Patriots vs Jaguars Recap: Playoffs?? Playoffs!

New England Patriots Playoffs
Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

The Patriots got back to winning on Sunday, blowing out the Jaguars 50-10. The win snapped a two-game skid and punched a ticket to the postseason. The win was a much-needed remedy for a team that seemed to be getting caught up in the headlines. From the get-go, it was a “get right” game for New England. The Patriots played the part.

If you’ve been following along on Twitter (@patriots_atb), I put together a list of five things to watch for in the game. Putting together the usual “who has the advantage when…” game preview didn’t seem like a time-worthy endeavor, as New England would’ve had a clean sweep in all departments. Instead, a short list of what the team needed to do to get back on track was a more prudent exercise.

The areas to watch I identified were the Patriots getting out to a fast start, making it appear as if only one rookie quarterback had taken the field Sunday, playing complementary football, staying healthy, and figuring out what the hell N’Keal Harry is to this team. The Patriots answered all five on Sunday.

Patriots Must Get Out to a Fast Start

The last two weeks the Patriots have dug themselves a hole to climb out of for the rest of the game. While they’ve gotten close both times, they had been unable to get on the right side of it either time.

The easiest way to remedy this problem?

Don’t give yourself a hole to climb out of.

The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the Jaguars. To get off to a fast start the Pats would need to make a stand on defense to open the game. They did just that. The Jags gained 7 yards on first down before Dont’a Hightower came bursting through the line to drop rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence for a sack and 9 yard loss.

The Patriots would tackle Jaguars wide receiver Laquon Treadwell well short of the sticks to force a three and out on the first defensive series of the game.

The Patriots offense would match the defense fast start by marching 70 yards on eleven plays to open the scoring. The drive featured an efficient mix of run and pass, ultimately being capped off by the first of two Damien Harris touchdowns.

The Pats offense stayed hot, scoring touchdowns on their next four drives before finally being forced to punt. A week after struggling to move the ball consistently, New England was nearly impossible to stop.

Make it Appear Only Rookie QB is on the Field

The success Belichick has against rookie signal callers is well known in these parts. On Sunday, the Patriots needed to make it apparent Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a rookie while also making it look like Mac was a seasoned vet. The box score tells the story on this one.

Lawrence: 17/27 for 193 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 sacks

Jones: 22/30 for 227 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks

Mac consistently took what the defense gave him and kept the ball out of harm’s way. He put his team in a position to succeed and sprinkled in some splash plays while leading an efficient attack. Mac and the offense have greater success when he is well protected, as he was Sunday. He was his normal safe and consistent self while also showing some wow throws.

Lawrence looked unsure of himself throughout the game. The Patriots didn’t show many exotic looks pre-snap, but did a good job of rotating coverages after. This led to Lawrence holding the ball a tick longer, which allowed defensive players to break on the throw with ease.

The Patriots probably won’t see another rookie quarterback this year. Getting a feel-good game on defense may get them rolling in the most important month of the calendar: January.

Play Complementary Football

This was the most complete game the Patriots have played in over a month. The defense consistently put the offense in good spots. The offense didn’t turn the ball over and maintained a 36:46 to 23:14 advantage in time of possession.

Often the best way to measure complementary football is in third down success. Is the defense getting stops when possible? Is the offense converting and keeping the ball? The past two weeks the Pats simply have not been getting the job done on the “money down.” Against the Jaguars, the Patriots converted 8 of 10 third down attempts on offense while holding the visitors to 3 of 9. Maintaining this level of success will go a long way in winning games in the playoffs.

Stay Healthy

Damien Harris and Adrian Phillips did not finish the game, but both were available for post-game press conferences, a sign their injuries were minor. The feeling here is both would’ve finished the game had it been a closer affair. The NFL season has long been a battle of attrition, and with a 17th game added it has never been more true. Maintaining health down the stretch is often the most important factor to a team’s championship aspirations.

What’s up With N’Keal?

Before inactives were announced, it was expected Harry would be in line for another complete game of work. Harry had played a career high 61 snaps last week against the Bills and finished with two catches for 15 yards. Harry was listed on the injury report throughout the week with a hip condition, but was removed Friday, meaning his inactive status comes as a true healthy scratch. Harry’s replacement was practice squad call-up Kristian Wilkerson.

Unfortunately for Harry, Wilkerson made himself quite an introduction to the NFL. Wilkerson had four receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Harry’s career high for touchdown catches in a season is two. In a time when confidence has been waning in the former first rounder, Sunday may prove to be the nail in the coffin for his Patriots career.

