Keeping up with the 617: A playoff team

As New England Patriots fans, we truly do not recognize the magnitude of greatness that this franchise has sustained over the past two decades. Since 2000, the team has been to nine Super Bowls and has six Lombardi Trophies; the Patriots have missed the playoffs only four times in that span and have produced some of the greatest seasons in NFL history. Even with Tom Brady’s upsetting departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots strategically retained most of their core and treated the 2020 season as a retooling year to develop a few young prospects. After drafting quarterback Mac Jones 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Bill Belichick slowly developed a talented and experienced depth chart. Free agent additions Matt Judon and Hunter Henry excelled in the offseason and only offered more promise for this revamped Patriots team. Now, with seven games remaining in the season, the Patriots sit at 6–4 and one game behind the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills.

This recent surge in the standings did not seem evident for this Patriots squad; through the first six weeks the Patriots were 2–4 with wins over the New York Jets and Houston Texans two teams fighting over the No. 1 overall pick in 2022. Although it kept pace in its four losses, poor game management and head-scratching mistakes doomed this team in September. To add more salt onto the wound, the mistakes that the Patriots committed were uncharacteristic and reminded this fanbase of the dreadful 2020 season. The only bright spot from that six-game stretch was the development of rookie Mac Jones, who seemed to be the perfect fit for this Patriots system. 

With various absences to the offensive line and secondary, many Patriots fans lost hope and blamed the coaching staff for the team’s woes. While Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick deserve some of the blame for the slow start, the roster was simply underperforming. Most players were still adjusting to the playbook, and many veterans were committing horrific mistakes on both sides of the ball. 

However, after a “get-right” game against the New York Jets in Week 7, the teachings that the Patriots brass instilled into the roster during the offseason began to appear. The uncharacteristic miscues diminished to a minimum. Mac Jones began to develop solid relationships with the Patriots receivers, and the secondary started to suffocate opposing quarterbacks. After arguably their best game of the season against the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots have an 82.8% chance to make the playoffs

Unlike the 2020 Patriots, this roster does not need to be perfect to squeak out victories. Mac Jones has had his fair share of his “Welcome to the NFL” moments, but he does the little things to keep this team afloat. With an upcoming game against the Atlanta Falcons, the 2021 Patriots have solidified themselves as a playoff contender. It’s foolish to consider the possibility that this team will hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February, but the thought isn’t out of the question. This team is rolling on all sides of the football right now. If the Patriots can continue their hot streak for the next two months, never say never.