Mazz: The 2022 Patriots season just got a huge jolt of life
November 14th, 2022
CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 16: Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots celebrates after his team's 38-15 win against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
As the saying goes … win some, lose some. And, incredibly, sometimes you can win big without even showing up.
As we all know, the Patriots enjoyed their bye during Week 10 of the NFL season, which concludes tonight when the Washington Commanders play at the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles. But no matter what happens in that game, the Patriots will report for work this week with a new lease on life, which might sound like an overstatement and media hyperbole … but really isn’t.
In fact, the Patriots suddenly have their fate resting squarely in their own hands, a rather stunning development given the relative struggles of the team, particularly on offense.
Let’s start with the obvious:
The Buffalo Bills are reeling
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 13: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills addresses media after his team’s 33-30 overtime loss against the Minnesota Vikings at Highmark Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Possessors of a 27-10 lead early in the second half, the Bills self-destructed in a 33-30 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings that highlights an array of issues and concerns, starting with the most critical: Josh Allen isn’t right. Allen’s final numbers looked good yesterday, but his throws lacked the usual zip and the Bills threw up on themselves in a defeat, fumbling a snap at their goal in the final minute of regulation to blow the game. In overtime, after being granted yet another chance to win, Allen then threw an interception in the end zone to end the game. Allen (above) accepted blame for the defeat, but the bigger question concerns his health and play going forward.
And as a result of Buffalo’s loss…
The AFC playoff picture has been redrawn
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – NOVEMBER 13: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images)
Let’s start with the bigger picture. Thanks to a win at Kansas City earlier this season, Buffalo had the inside track on the No. 1 seed in the AFC because of that head-to-head victory – meaning any playoff meeting between the teams (likely in the AFC Championship Game) would be played in Buffalo. Not anymore. At least not now. The Bills’ loss to Minnesota coupled with Kansas City’s win over Jacksonville catapulted the Chiefs into the top spot, meaning Kansas City now has control over its fate. Kansas City would still lose the tiebreaker to Buffalo if the teams finish even in the standings, but the Chiefs can clinch home field and a bye if they win out. That would be a big, big blow to Buffalo’s season. And that’s not all…
Miami now leads the division
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 13: Tua Tagovailoa #1 and Trent Sherfield #14 of the Miami Dolphins celebrate after a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Cleveland Browns at Hard Rock Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
That’s right, Miami now leads the AFC East and is the No. 2 seed in the conference after defeating the Cleveland Browns yesterday. Are the Dolphins perfect? Hardly. But their offense is for real. Miami would now open the playoffs at home and remain there unless or until they meet KC in the AFC title game, which is obviously a long way down the road. But you get the idea. The combination of outcomes yesterday means the Bills didn’t just lose the top spot in the conference, but that Buffalo would open the playoffs on the road as wildcard team in the first round. At the moment, the Bills would travel to Tennessee to face the Titans.
As for the ramifications locally …
The Patriots are now in the playoffs
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 06: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots reacts before a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Yes, you’re reading that correctly. For all of the questions and concerns many of us possess about the Patriots, they are IN THE POSTSEASON at the moment. New England currently holds the No. 7 seed in the AFC and would open the playoffs at Miami, where the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 1. Here’s the point: the bye week was already a critical time for the Patriots to get their offensive issues in order. Now the stakes are even greater. The Patriots return to the field this week with a divisional game against the Jets, who are also in the playoffs. In fact, the entire AFC East currently qualifies for the playoffs, which places obvious, additional emphasis on divisional games going forward because at least one team is almost certain to be eliminated. Which brings us to the most startling development of the weekend …
The Patriots now have a very realistic chance to win the division
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 30: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts during the first half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 30, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
A longshot? Perhaps … or not. The Patriots still have four divisional games left with the Jets, Dolphins and Bills (twice). Given the aforementioned developments and issues, they are now within striking distance of the division lead, particularly with Allen ailing. A healthy Allen might have made the prospect of catching Buffalo unrealistic, but his injury changes that. And the Dolphins have just one fewer loss. If the Patriots can cure their offensive ills and continue to play good defense, they have a chance at the division championship and not just a playoff spot, but the right to host a playoff game.
Not so long ago, such a thought seemed utterly preposterous.