Harry has often mixed incredible playmaking ability with an incredible ability to completely disappear on the playing field. Wilkerson probably isn’t the next Davante Adams but the early returns say he is a very viable number 3 or 4 receiver. It isn’t tough to see where Belichick may go with that one.

With the outcomes of Sunday’s games, the Patriots locked up their 18th playoff appearance under Belichick. For context on how incredible this is; the Lions have made the playoffs 17 times since 1934. The Patriots would come along 26 years later. Whether this season ends with a 7th Lombardi being hoisted by the franchise or not, the Belichick era is one that may never be matched.

New England Patriots and RAS

The New England Patriots RAS score is in the good hands of Bill Belichick’s dog Nike.
(Credit: The Boston Globe)

The New England Patriots bring us back to the realm of RAS, or Relative Athletic Score. This team remains an interesting one from the front office perspective. Bill Belichick has been the head coach/GM of the Patriots since he was hired in 2000. He had split some of the duties with Scott Pioli before he left, but Belichick was still the head guy with final say. With all that being said, there is no reason to go back to 2000. Draft strategies change, so we’ll look back to 2016.

You can find previous parts here: https://atbnetwork.com/author/bmaafi1125/

Quarterbacks:

Generally quarterbacks and RAS scores are kind of unimportant outside of maybe a team here or there. Most teams want a guy who can at least move around the pocket a little and could get a few yards if a play breaks down.

With that, let’s take a look at the Patriots. Since 2016 they have drafted four quarterbacks: Jacoby Brissett, Danny Etling, Jarrett Stidham, and Mac Jones. Etling was the most athletic with a 8.31 RAS score and Brissett was the lowest with a 4.53. All four average out to a 6.38, which ironically enough rates average overall.

In fact, it’s a pretty common average; most teams are around there or slightly higher. All four have been at least 6’2 and 217+ pounds. Essentially, New England likes solid sized QBs, which is also pretty normal among NFL teams.

Running backs:

The running backs for the Patriots are kind of interesting. Belichick has drafted only three since 2016: Sony Michel, Damien Harris, and Rhamondre Stevenson. Michel had the highest RAS score of the three at 8.96, but Harris and Stevenson both rated under 6.5.

At this position, it would seem overall athleticism is not that important to Belichick. All have similar size (between 5’10”-5’11” and 214-230), yet they don’t have any testing numbers that stand out. For example, Michel was the fastest of the three in the 40-yard-dash, clocking in at 4.54. So it would reason pure speed is not that important to them, especially since they all demonstrate average agility.

Tight Ends:

Since 2016 Bill Belichick has drafted only three tight ends: Ryan Izzo, Dalton Keene, and Devin Asiasi. All three are 6’3″-6’4″ and weigh between 253-257. Just going off this, and given the former Gronk factor, the Patriots like larger tight ends. As for RAS scores, this position once again rates average overall at 6.66.

Keene is a freak athlete with a 9.34 RAS score, but Izzo and Asiasi are both in the below/average range. It does look like they want tight ends with decent speed as Asiasi and Keene both run in the low 4.7’s. They all test at least average in explosion factor. All three are average to excellent in their 10-yard splits, so this might be something to watch.

Wide Receivers:

They Patriots have drafted five receivers since 2016: Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien in 2016, Braxton Berrios in 2018, N’Keal Harry in 2020, and Tre Nixon in 2021. The average RAS score of them is a solid 7.58. Even better, three of the five are above an 8.0. Four of them measure between 6’0″-6’3″ and weigh 187+, with two of them currently over 200 pounds.

Outside of Berrios, they seem to prefer bigger receivers. They appear to factor in vertical jump as four of the five registered a 36″ vertical or higher. 40-yard-dash speed does seem to be something they key in as well. Harry was the slowest at 4.53, while the others were under 4.5, including three in the 4.45 range. Four of the five also scored at least average in agility testing.

Offensive Line:

One position the Patriots have made sure not to avoid is definitely offensive line. They have drafted 11 offensive linemen since 2016. Seven of them were interior offensive linemen, specifically guards. There was a solid average RAS score of 7.15. The guards even averaged a 7.51.

tackles:

The tackles averaged a 6.66, but that was mostly brought down by Justin Herron’s 3.99. The other two tackles were Antonio Garcia (7.29) and Conor McDermott (8.7). As to their size, the tackles varied from 6’4″-6’8″, but their weights did not show a lot of variety; they ranged from 302-312.

Arm length seemed to vary from 33 1/3″ – 34 3/4″. Explosion grades were at least average, while 40 and 10-yard splits were all average to a little slow. Agility testing does not seem to be something that they value at tackle; while two had poor agility testing, McDermott tested well.

guards:

The guards heights vary from 6’3″-6’5″, but weight wise there was a lot more variety. The lightest was Dustin Woodward at 295 and the heaviest was Michael Onwenu at 344. Another area that had a big range was arm length, which was between 31 1/4″-34 1/3″.

