Patriots Playoff hopes dwindling

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival. Before playing the Colts, New England needed to win out to secure the coveted top spot. Now, the Patriots’ playoff chances are getting slimmer.

The Patriots’ season can be broken into three distinct parts. At the beginning of the season, the team played non-cohesive football and stumbled to a 2-4 start. The middle, when the team found its identity behind a stifling defense and a power running game to win seven straight. And now the end, where the team has reverted to its early-season miscues and overall poor play.

Troubling Trend?

Against the Colts the team played flat through three quarters before giving themselves a chance to steal it late. Against the Bills, the Patriots again showed a lack of physical edge. A month after asserting their will against this very team it was the Bills who asserted themselves. The Patriots are in freefall in the standings. Once sky-high confidence surrounding the team is nowhere to be found. How the team responds will dictate the story of their season.

The Bills came ready to play on Sunday. It was apparent from the first drive that the magnitude of the game was not lost on them. A loss to the Patriots would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East. They did not play desperate. The Bills played confidently despite being down numerous starters due to injury and COVID isolation rules. They made a physical statement on their first drive and didn’t relent for the full 60 minutes.

The Patriots came out flat again. After losing to the Colts in a similar fashion a week ago, the Patriots noted that a lack of focus in practice led to their slow start. They were aware of the problem and wouldn’t let it happen again. But it did. The Patriots were flat in a game that would’ve all but guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a division title.

Where did complementary football go?

The Patriots of the seven-game winning streak were successful because of their complementary play style. That style has been missing in the last two losses. Against the Colts, the defense needed to make one final stop to give the offense a chance. Instead, Jonathan Taylor busted off a 67-yard house call to end it with two minutes left. Against the Bills, the offense and defense both failed each other.

In the second quarter, the defense held the Bills offense to a field goal attempt. The score gave the Bills a 10-7 lead. The Patriots got the ball back with a chance to at least answer, perhaps even take the lead. Instead, Mac Jones would throw his first of two interceptions three plays later.

The defense responded in an adversity situation. Defending a short field, they allowed the Bills to get to the 1-yard line before forcing a turnover on downs. The offense needed to at least gain some yardage to give the defense a breather and flip the field. Instead, a three and out.

Despite the poor play throughout the first half, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game, closing the score to 26-21. All they needed was a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to take the lead.

On the first play, after the Patriots closed the score, Allen and Diggs were on different pages. The result was an errant throw that hit ball-hawking corner JC Jackson in both hands. Jackson has made a name for himself by being a ball magnet, and on perhaps the easiest potential interception of the year, it was dropped.

That wouldn’t be the Patriots’ only chance to stop the Bills on the drive as they stuffed an Allen sneak on third down at their own 34-yard line. The Bills went for it again, as they had 3 times before in the game. A stop here would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time to score.

Instead, Allen ran a naked boot to convert. Never mind two Patriots defenders had a chance to drop him behind the line. The Pats just can’t get out of their own way.

What happened to the defense?

The Bills came into the game down both starting guards and lost their top back up early in the second quarter. Despite this, Allen wasn’t sacked for the first time since week 7. The Bills were also down two of their top three receivers. All usual return man Isaiah McKenzie did was go for 125 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.

The Patriots came into the game needing to limit wide receiver Stefon Diggs (85 yards and a touchdown on seven catches) and TE Dawson Knox (11 yards and a touchdown on two catches) but instead got burnt by a guy who usually doesn’t see much offensive action.

The defense was unusually conservative, sending four-man rushes at Allen throughout the game. They played afraid of Allen extending plays and taking off on runs. Even with an eye towards limiting the backyard ball, Allen consistently found ways to improvise and was the Bills leading rusher on the day. Allen was so impressive Sunday against the Pats; the Bills became the first team to never punt against a Belichick-coached team.

Despite showing up flat against the Bills and Colts, this team has fought their way back to a position to have potentially had a chance to win both games. The loss two weeks ago should have served as a wake-up call that showing up with anything but you’re a game at this point in the schedule is a recipe for disaster. It’s now happened twice, in potentially the biggest games of the year.

If the Pats want to make anything of this season, they must return to their complementary football style. All three phases of the game need to be capable of picking each other up. If not, it may become a season of “what could have been.” If they do get back to their winning formula, perhaps we see another seven-game win streak. Which would mean the next Patriots loss would be Week 2 — of next season. Fingers crossed.

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!

Bills vs Buccaneers: Allen vs Brady – Week 14 Preview

Bills at Buccaneers
(Getty Images)

The outlook on the Buffalo Bills season has never been lower. After sleepwalking through the easy part of their schedule and taking some bad losses, they are 7-5. They are now 1.5 games behind New England in the AFC East title race with the rematch coming in a couple weeks. They now look to turn things around on a short week against a familiar opponent, Tom Brady. This Bills vs Buccaneers matchup has the makings of an instant classic with plenty on the line.

