will always be tough on defense and good on special teams. Last year their defense struggled at times, but that was due to players opting out because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This year the Patriots made some acquisitions in free agency and through the draft, and it has paid off. They are ranked third in total defense and allow 310 yards per game and second in points allowed at 14.5.
They signed Matt Judon away from the Baltimore Ravens, a two-time Pro Bowl selection in Baltimore. All he has done in the first season in Foxborough is lead the Patriots with 12.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Kyle Van Noy returned to the Patriots after spending the 2020 season with the Miami Dolphins. This year, he has been good, posting 42 tackles with four sacks and an interception that went for a touchdown.
Rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore has been good in the middle. He has accounted for 31 tackles, half a sack, two tackles for loss, and two passes defended. Davon Godchaux, who came over from the Dolphins, has posted 48 tackles with a sack and two tackles for a loss.
The secondary, which is always a Patriots strength, has been great. Even with the loss of former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, who was traded away to the Carolina Panthers in October. As a unit, they have 19 interceptions, with J.C. Jackson leading the way with seven. Second-year safety Kyle Dugger has been good this season as well. He is second on the team with 80 tackles, four for a loss, and has three interceptions and four passes defended.
Their Offensive Line
The offensive line was supposed to be a strength and started the season slowly. That was due to injuries and Covid-19 issues. They used ten players to use five different starting lineups through the first seven games. The biggest problem was the absence of Trent Brown. After two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders, Brown, who returned to the Patriots, was injured in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins and missed nine games. He returned in Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns. His return sent Michael Onwenu, who played exceptionally well in his absence, back to the bench.
Since Brown’s return, the line has been better. Not only have they kept Mac Jones upright, but the running game has been much better. That couldn’t be more evident than the Buffalo game in which they dominated the Bills. The line has paved the way for Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to become a formidable one-two punch, with Harris rushing for 754 yards and Stevenson 429. Brandon Bolden has added another 169 yards as well.
Belichick is not just one of the greatest head coaches in the NFL and all sports, but he is also one of the greatest defensive minds in NFL history. He has won six Super Bowl Championships as a head coach, but he also won two as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants under Bill Parcells. His defensive game plan from the Giants 20-19 Super Bowl XXV victory against the Bills is at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In that game, his Giants shut down Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and their K- Gun no-huddle offense that featured three more Hall of Famers in Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and James Lofton.
In Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriot’s first title, they shut down the St. Louis Rams Greatest Show On Turf offense, holding them to 17 points. This offense included Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. He is third on the list all-time in regular-season wins with 289. Adding his 31 postseason victories, he has 318 career wins. He trails only Don Shula and George Halas.
What Does This Mean?
If the Chiefs slip up, the Pats could end up with the best record, they will have the only bye week in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens (twice) and the New York Jets are the only teams to beat the Patriots in the playoffs in Foxborough during the Belichick era.
So while the Pats are not unbeatable at home, they would be favored to make it back to the Super Bowl if they do indeed end up with home-field advantage. If that happens, then yes, the Patriots will be the best team in the AFC.
After a one-year hiatus, they appear to be back. Teams in the AFC will not be happy about that.
Main image credit https://www.overtimeheroics.net/2021/12/14/the-ravens-need-to-look-ahead-to-2022/