Patriots are slowed down after hot start

Sebastian Gamboa, Courier Staff

Year after year, the New England Patriots are the favorite to win the Super Bowl and even when they are not, they still make a run at it. This year, more specifically this week, that could all be changing.

The Pats are currently sitting at 10-2 as they prepare to square up against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday. While their record is a strong 10-2, even Patriots fans will share their worries. This year, the Patriots had the most favorable (easiest) strength of schedule. The opponents that the Patriots have beaten have a combined record of 44 percent. The three of those opponents that currently have .500 records or better (Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys) lost to the Patriots by seven points or less. This means that the Patriots are struggling against good teams.

In terms of their two losses, the Patriots lost to the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans. The Ravens now sit at 10-2 and the Texans sit at 8-4, both are their respective division’s leaders. Not only did the Patriots lose, but something that the scores in either loss would show is that the Patriots were dominated in both games. Tom Brady appeared indecisive and the Patriots defense was unable to stop the high-flying dynamic offenses led by young athletic quarterbacks.

This week, the Patriots will face off against the Chiefs who sit at 8-4 atop the AFC West Division. The Patriots are likely to go to the playoffs but these next 4 weeks will be crucial in determining their fate.

If they follow their pattern of losing to division leaders this week, they will sit at 10-3. Their next game is against the struggling 1-11 Bengals who they will likely beat, bringing them to 11-3 before playing their most important divisional game remaining against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have a similar situation as the Patriots with a tough game against the Ravens this week and a game against a team with a weaker record in the Steelers the week after. If they lose to the Ravens and win against the Steelers, they will be 10-4 leading into the game against the Patriots. Just because the Patriots beat the Bills earlier this season does not mean that the Patriots are guaranteed another win. As a matter of fact, the Patriots won that game by just six points and the Bills’ quarterback, Josh Allen, was injured in the fourth quarter, stopping a win. If the Patriots lose this game, which seems almost likely given the context of their first victory, the two teams would be tied at 11-4 leading into the final game. Both teams play very beatable opponents (Dolphins for the Patriots and Jets for the Bills), likely leaving both teams in a 12-4 tie at the end of the season. With the Patriots winning in the tie-breaker procedures, it is likely that they barely squeak by with the divisional title. But if the Patriots lose this week and the Bills win out, the Bills can get the division. The same goes if the previously mentioned likely scenario plays out, but the Bills win and Patriots lose in the last week. Patriots fans should be worried because the division is still very much up for grabs and the Patriots are on a cold streak while the Bills have been hot.

This next game also has future implications just based on who the Patriots would face in the playoffs even if they win their division. If the standings stay as they are, the Patriots would be the No. 2 seed in the conference. This means that they would play the highest winning seed from the wildcard round which would likely either be the Texans or Chiefs (based on seed). The Texans have already smothered the Patriots and if the Chiefs do it this week, they can do it again. Then even if the Patriots win in the divisional round, they likely have to face the Ravens in the Conference championship who whipped the Patriots worse than the Texans did.

Essentially, while the Patriots will likely finish the season with a stellar record and a playoff spot, the road to the Super Bowl will be more difficult than usual. Their place in the playoff picture is still up for grabs as is their division, which has not occurred since 2010. They have also struggled with almost all of their potential playoff opponents and their future Hall of Fame quarterback is struggling. While there is cause for concern for Patriots fans, they have arguably the best postseason coach and quarterback in the history of the league and any time people count the Patriots out, they shock the world. It’s not over until it’s over.