Playoff Race

Many of us hoped that we would be tracking scenarios for the AFC 1-seed but now the target is just getting to the playoffs. Despite feeling like the season is over, the Bills stand a good chance of getting to the postseason. The Bills current playoff odds sit around 78% according to the NY Times playoff odds calculator.

A 3-2 record through the final 5 games elevates those odds to 88%. Winning 4 games guarantees a playoff spot. The remaining opponents are: Buccaneers, Panthers, Patriots, Falcons, Jets. This week’s Bills vs Buccaneers game is not a must-win, but a win would remove a ton of pressure.

Tom Brady Effect

There is no denying that Tom Brady owns a large plot of real estate in the Buffalo Bills’ headspace. Brady is 32-3 against Buffalo, all games occurring during his 19-year Patriots tenure. He won the Super Bowl in 2020, his first year with Tampa Bay.

Brady is now playing MVP-level football in his second season with Bruce Arians. The players won’t admit it, but this game is more “Bills against Brady” than Bills vs Buccaneers.

How to Win on Offense

The Buccaneers have an elite run defense. It is not even worth testing. Vita Vea is among the best interior defenders in the league and avoiding him would be smart. Josh Allen should throw 40 or more passes to have an optimal game plan. The rest of the defensive line is excellent at generating pressure. They have a big advantage over the Bills offensive line even if Jon Feliciano is able to return.

Allen should look to distribute the ball quickly even if it means taking short gains. On the back end, the Buccaneers are looking healthy with Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back in action. They will play a lot of 2-high defense which has given Allen trouble this season. Linebacker Lavonte David is excellent in coverage and Devin White is a nasty run defender.

Diggs may see a lot of bracketed coverage so I would like to see Allen distribute the ball around. Featuring Gabe Davis outside would give him a physical advantage over Murphy-Bunting and could be our best opportunity for downfield shots. Cole Beasley has a big opportunity as our best zone-beater underneath. He should get double-digit targets as a run game replacement.

I would also make Zack Moss inactive and give either Isaiah McKenzie or Marquez Stevenson some designed plays on offense to spread the defense horizontally. Dawson Knox draws a tough matchup with David so it would be wise to keep him in-line to help protect Allen. The Bills should be able to move the ball but execution in the red-zone will be vital to success on Sunday.

How to Win on Defense

There is no sugar coating it, the Buccaneers offense is simply better than the Bills defense. Without Tre’ White, nobody on the team can stop Mike Evans. He is an elite receiver and routinely wins balls in perfect coverage. The key will be getting physical and giving his assignment safety help. Chris Godwin will primarily play the slot and will be Taron Johnson’s toughest matchup yet.

Fortunately, Antonio Brown is suspended for faking his vaccine card and will be replaced by a combo of Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson. At tight end, Rob Gronkowski is a familiar face who is still playing great football. Even running back Leonard Fournette has become a threat in the pass game.

This is a spectacular group of pass-catchers and Brady will find the open man more often than not. You can’t outright stop them, but you can limit explosives. That will be the biggest focus on defense.

Brady has also taken some risks this season and has thrown 7 interceptions in his last 5 games. The Bills need to attack the ball and try to force turnovers when the opportunities are there. As good as the skill players are, the Buccaneers offensive line is even better. They have no weak links and are among the best at limiting pressure.

Brady has been significantly worse when pressured so finding a way to get to him would be a huge help. The best matchup we have in the trenches is Ed Oliver against Alex Cappa. He can be the biggest catalyst to defensive success. The Buccaneers quietly have a top rushing attack as well and can attack a well-known weakness of the Bills defense. Greg Rousseau will have to be at his best at setting the edge in the run game to funnel things back inside.

This is a tough draw for the whole defense and points will be scored. Generating turnovers and pressuring Brady is easier said than done but could be the key to pulling off the upset.

Prediction

I fully believe that the Bills have the ability to win this game. I expect plenty of offense and a competitive game down to the last snap. The Bills are 0-4 in one score games this season so they are due for positive regression at some point. However, I think they make too many mistakes to put together the perfect game that they need in this contest. My final score prediction is

Bills 27
Buccaneers 31


Let’s hope for Allen to step up and lead the team to a win but remember not to lose our heads if we drop this one. The playoffs are within reach either way. Regardless, this Bills vs Buccaneers matchup will be must-watch football.

Go Bills!

NFL Week 14 Power Rankings

NFL Week 14 power rankings
Adrian Kraus – AP Photo

In the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings, things are starting to get a little crazy. Don’t kill me. I understand it looks weird to have teams ranked below teams they’ve beaten. But, everyone is beating everyone this year. Nothing is clear this year, so lets do the best we can. This is how I see the NFL’s power structure ahead of Week 14.

32. Detroit Lions (1-10-1)

Last Week: 32

I’m so happy for Dan Campbell that he finally got that elusive first win in Detroit. And it came against a division rival vying for a playoff spot no less! Still, the Lions have buried themselves so far behind the pack. One win isn’t going to be enough to get me to change my mind about them being ranked last in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

Last week: 31

Being the “get right” team is never a fun position to be in. The Jacksonville Jaguars are so hard to watch right now. And the last month or so they can’t even feel good about “at least we’re not the Lions.” How long must they endure the obviously poor decision that is the Urban Meyer era? Does he get another season? At this point, it’s about the only thing worth asking about.

