This year the Patriots season looked as promising as ever, especially with all the big moves they made in the off-season. Although they started out choppy and quite lost, they have recently turned a page and find themselves with a record of 6-2 after Week 8 and now going into a bye.
In my 2017-2018 season outlook for the Pats, I said that it wasn’t impossible for the team to go undefeated, although it would be difficult and unlikely, but I said that they would finish 13-3 with a couple of losses against good teams and possibly a loss against a division rival. So far I’m 2/3 of the way there on that prediction, as the Pats got ambushed by the Chiefs Week 1 at home and lost at home against the Panthers who haven’t been playing that bad this year. They beat the Jets on the road as their only game against a divisional opponent so far this year, overcoming an early 14-0 deficit in the 1st quarter. They had some close wins along the way too, needing a few last second defensive stops against the Buccaneers, Texans, and Chargers to come away with wins. The two other games were wins against the Saints and Falcons by double digits, beating the Saints on the road in a slug-fest while the Saints were still finding their footing on defense and holding the Falcons to just 7 points at home on Sunday Night Football.
Possibly the biggest reason for a their losses and close wins was the defense. They re-signed DT Alan Branch and OLB Dont’a Hightower while also adding CB Stephon Gilmore to step in after they Logan Ryan became a free agent. I said in my preseason outlook that while they made these moves, some of their spots on defense including the linebacker and defensive end positions were riding a little too thin for my liking and that they could possibly regret beefing up those two spots. They did trade in the off=season for DE Kony Ealy, but it was quickly seen in the preseason that he wasn’t a great fit in their defensive scheme, which prompted his release. Watching their first 4-5 games, it was pretty self-evident that they had a hard time stopping receiving backs and they weren’t that successful in getting to the quarterback. They are sitting in the bottom tenth of the league in sacks, which obviously not ideal. Last season they might been one of the more efficient defenses in the league on paper, but the true fan in me saw it had flaws and benefited from playing in a mostly lackluster division. This year they’ve allowed the most yards per game, surrendering 417 Yds/G while giving up the 9th most points with 179. Could it have been the lack of chemistry, the classic super bowl hangover, or just didn’t have the star-power to stop their opponents? Whatever it was it was definitely not what the fans or the team expected. Recently they’ve steeped it up, only giving up 20 points against a couple of pretty good offenses, which is the least they’ve given up in a two-game span this season. The tackling has been much better, players are starting to find their rhythm, and they are finding ways to cope with some key defensive losses and are making big plays for them in the process. Things are looking up for the defense, finally.
The offense, which shouldn’t come to shock anyone, has been one of the best offenses this year. With the additions of Brandin Cooks, Mike Gillislee, and Rex Burkhead they further stacked an already really good offense led by Tom Brady. They lead in total yards per game, have scored the second most points, and are 5th in total touchdowns. Tom Brady after a short-lived slow start leads in passing yards, 3rd in total touchdowns, and is 2nd in QB passer rating. Having been only kept to under 20 points this year, this offense is firing on all cylinders with no end in sight.
Now a look at their upcoming schedule. They have a match-up following their Week 9 bye against the Broncos on the road, which is never an easy place for them to grab a win no matter how well that team is playing that year. Then they play a game in Mexico City against the Raiders on Monday Night would should be a fun game. After stunning the Chiefs two weeks ago, they put up a stinker against the Bills. They have a similar build as the Pats. an offense that can quickly catch fire and a defense that has the ability to give up a ton of points. The next 5 games features the Dolphins and Bills twice and the Steelers on the road. The Dolphins have been pretty inconsistent, beating the Falcons and Jets back to back weeks in comeback fashion and then getting obliterated this past Thursday Night against the Ravens. Their QB situation is a mess which trickles down to the rest of their offense, providing no flow within them. The Bills however have exceeded expectations, with a stellar defense and an offense led by Tyrod Taylor. They are currently 5-2 right now and are hungry to end their postseason drought. The Steelers are also a pretty tough team to peg this year, having been creamed by the Jaguars at home one week and then beating the Chiefs on the road in another. Their offense is starting to click again, especially with last nights emergence of rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. That defense can also at times look very promising. Then the Pats finish the season off at home against Jets, who have more wins than anyone expected them to have this year. I see them finishing the season again 6-2 with a good shot of being 7-1 or 8-0, fulfilling my pre-season prediction of losing against a divisional opponent and possibly a close loss against the Steelers.
The Pats have had their ups and downs so far this season but are still primed for a deep playoff run. Can they push it altogether and win their 6th championship? They certainly have a good shot at it.