All of the guards tested at least average in explosion testing, specifically the broad jump. Speed does not seem to be a priority; the 40 speeds range from 4.95-5.34. As to agility testing, it seems that they prefer at least average agility. Only one drafted guard tested poorly in this area: Ted Karras.

Defensive line:

From 2016 to 2021, New England has drafted only three defensive linemen: Vincent Valentine, Byron Cowart, and Christian Barmore. The three of their RAS scores average out to a 6.6. They all do have similar height (6’3″ or 6’4″), while weight varies a bit from Cowart’s 298 to Valentine’s 329. It does look like they value arm length in their DL; the shortest is 33 1/8″ and longest is 34 3/4″.

There’s no explosion testing from Barmore, but Cowart and Valentine tested well, especially on the broad jump. Straight line speed does not seem to a priority here. Barmore ran fast, but his 10-yard split was just average. Meanwhile, Cowart and Valentine did not run well. All three had average to poor agility testing, so that might not be a priority either.

Edge:

Since 2016 the Patriots have drafted six edge defenders: Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise (2017), Chase Winovich (2019), Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche (2020), and Ronnie Perkins (2021). There are only RAS scores for four, and they collectively average out to an athletic 7.9. There does not seem to be any threshold on height with Uche at 6’1″ and Wise at 6’5″.

A similar feature comes from weight – Uche was the lightest at 245 and Wise being the heaviest at 278. Outside of Wise, they appear to trend more on the light side; the rest are between 245 and 256. Arm length does seem somewhat important to them; the shortest arms tested were 32 7/8″ with Wise the longest at 35 5/8″.

They do seem to have a threshold as far as explosion testing, as all of them tested at least average or above. Straight line speed does seem to have some importance to them. Outside of Wise, everyone ran a 4.7 or faster with two running 4.6. They also seem to like guys with good or better agility.

Linebackers:

The Patriots have drafted five linebackers since 2016. Despite this, only three of them have RAS scores. The average RAS score of those three is a pretty solid 7.04. Height wise, they seem to like shorter linebackers, with all between 5’11” and 6’1″. There is some range in weight (two guys at 234 and the the other 248).

Arm length does not seem to be particularly important to them, ranging from 31 1/2″ to 32 1/4″. There does seem to be something to them liking their linebackers with decent speed as they all ran sub-4.75 in the 40-yard-dash. Their agility testing is average, though explosive testing isn’t of importance since they range from bad to very good.

Defensive backs:

The one position the Patriots have loaded up on is defensive back. Since 2016, they’ve drafted eight in this area, with three coming from the safety position. Although this is a trend with most NFL teams, it also seems to be a position where testing scores are more dependent.

The RAS scores on all but one came back with a good average of 8.37. Duke Dawson and Cyrus Jones do bring the average score down a bit; both tested about average (6.62 and 6.45, respectively). If one averaged out strictly the cornerbacks, this score actually drops to a 7.87. Two of the three safeties scored over 9.5, with only Joshuah Bledsoe failing to provide a score.

When it comes to height, three out of the four corners are 5’9″ or 5’10”, so they may have a preference for shorter corners. Of course the fifth is Joejuan Williams, who is 6’4″. With the safeties there is some variety from 5’11” to 6’2″. Weight wise, all eight players ranged from 197 to 217. This position, however, is where explosion testing mattered immensely.

While Cyrus Jones tested poorly, the rest all tested above average to elite. They also seem to like their defensive backs fast, and yes there are teams that do not prioritize it. Outside of Kyle Dugger, all run a 4.49 or faster, while the 10-yard splits are all varied.

In regards to agility drills, the Patriots want their defensive backs to have at least good agility. Of all these players, Duke Dawson was the only one with poor agility scores. Also, the 3-cone drill might be a little more important than short shuttle.

Patriots vs Colts: A Rivalry Renewed

Patriots vs Colts
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Patriots and Colts both were coming off their bye weeks to face each other in what had shaped into a pivotal AFC matchup. It was clear from the onset that the two teams were playing with different energy levels.

The Colts came out playing fast and motivated. The Patriots came out looking like they had just awoken from a long winter’s nap. After winning seven straight games, the Patriots of the first six weeks had returned. They played flat, were careless with the football, and committed penalty after penalty. Essentially, they didn’t play “Patriots football.”

Pats Can’t Make Crucial Stop

With two minutes left to play, the Patriots were somehow still in the game. They even had a realistic chance of at least forcing overtime if they could get one more stop. The Patriots had just scored to make the score 20-17, in favor of the Colts. The defense came out in need of forcing a three and out to give the offense a chance to extend the game.

