As Michael Corleone would say; “Just when you thought the New England Patriots were out, they pull you back in.”
The Pats improved to 5-4 on the season, with a 24-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Winners of three straight, and four of their last five, the Patriots chances of earning a spot in the 2021 NFL Playoffs are beginning to seem more than reasonable.
In fact, New England currently occupies the seventh overall position in the AFC. If the season ended today, the Patriots would be seeded as the third wild card. New England holds the tiebreaker over the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, based on best win percentage in conference games.
Prior to their Week Nine matchup with Carolina, New England had slightly above a 50 percent chance of making the postseason. However, the Patriots’ win helped their odds for qualifying increase to 62 percent, as indicated by the latest rankings of the NFL Power Football Index. According to the list, which is considered the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season, the Pats have the ninth best postseason prognosis.
While each team ultimately controls its own fate, the Pats are also receiving some help from their competition. The reigning AFC East Division Champions, the Buffalo Bills, dropped a shocker to the now formerly 1-6 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bills’ loss coupled with the Pats’ win, placed New England within a half game of Buffalo for the division lead.
As a result, the postseason is within New England’s sights, with eight games left to play. Not only do the Pats have two December meetings with the Buffalo Bills on tap, they also have road matchups with the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts, and a home date with the Tennessee Titans on Thanksgiving weekend.
With the AFC currently lacking a true dominant force at the top, five wins from the Patriots in their final eight games would realistically qualify them for the playoffs. One victory over the Bills would put them in contention for the top spot in the Division. A season sweep of Buffalo would likely bring the AFC East title back to Foxboro.
Still, the Patriots know that any chances of postseason play begin with focusing on the task at hand. In Week Ten, New England will welcome the Cleveland Browns to Gillette Stadium. The Browns also hold a 5-4 record, fresh off of a 41-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Like New England, Cleveland is also looking to qualify for the playoffs. A win over New England would greatly enhance their place in the standings, as well as provide a boost to their confidence. With the Browns capable of playing well on both sides of the ball, the Pats know that their next task at hand will be difficult one.
“We’ll just keep trying to string these weeks together,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Sunday, when asked about his team’s potential for the remainder of the season.
Belichick’s sentiments were echoed by offensive team captain David Andrews, who offered the following comments in the aftermath of the Pats’ Week Nine victory over the Panthers:
“We’ve been working really hard and we have to continue that this week. It was a great team win. I thought we did some things really well and there’s always some things that we can clean up. We’ll learn from that and we did some things to hurt ourselves like I said and so we have to fix that and correct that. When we executed, we had success so that’s got to be our formula every week.”
After starting the season 1-3, the Patriots appear to be on the cusp of finalizing that winning formula. While it will not be easy, they are seeming willing, able and eager to accomplish their goal.
When it comes to the playoff picture, the Pats have been ‘pulled back in’…and from the looks of things, they are here to stay.