Why it is too early to get excited about the New England Patriots

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It didn’t take long for New England fans and pundits to start heralding the return of the Patriots after they regained the top spot in the AFC East on Sunday. Suddenly terms like ‘Super Bowl contenders’ are being thrown about across the internet. Although the Pats have won five straight games and are certainly playing some great football right now, it’s too early to talk about the playoffs.
The most important point is that the Patriots have always preferred being the underdogs. In the past, they have relied on bulletin board material to fuel their desire to win. Everybody remembers Brady’s “everybody thinks we suck” comment after the AFC Championship game. They went on to win Super Bowl 53. So any Super Bowl hype is not likely to help their performance at this stage in the season. But that’s not the only reason it’s too early to get excited…

Don’t put the New England Patriots in the playoffs just yet

The Pats have the toughest stretch still to come

New England’s schedule in the last five weeks has not been the most competitive. They have won the last five games against very beatable opponents. All they had to do was make sure they did their job; which they did in emphatic, dominating fashion.
The most meaningful stretch of their schedule is coming up. With games against Buffalo, Tennessee and Indianapolis, things could change very quickly for Pats fans. They will not face a team with a losing record until the Week 17 match against Jacksonville. In fact, it’s the ninth toughest remaining schedule in the league based on opposing winning percentage. Each game has playoff implications. Will the Pats make it, what will their seeding be and will they retake their AFC East title? That’s a lot of pressure to put on a team in the middle of a rebuild being led by a rookie quarterback.
They start with the Titans this weekend, going up against Belichick disciple Mike Vrabel. Vrabel took pleasure in knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs in what would be Brady’s final game as a Patriot. It was painful and there will be no love lost when the two clash as Belichick looks for his first win against Vrabel’s Titans.
Tennessee is hampered by injury and coming off a baffling loss to the Houston Texans while New England has all the momentum. But the Titans are still the top seed of the AFC and the game will be a competitive one. The Patriots also have tough divisional games against Buffalo who they failed to beat last year. Thankfully, they have a bye in week 14 which should allow them time to prepare for the remaining must win games at Indy and a home game against the Bills.

New England has a rookie quarterback

Mac Jones has surpassed expectations about what a rookie quarterback can do in their first year. Carrying the hype of Pats Nation, he’s performed with poise and quiet determination. His teammates create a picture of a player who is never satisfied and constantly striving to improve.
He has shown he can read defenses efficiently and his decision-making is effective. That’s backed up by his pass completion percentage of 70.2 – behind only Kyler Murray.
All that is great. A lot of fans had expected to endure years of misery as Belichick rebuilt the team around him. But Mac has landed on a team geared towards helping him excel – a feat only Belichick could achieve in such a short space of time. He’s already proven he can perform on big stages, leading Alabama’s 2020 championship-winning season.
But it’s a different thing altogether to do that at the end of a pro season with NFL playoffs on the line. Nick Saben has spoken on his radio show about how Jones used to be very emotional on the field and could have a temper. This was smoothed over at Alabama and New England is the perfect training ground for learning the right mentality. Jones has still displayed flashes of emotion. He has been hard on himself at times this season, shouldering the blame for team failures. This is both admirable and a lot for a rookie.
Pundits have already began the Tom Brady comparisons. One thing he has yet to demonstrate fully is his ability to lead the team through adversity. This is perhaps Brady’s greatest quality. His mental toughness and his ability to lead and feed that mentality to his team. Will Jones cope with the mounting pressure at the business end of his first pro season? Only time will tell.

The Patriots are fallible

Although they have dominated in recent weeks, there have still been errors. Those will need to be ironed out if they expect to power through the end of the season. For one thing, penalties continue to hamper the Patriots, especially on offense. There have been some costly flags which have seen the offense facing long yardage situations.
That was the case against Atlanta where a lengthy Rhamondre Stevens run and a decent catch by N’Keal Harry were called back. While they didn’t cost the Patriots victory against the Falcons, for example, early in the season they were devastating, such as those in the game against Tampa. And they’re still happening more than they should be.
Fans have also questioned the New England play-calling this season. Some claimed Belichick and McDaniels had lost their flair. Those critics have gone quiet in recent weeks as New England’s game plans have seen their opponents demolished. But expect the questions to return if they fail to crack much tougher opponents.
This Patriots team, and more explicitly Mac Jones, have also yet to deliver in adverse situations. When the game went to overtime against Dallas in week six, the offense failed to drive the ball down field. This left Nick Folk with a tough kick which he missed. And when Tom Brady returned to Gillette in week four, turnovers stalled two drives for the Patriots. Those drives could have made a difference in the tight match-up.
Yes these were a long time ago now. The team has grown a lot since then. But that growth has been timed with an easier stretch in the schedule. The Patriots must show their resolve now that it is truly tested.

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