The 2019/20 NFL season has been a disappointing one for Patriots fans. Now yes, going into week 16 with an 11-3 record would be dreamland for plenty of other franchises no matter how they got there but this hasn’t looked like an 11 win team. As a Patriots fan regular season numbers don’t do it for me anymore. The last time a New England fan saw less that 10 wins in a season was 2002 (just one many stats so absurd they look made up. More to follow) but even the most positive supporter will have plenty to worry about heading into the backend of the season.
For those desperately waiting for the end of Patriot dominance in the National Football League there are two main tropes. 1. Talk about how the Patriots beat up on a terrible division and pad their win column allowing them to cruise into a playoff berth every year and 2. Brady is 42 don’t you know. The preverbal cliff is coming, The end is nigh! Now usually I don’t have time to address these claims. I’m too busy celebrating Super Bowl victories, where the Patriots play teams outside their division and Brady throws for 300 yards and 3 TDs.
This season though has been a little bit tougher.
Firstly the schedule. A 8-0 start to the season included wins against the Dolphins, Giants, Jets (twice) and the Redskins. Not exactly a murders row. For those who point to the schedule as contributor to the patriots success there was plenty to talk about through the first half of the season with any ‘tough’ games yet to be played. I however would point to the fact that other than a lacklustre performance against Buffalo the first 8 games were handled comfortably and whilst the staggering numbers being put up by the defence were certainly the highlight, Tom and the offence were playing well. Haters gonna hate but the AFC is what it is.
Father time is undefeated and Tom Brady is 42 years old! This is true but Tom Brady is also the greatest Quarterback in NFL history and comfortably in the top 10 athletes of all time. So normal logic doesn’t always apply. As I mentioned the first stretch of the season could be categorised as ‘on the easier side’ and with the defence playing historically well not too many eyes focussed on Brady and the offence. This was about the change. A loss to the Ravens followed by back to back games against the Eagles and Cowboys, that you would struggle to cut into a 3 minute highlight video, started to have me worried. Moving the ball was hard work and lining up for 3rd and long again and again is a tough way to get a rhythm going. Brady did not play well. As hard as is it for me to say it, it’s the truth.
However, there are some factors that need to be considered, not excuses but factors nonetheless. He really has nobody to throw too. That 8-0 start included catches from both Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown both of whom are now no longer in the league, Gordon for substance abuse and Brown for tweets, likely contributed to by substance abuse. In their absence and with no Gronk the ball has been spread amongst an out of sorts Julian Edelman, the rookie receiver N’keal Harry and occasionally run straight into the chest of multiple defensive lineman courtesy of Sony Michel. A lack of weapons, a beat up offensive lineup and yes, a below average Quarterback have been the story of the offence the last few weeks.
The crazy part of all this those is that I still won’t be shocked if they win it all. As you will have seen in the title, even with all the above I am only willing to downgrade the odds to ‘may not win’. Why? Time for some more crazy stats. The New England Patriots have been to the playoffs for 11 seasons in a row. In that time they have been to the Super Bowl 5 times winning 4 of them. Yes, they haven’t looked great and yes Tom is getting older and yes there is a tonne of young talent to beat if they are going to make it back to the big game but every single year thats exactly what they do. The defence will show up, Belichick will demand it, and there is still nobody better at winning a one off game than Thomas Edward Patrick Brady and at the end of the day thats all playoff football is. Beat Buffalo on Saturday secure the 2 seed and then its probably Chiefs at home followed by Baltimore on the road. Tough? Definitely. Doable? Absolutely. Bet against this guy at your peril.