As strange and disappointing as the start of the season has been for the Patriots, it's almost equally strange watching and listening to folks analyzing it. Despite the 3-5 start with Monday's win over the miserable Jets snapping a four-game losing streak, many have continued to project New England as a potential division champ.
Rebuild, Reset, Reload
Whatever the Re-word you prefer, in my view that's how the Patriots should be looking at the second half of their season. Instead, fans and talking heads remain stuck in the past and project a winning streak around the corner, ignoring the product we've watched on the field for half a season – and truth be told – beyond going back to the last half of 2019.
Monday's win improved New England to 7-10 over its last 17 games including the wild card loss to Tennessee. This isn't just about Cam Newton and it isn't just a slump. It's been a gradual decline in talent that has the Patriots on the outside of the playoff hunt and badly in need of youthful talent. So, beating the Jets is great, and pulling out a few more Ws could in fact put the team on the periphery of the playoff picture down the road. But it's unlikely and frankly unwanted. The Patriots would be better served by playing some of the few promising young players they have like Damien Harris, Michael Onwenu, Jakobi Meyers, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Kyle Dugger and hopefully before too long the rookie tight ends.
Find out what these players can contribute, and continue to rebuild the roster. That would benefit the organization much more than squeaking out an 8-8 record and stealing a division title in the event that Buffalo and/or Miami fold down the stretch.
On the field and inside the Patriots facility life will be business as usual. Bill Belichick will continue to prepare his team the best way he can and there will be more wins. And that's fine, because no one wants to suffer through what the Jets are currently enduring as we speak. But for the betterment of the long-term growth of the Patriots, missing the playoffs would be a better course.
Regardless of how the final eight games play out it would appear that the Patriots will be trying to figure out the quarterback position moving forward. Cam Newton is unlikely going to be the short-term answer, so Belichick may find himself in the QB market once again. Forecasting what that might look like in the draft is difficult, especially trying to determine where the Patriots first pick will fall and who might be available at that point. While the free agent picture isn't much clearer, it is a bit easier to analyze at this point because the potential quarterbacks available are familiar names. At the top of the list for many Patriots fans is Jimmy Garoppolo, who is dealing with a high ankle sprain that may require surgery and may have ended his season.
The speculation in San Francisco is coach Kyle Shanahan may be ready to move on from Garoppolo. The dead money figures if the Niners move on after the season are modest ($2.8 million in 2021/$1.4 million in 2022) so it might makes sense to deal him, which has led to rampant speculation that the Patriots would be suitors.
Garoppolo's drawbacks are apparent. He's constantly injured and when he's healthy tends to be mistake-prone. Backers point toward the brief success he had under Belichick back in 2016 when he filled in for Tom Brady. He won the opener against the Cardinals with an average performance, then lit up the Dolphins for most of the first half the following week before injuring his shoulder. That success has many fans longing for his return.
As far as bridge guys go, he would make sense. But he also makes sense for the Niners, and I'm not convinced his days in San Francisco are over. Garoppolo's record as the Niners starter is 22-8 while the team is 5-22 without him. If Shanahan can't find and option he likes significantly more, he not be willing to pull the plug.
The league recently detailed a contingency plan that would allow for two extra teams, one in each conference, to qualify for the postseason in the event that "meaningful" games are cancelled due to problems related to the coronavirus. The format being discussed would have the four division winners plus four wild cards in each conference making the playoffs, therefore eliminating the bye. Another wrinkle added is the teams would be seeded 1-8 purely by record, therefore division winners wouldn't automatically get the top four seeds and the home games that go with it.
While the idea of 16 of the 32 teams qualifying for the playoffs is a bit much, the changes would be a welcome sight. There is no bigger advantage in professional sports than the first-round byes, which I've always felt were unfair due to the inequities of the schedule. Teams in weaker division had obvious advantages in terms of opponents and therefore had better roads to securing the byes than others. So eliminating the bye, I feel, would be a great alteration.
I also like the idea of seeding based solely on records, largely for the reasons already stated. As an example, the second-best team in a strong division (Rams or Cardinals perhaps?) shouldn't have to travel to play the winner of the NFC East, which has the very real possibility of finishing below .500. So, that change works as well.
It's important to note that these changes will only occur if games are lost this season. Otherwise, each conference will have seven playoff teams with the top seed earning the lone bye and division winners will continue to host regardless of their records.
Sure doesn't look like those veterans in Miami's locker room are upset about Tua Tagovailoa replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick. In fact they continued to look inspired by it. Much better second act for Tua in the desert by the way. He will have plenty more ups and downs, and he did on Sunday, but the Dolphins can win games with him playing like that. … The Steelers suffered through one of those head-scratching games that seem inevitable in the NFL, barely squeaking past the hapless Cowboys and getting plenty of help from the officials along the way. The win ensured the Steelers of a non-losing record, marking the 14th straight year under Mike Tomlin that has been the case. According to ESPN's Field Yates, no coach has ever had a longer streak to begin his career. … Didn't take long for the stink of Antonio Brown to negatively impact the Bucs, did it? What a wretched performance in every phase of the game by Tampa Bay Sunday night – offense, defense, coaching – you name it and Tampa failed at it.
The Chiefs are making a charge but Pittsburgh remains the lone unbeaten team so the Steelers stay at the top … for now.
- Pittsburgh (8-0, 1st last week) – Not a great performance by the Steelers but ultimately good teams find ways to win when not at their best.
- Kansas City (8-1, 2nd last week) – The Chiefs offense is starting to heat up, which is saying something.
- New Orleans (6-2, 5th last week) – As impressive a performance as we've seen in any individual game this season.
- Baltimore (6-2, 4th last week) – The Ravens offense remains enigmatic but the second half in Indy may have been the start of something.
- Seattle (6-2, 5th last week) – Trying not to overreact to one loss but the Seahawks defense has been miserable all season. Russell Wilson can't be perfect every week.