By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It feels like we're over the initial pants-pissing that always follows a Patriots loss. The season is not, in fact, over. But the Patriots' 37-20 loss to the Ravens last Sunday did highlight their flaws in unsightly fashion, like a shimmering zit under an unfortunately placed fluorescent light.
The Pats' coaching staff has had its bye week to clean up those blemishes ahead of a big Week 11 clash with the Philadelphia Eagles. And they can't exactly have a second straight letdown after the Ravens won again on Sunday. So they'll have to hope they've tightened things up before they head to Philly.
That's because the Eagles are one of a handful of relatively tough remaining opponents for the Patriots, who have similar strengths to the Ravens. Baltimore has the best possible combination of tools needed to beat this incarnation of the Patriots, so the good news is it should be more challenging for any other opponent to trip them up.
But the Ravens game did give a possible glimpse to the future. Foreshadowing of what it might look like if the Patriots ultimately come up short in the playoffs. They may yet run the table from here, because Lord knows it wouldn't be the first time. But it's important to know what the Patriots are up against in this upcoming slate of games, because it's not an easy one, even if they end up making it look that way.
Here's a quick look at the opponents with the most potential to hand the Patriots their next loss(es), and how they'd likely pull it off.
The Eagles, with their play in the trenches. Philly's offensive line dominated Super Bowl LII two years ago, and they haven't gotten any worse. If there's anywhere on the Pats' defense that you can now attack or exploit, it's along the defensive front. The linebackers remain as deep and versatile as any group in the NFL, and throwing recklessly into that secondary just makes you a stupid idiot. So that leaves the D-line as any opposing offense's main area of concern. The Eagles may have an even better O-line than the Ravens, so if they can control things up front it could make a major difference when they have the ball. Oh, and there's still Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Derek Barnett to worry about on the other side too. So yeah, it's time for the Pats' big boys to take their games to another level.
The Cowboys, with their running game and defense. Bill Belichick might just make Jason Garrett melt and make his head explode Ark of the Covenant-style, anyway. So nothing Dallas could do on the actual field would even matter in that scenario. But if the Cowboys play like they're capable of playing when they come to Foxboro in two weeks, running back Ezekiel Elliott and their excellent offensive line could prove tough to stop. Dallas also has a talented defense that's allowing the seventh-fewest points per game and ninth-fewest yards per play. If Garrett can handle the situational stuff and control his bowel movements, the Cowboys' personnel strengths should prove to be a legit challenge.
The Chiefs, with Patrick Mahomes. The longer the Chiefs' season goes on, the more apparent it becomes that they're practically a one-man team. The Patriots have been here before. Even an excellent quarterback may not be enough to cover up your flaws if you have too many of them. Mahomes is undeniably excellent and he still has some dangerous weapons to target. But their run game is lagging behind the passing attack and the Pats are clearly much better equipped to slow down passing offenses. And that Chiefs defense ... it is less than good. They're 19th in points allowed, 28th in total yards allowed, 17th in opposing passer rating, 30th in yards per rush. But Mahomes is just so ridiculously good that he may be able to keep them in the game virtually by himself.
The Texans, with their tight ends. Getting a little specific here. Because the Texans definitely aren't going to win because of head coach Bill O'Brien or their middle-of-the-road defense. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is another dynamic athlete with giant balls in the Mahomes and Jackson mold, so he's a given. But the Pats are well-equipped to stop DeAndre Hopkins and their stable of receivers. It's at tight end where they could give the Patriots trouble, if O'Brien is smart enough to see what the Ravens did. The Pats weren't ready to cover 2-3 tight ends in the passing game and may not have ideal personnel to do so. Watson has targeted TEs Darren Fells and Jordan Akins 6.6 times per game combined this season - perhaps that number goes up against the Pats. If O'Brien isn't going to be more aggressive and their defense isn't going to be what it once was, it may be their best chance at pulling off a win.
The point of this exercise, to bring it all back home, was to show that these opponents have some of the qualities that the Ravens put on full display last weekend - but not all of them. No other team in the AFC, perhaps the entire league, can match Baltimore's combo of a mobile/athletic quarterback, power running game, high-end offensive line, tight end depth, and coaching. But they may be able to follow some parts of the Ravens' #blueprint later in the season.
But all this being said, if the Patriots simply go 3-1 or better in these games they'll likely lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Ravens have at least gotten their attention and forced them to keep winning. And they've also forced the Patriots to take a hard look at their shortcomings and home in on correcting them before they get to other tough opponents who could do similar things.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].