There was a time when the Patriots routinely enjoyed some rest during the bye week and watched many of their so-called rivals fall, allowing their positioning to be strengthened from the comfort of their couches. This weekend's events didn't exactly fall that way, but Bill Belichick's team did benefit from a Chargers loss in San Francisco and as a result slipped into a playoff spot with half a season still to go.
At 5-4 the Patriots join a cluster of teams with the same record (Chargers, Bengals) but based on various tiebreakers they currently earn the 7 seed. Otherwise, there wasn't a ton of good news on the field for New England – Miami continues to rip off impressive wins when Tua Tagovailoa is healthy, and even though the Bills unimaginable collapse made headlines it did little to change the Patriots status in the AFC East, where they remain in the basement.
Regardless of their current spot, the Patriots will need to find some offense down the stretch in order to stay in the postseason hunt. After facing Zach Wilson for the second time to open the post-bye slate, there aren't anymore toothless passing attacks on the schedule. The offense won't be able to rely on the defense to set up points each week while bullying overmatched youngsters, and at some point Mac Jones will need to figure out ways to move the ball more effectively than he has at anytime this season.
If that happens, the Patriots should expect to remain in the hunt; if not, it's hard to imagine five more victories coming given the offensive potential of most of the remaining foes.
Division of Power
Throughout the offseason there was plenty of talk about the potential for dominance in the AFC West. With Russell Wilson headed to Denver, Davante Adams to Las Vegas and the already potent passing of Patrick Mahomes (K.C.) and Justin Herbert (L.A.), some felt the West could boast four playoff teams.
Turns out the prognosticators picked the wrong division. Obviously there's a long way to go but the division with four playoff teams currently is the AFC East, with the 6-3 Jets shocking the league after 10 weeks. Most felt Buffalo (more on them in a bit) and Miami were strong contenders, and the Patriots were coming off a playoff season in 2021, but no one envisioned the Jets being in the postseason picture at this point in the season.
Coach Robert Saleh has instilled some toughness in his talented young roster and despite some flaws – most notably in quarterback Zach Wilson and his penchant for turning it over – the Jets are playing meaningful games. Whether that lasts remains to be seen, but it's been interesting to watch the East turn into the class of the conference.
So, what happened out West? First, few envisioned Wilson's Broncos career getting off to a worse start. He at times has appeared to be unwilling to use his legs while at others has been too focused on the pass rush and failed to find open receivers despite some quality options to choose from. The Broncos offense has been wretched most of the season, and at 3-6 Denver is on life support.
Same could be said of the Raiders, who have collapsed under the direction of Josh McDaniels. Derek Carr hasn't looked comfortable in McDaniels' system, and rather than altering it to fit his talent the Raiders look lost. Sunday's latest defeat at the hands of the Colts left Vegas at 2-7 and winning out likely would be McDaniels' lone path to the playoffs. It's been a stunning turn of events for a team coming off a playoff berth in 2021.
The Chargers are a disappointing 5-4 as well, but given the vast array of injuries the team has suffered the mediocrity is far more understandable. Justin Herbert has dealt with a painful rib injury all year, and he's been without his top three wideouts most of the way as well.
Through it all Mahomes has Kansas City atop the conference despite an overhaul of wide receivers, proving it's never wise to doubt the former MVP.
Entire columns could be written about this game alone – and they have – but even a couple of days later it's hard to believe the Bills mangled their way to a second consecutive defeat, dropping a 33-30 overtime decision to Minnesota. Buffalo controlled the game for long stretches as Josh Allen didn't show many signs of the elbow injury that prevented him from practicing most of the week. Yet it was Allen who self-destructed in the waning moments, turning it over three times in the fourth quarter and overtime to allow the Vikings to win.
After coming up with a dramatic goal line stand in the final minute, the Bills seemed poised to come away with a 30-26 victory needing only to take a pair of kneel downs to run out the clock. But Allen mishandled the center exchange and the Vikings Eddie Kendricks recovered in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
Some suggested the Bills should have taken a safety instead of trying to run a quarterback sneak so close to the goal line, but that seemed like the ultimate 20-20 hindsight second guess. Allen should not have had any trouble taking a snap, and needing only to take a knee outside of the end zone wasn't asking for much. Poor execution led to the catastrophe, not poor planning.
Had Sean McDermott opted for the safety, the Vikings would have had roughly 45 seconds and a timeout to kick a potential game-winning field goal. Conversely, it took Allen less than that to overcome disaster and mount a field goal drive that forced overtime in the first place, so it would not have been tough to envision Kirk Cousins doing the same had McDermott opted for such a reckless course.
Allen's subsequent miscue in overtime where he threw an interception in the end zone despite being well within field goal range only exacerbated what continues to be a huge problems for the Bills – they struggle in close games. Losing games in such a fashion – while not quite like this – isn't new. The Bills at 2-8 in their last 10 games decided by one score. Whether it's allowing a tying field goal after kicking off with 13 seconds left, as they did in the playoffs in Kansas City last year, or fumbling a snap in the end zone, Buffalo can't seem to execute the simple things when it matters most. Until that changes, it's hard to keep the Bills at the top of any list of Super Bowl favorites.
- Kansas City (7-2) – Patrick Mahomes keeps finding ways to move the ball and the Chiefs are stop the AFC.
- Philadelphia (9-1) – Eagles were due for a stinker at some point.
- Minnesota (8-1) – It's isn't always pretty but the Vikings keep finding ways to win.
- Miami (7-3) – Dolphins have yet to lose when Tua starts and finishes the game.
- Baltimore (6-3) – The Ravens are a couple of plays away from being unbeaten.