The defense played an end-around to Ashton Dulin, the same play that gashed them for 37 yards earlier, beautifully; holding it to a 2-yard gain. The defense needed to make two more stops to force a punt. Everyone knew the Colts were going to run it. Jonathan Taylor had been successful the entire game up to that point, but it wasn’t because the Pats were getting dominated in the trenches.

The Patriots often met Taylor early in the progression of plays, only to have Taylor churn 3-5 more yards out after contact. And now with the game on the line, the Pats needed to meet him in the hole, and drop him without letting yards after contact.

Pats Play Scheme Perfectly, Don’t Finish Play

The Colts ran a zone to the left side, behind the strength of their offensive line. They did a great job of collapsing the Patriots’ defensive line down, leaving a huge hole for Taylor to run through. Jamie Collins engaged the left tackle and at least created some semblance of an edge. Taylor veered towards the hole only to see Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty waiting for him.

McCourty plays down from his safety spot, playing outside in. McCourty plays this technique because the linebacker, in this case, Hightower, should be flowing over the top from inside out. If McCourty is going to miss, he has to force Taylor back to his help.

Hightower is flowing over the top, coming from an inside linebacker alignment, meaning he must play his run fit from the inside out, if he misses, Taylor should bounce to McCourty’s waiting arms. Hightower over pursues, allowing Taylor to make a quick cut to the interior of the defense. Him and McCourty both end up on the outside shade of the hole, leaving no one home to clean it up.

This play, which broke the Pats’ back, was emblematic of the entire night for the Pats. A “close, but no cigar” type of effort. The Pats had no business being in the game at that point and yet they were. It was only fitting that two of the Patriots’ most trusted defensive players would be in a perfect position to make a key tackle and simply couldn’t.

Punt Block Example of “Doing Your Job”

The punt block was another case of the Patriots not executing simple aspects of their assignments. The Colts did not scheme anything up to befuddle the Patriots punting unit. It was a simple 8-man rush, with no overload on either side. Four punt protectors, four punt blockers. On punt block assignments, the protection counts the blocking scheme from inside out. Someone near the long snapper is number 1 in the protection, and out to number 4 or 5 over the end man.

Depending on the particular assignment, the long snapper may lean one way or the other to help in the blocking scheme. On the Colts punt block, the number two and three men line up extremely close to one another. The outside man, or fourth in the blocking scheme, is outside the tackle.

In this scheme, Brandon Bolden, the end man, is responsible for number 4 in the blocking scheme, the outside man. Jamie Collins is responsible for number 3, Jakob Johnson, number 2. On the snap Johnson plays down to the number 1, leaving E.J. Speed, the number 2, unblocked to the punter. Nothing complicated, just a lack of execution of the assignment. That makes the third punt blocked against New England this season. Belichick had never had more than one as the Patriots head coach.

Mac’s Struggles

The Colts stated their desire to make Mac win the game earlier in the week. Through two and a half quarters, the Colts looked to be backing up their talk. Trailing 17-0 with just under two minutes left in the first half, the Patriots put together their most promising drive to that point in the game. They faced 3rd and 3 from the Colts’ 15-yard line. The team needed to come away with points. Getting the ball back after half, they could get a double-dip and cut the deficit to a one-possession game.

Instead, Colts’ linebacker Darius Leonard baited Mac into an easy interception. The Colts were playing a zone defense with four underneath defenders flooding the short area of the field. Leonard initially pushes to widen, but with no threat to that side, he can keep his eyes on the QB.

When Mac takes his hand off the ball, something defensive players are told to key on to get a jump on the pass, Leonard immediately shifts his momentum back towards the interior of the field. His great read and immediate response put him in the passing window for an easy interception. The play negated any chance the Pats had at scoring before half.

Not All Hope is Lost

Despite the poor play on multiple fronts, the Patriots still put themselves in a position to potentially win this thing. They didn’t deserve to win the game, and ultimately didn’t, but didn’t really deserve to have it that close either. A loss like this can be extremely important for a young team like the Patriots. There was a lot of teaching tape available after this one, but perhaps most importantly, it showed that the Patriots C+ effort is not good enough to beat opponents in the NFL.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Pats as they now must win out and hope for help to reclaim the number 1 seed in the AFC. That quest starts Sunday with a HUGE game against the Bills. A win here sets the Patriots up to be in the driver’s seat for the division down the stretch run of the season. A loss means they’re playing for a wild card and hoping for help to get the division back.

