What Did Patriots Fans Learn From Conference Championship Weekend?
For New England Patriots nation, this past weekend marked the first time since 2010 that their home team was not participating in the NFL's conference championship festivities. With New England no longer in the playoffs after losing to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild-Card round, those rooting for New England have to watch the rest of the postseason be played by some of the other talented teams in the league who proved to be better than the Patriots this season.
However, just because the reigning Super Bowl champions aren't playing anymore doesn't mean these playoff games mean nothing to the Patriots. Each game in the postseason represents an opportunity for the organization, and for those cheering them on, to sit back and analyze what each win or loss in the postseason means for New England going forward. While the Patriots are already locked into how they will improve for the 2020 season, they likely have some takeaways from the conference championships, which involved teams that are on New England's schedule next regular season, and/or are going to be conference rivals going forward.
With that being said, let's take a look at some nuggets that Patriots fans can take away from the conference title games that can be useful moving forward for New England.
Patrick Mahomes is here to stay
One of the best starts we've ever seen to a quarterback's career in the NFL belongs to Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. Winning an MVP in his first full season as the starter for his football team is evidence of that. But what goes unnoticed, simply because he hasn't won a Super Bowl (yet), are his playoff numbers. In four playoff games, Mahomes has an 11-0 TD-INT ratio, 1,100 yards, and two rushing touchdowns. Eight of those passing touchdowns have come over his last two games and has helped him to his first Super Bowl since becoming the full-time starter last season.
Whether or not the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV is not what's important to New England. The fact that Kansas City got to the championship game is what is concerning for the Patriots going forward. With players like Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Frank Clark, and Tyrann Mathieu still under contract for the 2020 season, the team will be locked and loaded for another successful season following their current Super Bowl run.
New England has to prepare to face the Chiefs yet again next season when they face them during the regular season and possibly the postseason. Because of that, the decisions they make this offseason could be predicated around getting players that can stop Andy Reid's explosive squad. However, if they can't scrape together a good enough offense that can keep up with the Chiefs', then the Patriots will have no chance of beating Kansas City in 2020.
49ers made out in the Garoppolo trade. But so did the Patriots
San Francisco now heads into the Super Bowl with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, a player that they traded for back in 2017 from the Patriots. You can expect to hear a lot of about that trade this week, especially since Tom Brady will be watching the Super Bowl from the couch while he watches his favorite team growing up and his former backup take center stage. We at PatriotMaven will have our own takes on that trade from three years ago, and when we publish it, it will be hyperlinked right here.
It's 2020 and the Patriots have accumulated some young talent/draft picks from that deal that sent Garoppolo to the West Coast. On the flip side - San Francisco has a starting QB who has done well enough to guide them to a 13-3 record in the regular season and a Super Bowl appearance. Even though he only completed eight passes in the team's win over the Packers in the NFC Title Game, Garoppolo has shown a times this season that he can be one of the best QBs in the league when he's asked to throw the football frequently.
In the end - both teams won that 2017 trade. The Patriots needed to get rid of Garoppolo before the trade deadline while also getting younger and stockpiling draft picks, and they've done that thanks to shipping away the former second-round pick. The 49ers needed a franchise quarterback that could lead Kyle Shanahan's team to the promise land, and they now have that.
The Patriots will face the 49ers during the 2020 regular season, and may have to face them in the event that both teams make another Super Bowl run sometime soon. Because that is the case, one can expect that Bill Belichick and company will have their eyes peeled on how Super LIV unfolds. If the Chiefs create a game plan that can shut down San Francisco's potent run game and/or find a way to tear through the 49ers' defense, New England could use pieces of that to carry over to their matchup in 2020.
The Texans aren't the only problem the Patriots have in the AFC South
It was bad enough that New England had one AFC contender to deal with out of the AFC South this season. Now, it looks like there is at least one more contender out of that same division - the Titans.
After beating the Patriots in the Wild-Card round, Tennessee went on to beat the Ravens, who looked to be the AFC's representation in SBLIV before the playoffs started. Though they ended up losing to the Chiefs in the AFC championship game, the future looks bright for Mike Vrabel and the Titans.
Tennessee could potentially lose some key players this offseason to free agency such as Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill and Logan Ryan. However, the Titans' ability to build a team that Vrabel can work with should not be underestimated after seeing how the've built over the past two offseasons. The organization from top to bottom understands the personnel they need to succeed, which shouldn't just scare Bill O'Brien over in Houston, but also New England, who have shown an inability to beat the new-look Titans.