Don’t look now but a team coached by Bill Belichick is picking up steam at just the right time of year. Surprise! This time around, Tom Brady is not involved, but that hasn’t stopped the New England Patriots from winning seven of their last eight games. At this point, they might be the primary challengers to the Kansas City Chiefs‘ supremacy in the AFC.
The Chiefs have had issues of their own in ’21, but they’ve turned things around enough to own the AFC West at present, and after winning the conference for each of the last two seasons, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. They’re also the other AFC team on fire coming down the stretch, although they also just had a bye to rest and recuperate before the final few games on the regular season slate.
Are the Patriots for real? People have good reasons to doubt this team, especially the hype that will be made of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, but the record speaks for itself. The Patriots were 1-3 through the first four weeks of the regular season, coming off of a loss to Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The following week, they squeaked by the Houston Texans and then lost in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys—a loss that sent them to 2-4 and made them an afterthought in the early AFC playoff picture.
The Patriots are getting hot at the right time in the AFC.
Since then, however, the Patriots haven’t lost a single game. After a few easy wins over also-rans (remember they face the New York Jets twice in a season along with the Miami Dolphins), Belichick’s team even began to knock off more solid teams. The Pats won on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers. They smothered the Cleveland Browns by 38 and the Tennessee Titans by 23. They also shut out the Atlanta Falcons, held the Carolina Panthers to 6 points and mopped the floor with the Jets defense (scoring 54 points in Week 7).
The Pats can put up points, but it’s their often punishing defense that is such a tough opponent for most offenses. Matt Judon is enjoying an epic season as the team’s primary pass rusher. J.C. Jackson is one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Kyle Dugger, Kyle Van Noy, Adrian Phillips, Christian Barmore and others are enjoying strong seasons on the same unit.
The Patriots’ biggest tests are upcoming with two late-season games scheduled against the Buffalo Bills for the chance to represent the AFC East in the postseason. The first of those contests is set for next week with a date against the Indianapolis Colts scheduled between those meetings. That will tell us even more about the Patriots than we know now, but this latest win over the Titans in Week 12 should have alleviated most concerns, to be honest. For a while, the Pats were picking on lesser teams, but that’s not the case anymore and the entire conference lacks an elite team as it is.
We hate to agree with anything Colin Cowherd says, and we don’t endorse it fully, but his recent declaration that the Patriots are the best team in the AFC isn’t that far off. They look very good at a point where you want your favorite franchise to be getting hot. They might just be the primary challengers to the Chiefs’ throne in the AFC in 2021.