Most importantly, the Patriots of the seven-game win streak must return and not the group that started the season 2-4. In the loss to the Colts, it was many of the same issues that were evident early in the season. It’s probably a safe bet Belichick gets his boys back in order.

Week 15 NFL Power Rankings

Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

The Week 15 NFL Power Rankings saw the chaos subside a bit. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of chaos and movement this week. It’s just that all the movement happens to be concentrated in the middle of the pack this week, rather than in the top and bottom of the list. So, we’re going to dive in this week and just try to enjoy the fact that things aren’t quite as weird.

32. Detroit Lions (1-11-1)

Last Week: 32

Back to losing, Lions fans. Sorry. They didn’t really stand much of a chance against the Broncos this week. The Lions were mediocre in the first half and kept things relatively close. But, they imploded in the second half. They kicked things off with a fumble three plays into the third quarter and ended things with an interception on the second to last drive.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)

Last week: 31

Jacksonville arguably put up the most pathetic performance this week as Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions. The defense also gave up over 100 yards rushing to a Titans team that does not have Derrick Henry. With more drama surrounding Urban Meyer this week, I really want to knock them down to 32 in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings. Unfortunately, until the Lions catch up, I just can’t.

30. Houston Texans (2-11)

Last Week: 30

This was another one of those weeks where all the bad teams play badly. Therefore, you’re not going to see much movement in this section of the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings. Brandin Cooks and Davis Mills both had pretty decent games this week. Unfortunately, that wasn’t anywhere close to enough in the second half. The Texans played a pretty clean game, but are clearly a step-below talent wise.

29. New York Jets (3-10)

Last Week: 29

Speaking of hopeless looking situations, Zach Wilson looks incompetent. He didn’t make any major mistakes to kill the Jets this week, other than the 23 incomplete passes he threw. Some quarterbacks don’t even throw it that many times in a game. But, Wilson threw the ball 42 times and only completed it 19 times. At least he was the Jets’ leading rusher this week, right?

28. New York Giants (4-9)

Last Week: 27

I’m just not sure who the Giants even are at this point. Are they Saquon Barkley’s team? Are they a cavalcade of mediocre quarterbacks? They definitely seem like they’re bad defensively. Then again, Justin Herbert has a tendency to make a lot of people look bad. There weren’t a lot of expectations this week, but it feels like the Giants fell short of even that.

27. Chicago Bears (4-9)

Last Week: 26

I’m sorry, Bears fans. Aaron Rodgers STILL owns you. Justin Fields couldn’t even come close to keeping up this week. He did pretty well running the ball. But, you hope for more from your young quarterback than that. Perhaps you can take some solace in knowing you had a lead at halftime. But, no moral victories.

26. Carolina Panthers (5-8)

Last Week: 23

Remember when Cam Newton being back felt like it was precipitating a massive resurgence in Carolina? Yeah. Those good feelings are over. Cam was a disaster this week with a pick six in the first half and a goofy fumble in the second. He ended up being benched for PJ Walker in the middle of the fourth quarter. Just like that, the opportunity for Cam’s legendary return feels completely gone.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

Last Week: 22

I will give credit to the Steelers for clawing their way back in that game. Ben Roethlisberger made some vintage throws that reminded everyone of the old days. It just felt like one of those games the Steelers always win, you know? Well, not so much. At the end of the game, the defense couldn’t keep the Vikings from scoring during the miracle comeback.

24. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)

Last Week: 28

Believe it or not, the Atlanta Falcons are actually currently tied for the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, a cascade of tiebreakers have them sitting as the No. 11 team in the NFC. Believe it or not, a solid push in the final four weeks could have this team in the playoffs. Then again, the way they’ve gotten that 6-7 record makes them feel a lot farther off than that.

23. Seattle Seahawks (5-8)

Last Week: 24

For the first time this year, the Seattle Seahawks are on a winning streak! To be fair, beating the Texans wasn’t nearly as impressive as beating the 49ers. But, if they somehow win out, 9-8 looks a lot better than what we were all expecting. That’s not impossible either. Their final four games come against two division opponents, the Bears, and the Lions.

22. New Orleans Saints (6-7)

Last Week: 25

The Jets aren’t exactly the most inspiring opponent to get a dominating victory against. But, a dominating victory against anyone in the NFL is impressive. The biggest part of this game, though, was probably Taysom Hill. He showed why the Saints believed in him enough to hand him that contract extension. Not so much as a passer, but he got the job done and that’s why they move up in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings.

21. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7)

Last Week: 16

Ouch. Derek Carr threw the ball 45 times and only put up 263 yards and a touchdown. The running game put up a respectable 3.7 yards per carry, but the Raiders only ran the ball 12 times so I don’t think anyone is singing their praises. This game looked like an absolute confirmation that the Raiders do not have what it takes to be a playoff team in 2021. Pack it up, get ready for next year boys.

