By: Dylan Porcaro
After getting off to an underwhelming 2-2 start to the 2017 season, the New England Patriots are now winners of seven straight games and appear to be right back on track for another AFC Championship appearance. Tom Brady is playing as good as he ever has and is showing no signs of slowing down. The defense was the main concern early on in the year, but now their bend but don’t break philosophy is hitting on all cylinders. With five regular season games remaining on the schedule, the Pittsburgh Steelers look like the only real competition left as the other four games are against the weak AFC East opponents (Bills twice, Dolphins, Jets).
What should we be looking for through the final five weeks as the playoffs approach? Both New England and Pittsburgh are currently 9-2, and they will meet in week 15. The winner of that game would of course hold the tiebreaker over the other if they finished with the same record. In my eyes, the only team that is going to beat the Patriots this year is themselves. Not that this year’s team is as good as they have been in years past, but the rest of the league is about as weak as it’s ever been. As long as New England shows up and plays their game on any given Sunday, they should be in control. That’s why more importantly than anything this season is to keep guys healthy as we enter the home stretch here.
With Edelman, Hightower, and now Bennett all on IR with season-ending injuries, the pats really can’t afford to lose anyone else. Kyle Van Noy has become an essential part of the defense and he looked like he was banged up following Sunday’s 35-17 rout of the Miami Dolphins. Not only did Van Noy look like he was hurt, both Trey Flowers and Elandon Roberts had to come off the field for a few plays. Last year New England won the Super Bowl despite losing Rob Gronkowski, but the way this current roster is constructed I’m not sure they could survive another big blow.
As far as the playoffs go, the Steelers are the only team that could maybe be viewed as a threat. With that said, Brady is 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh including the playoffs, in which he’s a perfect 3-0. New England has their number, and even if someone wanted to argue that the rosters are equally talented, the gap between Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin is huge. Belichick exposed Tomlin’s Steelers in last season’s AFC Championship and I wouldn’t expect anything different this year.
Aside from health, locking up the number 1 seed should be at the top of the Patriots’ list of priorities as well. Let’s go back to 2015 when New England went to Miami in week 17 needing a win to secure home field throughout the AFC playoffs. The pats used a very uncharacteristic game plan as they ran the ball on the first 15 snaps, causing them to lose the game and drop down to the 2 seed. That meant traveling to Denver for the AFC Championship, which resulted in a 20-18 defeat. Mismanaging the last game of the year and the importance of home field ultimately cost New England another crack at a Super Bowl. There’s no doubt this taught them a lesson, since last year with home field advantage the Patriots cruised to the big game. With a healthy team and the number 1 seed in the AFC, I think Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will be in Minneapolis on February 4th going for their 6th Super Bowl ring.
Photo: (Boston Herald)