The Patriots bye week is over and it's time to focus on the stretch drive. Tom Brady often says the season doesn't start until after Thanksgiving, so with the turkey now gone and just six games to go, it's time to get serious about the 2018 Patriots.
New England will get the benefit of playing mostly AFC East game (four of the final six are in the division) down the stretch but there will also be some difficult tests against Minnesota and at Pittsburgh. In all there are three road games left, and the Patriots haven't performed consistently well away from Gillette Stadium.
So, with seeding and first-round byes very much up for grabs in the AFC, the Patriots will need to be at their best in the final six weeks of the season. This week's Samsonite Make Your Case focuses on how that might happen: Which Patriot needs to step up most down the stretch?
PFW's Andy Hart says …
It all starts and ends with Brady, and he needs to be better down the stretch for the Patriots to get where they want to go. When Brady played to his normal levels in the first 10 weeks, the offense rolled up the points and the Patriots generally earned easy victories. When he struggled, things weren't quite so smooth.
Obviously there are more factors to those struggles than just Brady, but he's the most important figure and he needs to play with more consistency. We're not used to seeing him in the middle of the pack in any relevant statistics but that's where he is in virtually everything as we hit the stretch drive.
Brady needs to look at more options in the passing game and do a better job of hanging in the pocket than he has at times thus far. If Brady is closer to himself, the Patriots can still earn a bye and be a strong candidate for the Super Bowl. If not, the season will end earlier than expected.
PFW's Paul Perillo says …
Tom Brady has not enjoyed his best season thus far, but one of the main reasons for that has been the strange decline of Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is coming off one of his best seasons in 2017 when he was an All-Pro and remained healthy and productive throughout. Now he looks like a shell of his former self and that can't continue.
There's no question that injuries have slowed the big tight end down. But with a few weeks off to recuperate, I expect Gronkowski to inject some life into what has become a rather listless passing attack. The Patriots need him operating at close to full strength because he is so vital to everything they do on offense. He creates space for others and is a huge factor in the running game as well.
The Patriots need Gronkowski on the field so Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and even James White can benefit from better matchups. In Tennessee White saw safeties in his face all day, partly because Gronkowski wasn't in the lineup. Brady needs him to be at his best, because when Gronk's right, so is the offense.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.