20. Washington Football Team (6-7)

Last Week: 14

Washington’s slim chance to challenge the Cowboys for control of the NFC East slipped out of their grasp on Sunday. They’re still holding onto the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs. But, I’m having trouble believing they’re going to hold onto that spot with the way their season has gone. The momentum appears to have been sucked out of the air in Washington after fumbling the comeback away.

19. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Last Week: 19

The playoffs are probably still a pipe dream in Miami. But, they got some help this week with some major shakeups at the bottom of the AFC playoff race. Tua has been playing really well lately and Miami’s fortunes have improved with his play. At the very least, the Dolphins can enjoy some hope for next year if they continue turning things around the way they have been lately.

18. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

Last Week: 20

I still don’t trust the Vikings. I don’t know if I can at this point. They won, but they BARELY won against Ben Roethlisberger’s shambling corpse despite a 29-0 lead well into the third quarter. I’ll give the Vikings a boost in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings for inching their way back to .500 with the win. But, I still don’t trust them. I don’t see them as a playoff team. I’d be shocked if they made it at this point.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

Last Week: 17

The dream of miraculously winning the NFC East died a few weeks ago in Philly. So, I think it was better for them that Washington lost and got them closer to a wild card spot. With two games left to play against the No. 7 seeded Washington Football Team, the Eagles still have everything in front of them. But, they’ll need to execute starting this week.

16. Denver Broncos (7-6)

Last Week: 21

The Broncos have been slowly turning their season back around in the second half. Now, they’re one of many 7-6 AFC teams tied in a log-jam for a Wild Card spot. They’ll have an opportunity to get one over one of those teams they’re tied with in the floundering Bengals this week. Their boost in the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings is because of that. It’s not because they pounded an inferior Lions team in a game that reminded me a lot of their fake ass 3-0 start.

15. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Last Week: 12

The Ravens have gotten so lucky that the Bengals lost the last two weeks, because the Ravens have been imploding. Now, Lamar Jackson is hurt. It sounds like the Ravens are optimistic he won’t be out very long, if any time at all. But, even if he is back the Ravens are still an extremely injured football team and it seems to be starting to affect their ability to put together a basic gameplan.

14. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

Last Week: 10

The Cincinnati Bengals are starting to enter Minnesota Vikings territory. Can we trust them? Are they good? They sure haven’t looked particularly good the last two weeks, save for impressive comebacks. But, the Bengals keep digging themselves into these really tough holes. If they are to be a playoff team this year, they’ll need to reel that in if they want to have any hope of breaking their infamous playoff drought.

13. Cleveland Browns (7-6)

Last Week: 18

The Browns came out of their bye week looking pretty similar to what they looked like before their bye week. The difference is the AFC North has basically collapsed around them. The Browns’ week off was seriously rejuvenating. They now sit at 7-6, still on the outside of the playoff picture. But, in a much better spot than they were two weeks ago.

12. Buffalo Bills (7-6)

Last Week: 11

Things are starting to get dire in Buffalo. The evil empire is back, and Tom Brady still owns the Bills. Suddenly, they’re 7-6 along with five other AFC teams and are barely holding onto that No. 7 seed. Remember when we all thought they were the class of the AFC? My how times have changed.

11. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

Last Week: 13

The Colts have really turned things around this season. They are winners of six of their last eight games, and those two losses were close ones against some of the best teams in the NFL. They’re currently in control of the No. 6 seed in the AFC and don’t look like they’ll be giving it up anytime soon. The one roadblock? Back to back games against New England and Arizona after the bye.

10. San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

Last Week: 15

Speaking of teams that have turned things around, the 49ers might be inconsistent but they’re really talented. Jimmy Garoppolo might be trying to give the ball away in key situations. But, the 49ers appear to be well positioned to overcome those hiccups and allow him to contribute throughout most of the game as a master of efficiency. From near the basement to the top 10 of the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings, the 49ers are getting hot at the right time.

9. Arizona Cardinals (10-3)

Last Week: 3

The Arizona Cardinals have gotten to 10-3 this season mostly by beating a bunch of bad teams. You could make the argument that their most respectable win of the season came over the Los Angeles Rams back in Week 4. But, they’re taking a dive in the Week 15 Power Rankings because they can’t even hang their hat on that anymore. The Cardinals are 3-3 in their last six games and they still have tough games against the Colts and Cowboys coming up.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

Last Week: 8

The Chargers are starting to get back on track after it was starting to look questionable there for a bit. I still don’t know if this team has what it takes to run through the playoffs and make it to the Super Bowl. But, they’ve won three of their last four. Beating the Giants by 17 is just icing on the cake.

7. Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Last Week: 7

The Titans got back on track against the Jaguars this week, as everyone seems to do. I still don’t know if they’re going to make much noise in January considering the state of their roster. But, they’re only two wins away from clinching the AFC South. Luckily they did most of the necessary work early this season.

6. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)

Last Week: 6

The Cowboys staved off a potential nightmare situation by holding off the Washington Football Team this week and are now one win away from clinching the NFC East. A win over the lowly Giants this coming week could do just that. I would be shocked to see them lose out at this point. So, holding on for that victory against Washington ends up feeling like a clinching moment.

5. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

Last Week: 9

Like the Cardinals, the Rams haven’t been doing much winning against good teams lately. In fact, when they played the Titans, 49ers, and Packers they went on a three-game losing streak that they only came out of last week. Now, they have a quality win over a division rival. That division rival is now only a game ahead of them in the running for the NFC West. Winning that division seems very possible now.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

Last Week: 5

It is just absurd to think about the fact that Tom Brady is 44 years old and still playing at this level. It’s a level the Buffalo Bills have been familiar with for his whole career. But, he now holds the record for most completions in NFL history. But, here’s the thing. Even if Brady doesn’t do well, Leonard Fournette appears to be approaching everything Jacksonville thought they were getting when they took him No. 4 overall.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)

Last Week: 4

The Chiefs are officially back, everyone. Most of the AFC should take notice because they’re riding a six-game win streak and it hasn’t really been close for a while now. The biggest question now is… can the Chiefs’ offense play well against a team other than Las Vegas?

2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Last Week: 2

The Green Bay Packers are a force. Aaron Rodgers is a force. Davante Adams is a force. The Packers’ defense didn’t look quite as good this week as they have in weeks past. But, it doesn’t matter because the Packers came away with a dominating victory over their “rival.” A wacky first half aside, this result really should never have been in doubt.

1. New England Patriots (9-4)

Last Week: 1

Show of hands: who saw the Patriots sitting at 9-4 after the bye? I sure didn’t. Especially after they started 1-3. But, they’ve only lost one game since that start. That game was back in mid-October. Can anyone challenge this team? If the Colts don’t beat them this coming week, I don’t know if they will lose another game this season. For now, they stay at the top of the Week 15 NFL Power Rankings.

Patriots Run by Bills for Seventh Straight Win

patriots bills
Orchard Park, NY – December 6: New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) hits the hole and is off to the races with the Patriots only touchdown of the game. The Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots in a Monday night NFL game at Highmark stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Dec. 6, 2021. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Patriots escaped Orchard Park with a 14-10 defeat of the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. The win firmly planted the Patriots as the division leaders of the AFC East. A loss by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday had given the Patriots the top spot in the conference before even taking the field Monday. Beating the Bills was a vehement declaration that the big bad Patriots are back.

For Bills fans, it’s a tale as old as time. A year after winning their first division title since the Jim Kelly-led 1995 season, the Bills were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender but now find themselves fighting for a playoff spot as we enter the final quarter of the season.

The Bills were supposed to run away with the division this year. Now they’re in second place, staring up at the Patriots again. For a team that had finally gotten over the hump in a division the Indianapolis Colts had won more recently before last year, the loss put them back in familiar territory.

As for the Pats, Mark Twain may have said it best; “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A year after finishing third in the division, the Pats are again eyeing home field throughout the playoffs.

Big Time Play in Crunch Time

The game came down to a critical 4th and 14 at the two-minute mark of the 4th quarter. The bills had the ball at the New England 18-yard line with a chance to score and take the lead, or perhaps more damning, to get a first down and run the clock down before punching it in.

The Bills came out in 11 personnel with two wide receivers split left and wide receiver Stefon Diggs flanking tight end Dawson Knox to the right. The Patriots countered with nickel personnel. Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant were over the wideouts to the left while JC Jackson was manned up with Stefon Diggs. Devin McCourty was shaded over Dawson Know on the left flank and practice squad call up Sean Davis in the box covering the running back. The defensive call was a max blitz cover 0.

Explaining Cover 0

Cover 0 is often described as having no safety help, which is true, but in actuality, it means having no help anywhere. No low-hole dropper, no robber, just a defender against the offensive skill player. The play call is aggressive and only works if the defensive guys do their job. The situational awareness that was displayed on multiple layers proves how well-coached this Patriots team is.

In cover 0, a defensive back is taught to break on a wide receiver’s first move. When the receiver makes a cut, the defensive back is supposed to take a straight line to intercept that route. The purpose of calling cover 0 is to force the ball out quickly. The receiver’s first break should be the only break in the timing of the play. If McCourty allows Allen to escape, the play is extended, and the receivers will have the upper hand.

Perfect Execution

McCourty initially isn’t involved in the pressure scheme and only adds after Dawson Knox stays in to protect. When Knox chose to take on the blitzing Kyle Van No, it allowed McCourty a free run at Josh Allen. McCourty plays it beautifully by adding with intent but in control. The reason he does not add at full speed was on display just a few plays earlier. Allen is a slippery QB. Coming in out of control would give Allen a chance to escape to his right, which is his throwing side, and extend the play.

The second aspect of this play that shows the level of coaching the Pats defenders have received was in the defensive backs doing exactly the opposite of the traditional cover 0 rules. The DB’s aligned with depth and allowed the routes to declare. This comes from understanding the situation. 4th and 14. If a ball is going to be caught, it has to be in front of the defender and tackled before the sticks.

The Patriots’ defensive backs played this situation with a match zone technique. Meaning they kept their eyes on Allen while mirroring their assigned WR’s. This technique is what allowed slot corner Myles Bryant to peel from his assignment to break up the pass. This is next-level execution of a ballsy play call for the situation.

Pounding the Rock

The Patriots implemented a power-running scheme almost exclusively against the Bills. The Patriots ran the ball on 46 of 49 plays. At one point they ran 32 straight times. The Pats deployed six offensive linemen on 61% of their snaps and were under center 93% of the time. It was no secret what their plan was. And yet, the Bills couldn’t stop it. The Patriots rushed for 222 yards against seven- and eight-man boxes. 144 yards came after contact.

There is not a more demoralizing way to lose than to be unable to stop the obvious. There is nothing more demoralizing in football than to be clearly physically beaten by an opponent. The Patriots did just that. It was a “you know what we’re doing, now stop us” kind of game. And the Bills couldn’t.

Defensive Dominance

The Patriots’ defense has been incredible the last few weeks. They haven’t allowed more than 13 points in five straight games, a franchise record. A week after being gashed by the Titans for 270 rushing yards, the Patriots’ defense held Bills’ running backs to 50 yards on 19 carries. At the center of that effort was offseason acquisition Davon Godchaux. Godchaux finished with a team-high ten tackles.

It’s rare for a defensive tackle to pace the team. Kyle Van Noy submitted another solid game with four QB pressures, a run stuff, and a batted pass on an early third down. As the weather gets colder, a dominating defense will mean more and more for this team’s chances.

Record Setting Night for Mac

Much was made after the game about a lack of faith from Belichick in his rookie QB, leading to calling only three pass attempts. It shouldn’t be forgotten that against the defending world champs Belichick had his offense run it eight times while throwing it 42 times…in inclement weather. Belichick has his team humming along because everyone in the locker room has bought in. No ego is bigger than the team. Sounds a lot like the teams of the first Patriots dynasty.

In a weird anecdote, the three passes were the fewest number of passes by a winning team in 30 years. The most passes by a winning team in that same timeframe was 70 attempts, thrown by Drew Bledsoe in week 11, 1994. Oddly, both statistical anomalies occurred in each QB’s ninth career win.

The lack of passing calls on Monday night, every other passing concept installed last week in practice is still usable the next time these teams meet. Each week the offensive game plan is formulated on how to attack certain defensive tendencies. Belichick already ran circles around McDermott and now has half the offensive game plan installed three weeks before the rematch.

Nobody is Perfect, Including the Hoodie

Belichick was nearly perfect against the Bills, he did make a questionable decision having N’Keal Harry in to receive punts. It backfired when the ball glanced off Harry’s facemask and the Bills recovered. The recovery set up the Bills’ only touchdown of the night. The Patriots had deployed Gunner Olszewski as the up-man in that situation, an interesting decision as the Bills were punting with the wind.

A simple flipping of position there may have provided a better outcome. Despite that error, the Patriots had the upper hand in the elements throughout the game. Interestingly, the Patriots practiced outside all week leading up the game. The Bills, off for a week and a half thanks to a Thursday/Monday split, took their Thursday practice indoors.

Things to Watch During the Bye

The Patriots are off this week before returning to take on the Indianapolis Colts. On the injury front, the Pats will be watching Damien Harris’s return from a strained hamstring and all will be waiting on news of Adrian Phillips’s knee. Kyle Dugger’s progress through COVID protocols also bears watching.

If you’re gonna be watching football this weekend without the Pats on, some rooting interests include Browns over the Ravens, Buccaneers over the Bills, a miracle Jaguars upset over the Titans, and a Raider victory over the Chiefs.

Go Pats!