30. Houston Texans (2-10)

Last Week: 30

The Texans’ pathetic effort against the Colts this week is worthy of a fall in the Week 14 Power Rankings. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really justify putting them below a Jaguars team they’ve handily beaten this season and a Lions team that literally JUST got it’s first win. But, mark my words, Texans. Another performance like that could have you in the basement before long.

29. New York Jets (3-9)

Last Week: 29

It seems like Week 13 was the week of bad teams actually playing like bad teams. The bright side is Zach Wilson looked decently competent this week. You still don’t like to see his best performances being slightly above league average. But, the Jets have to take their wins where they can get them right now. They’re sure not getting them from their results.

28. Atlanta Falcons (5-7)

Last Week: 26

Our first mover of the Week 14 Power Rankings, the Falcons looked cooked against the Bucs. They kept things close in the first half, partly due to a well-timed pick six. But, they looked absolutely gassed in the second. I thought this could potentially be an upset because of the flashes the Falcons have seen this season. But, any chance of sneaking into a playoff spot took a major hit with this week’s loss.

27. New York Giants (4-8)

Last Week: 25

It’s hard to feel good about anything going on in New Jersey right now. For the Giants specifically, add Daniel Jones to the list of players missing significant time due to injury. Mike Glennon started in his stead this week. But, he didn’t stand a chance behind that sad excuse for an offensive line. Sounds like former Bills practice squad quarterback Jake Fromm is expected to get the start this week. So, that’s not good.

26. Chicago Bears (4-8)

Last Week: 24

Andy Dalton SZN has taken full effect in Chicago. Of course, as a Bengals fan, I’m very familiar with exactly what the Bears are dealing with right now. He looked like a pretty good quarterback this week except the part where he threw four interceptions. Yeah. Four. That reverse bootleg that nearly resulted in a massive sack that Dalton ended up turning into a big play was pretty cool. But, bad Andy always rears his head eventually.

25. New Orleans Saints (5-7)

Last Week: 22

Once a team that I considered to be a likely playoff team, I’m now certain the New Orleans Saints won’t make it. Sure, they’re only a game behind the No. 7 seed San Francisco 49ers. But, Taysom Hill is a disaster. It felt weird to feel like the Saints’ season was over because they lost Jameis Winston. But, it’s looking more and more like that’s an accurate assessment every week.

24. Seattle Seahawks (4-8)

Last Week: 27

With five games left to play in the season, it seems like the Seahawks being two games behind a playoff spot is pretty insurmountable. Then again, the 49ers control that last spot and the Seahawks just beat them. Seattle always gives the Niners trouble. But, crazier comebacks have happened before. No, I don’t think the Seahawks are going to turn things around this year. But, if they were going to, beating the 49ers would be a great way to start.

23. Carolina Panthers (5-7)

Last Week: 23

The Carolina Panthers enjoyed a nice bye week this week, so they’re not moving in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. They remain only a game behind in the Wild Card race. So, considering the talent this team has, you wouldn’t be terribly shocked to see them sneak in. Well, other than the fact that they still have to play the Bills and Bucs twice in their last five games.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)

Last Week: 28

Man, you have to give the Steelers credit. Just when you think they’re dead and buried, the corpse of Ben Roethlisberger finds a way to continue haunting the NFL. The Steelers might have been totally embarrassed by the Bengals and are clearly worse than their 6-5-1 record indicates. But, perhaps they’re also a little underrated. They can still beat talented teams like the Ravens when things go right for them. I doubt they’ll end up in the playoffs. But, they’re still very much alive.

21. Denver Broncos (6-6)

Last Week: 20

Ok, so maybe the rumors of the Broncos’ demise haven’t been greatly exaggerated. They looked lost against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that was obviously worthy of the primetime flex. You know. For all those fans who love one-sided low-scoring games. I’m not ready to give up on the Broncos’ playoff hopes just yet. But, they’re currently the No. 12 seed in the AFC. They have a lot of catching up to do.

20. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)

Last Week: 16

You’re telling me the Vikings followed up arguably their best win of the year with a choke against the 49ers and a complete dud against the worst team in football? Yeah that checks out. The Vikings are so inconsistent, I don’t even know if they know who they are. Mike Zimmer is going to need to figure it out real quick or he’ll be back to a defensive coordinator role somewhere in the NFL next season.

19. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Last Week: 21

I’m not terribly impressed by the quality of opponent the Dolphins have been beating lately as they try to make an improbable playoff run. Luckily for them, their schedule stays easy over the next three weeks. They’ll likely need to win out to have any legitimate hope at stealing the No. 7 seed away in the AFC. But, they’re currently on a 5-game win streak. Stranger things have happened. Although, beating both the Titans and Patriots in the final two games of the season would definitely be up among the weirdest things I’ve seen.

18. Cleveland Browns (6-6)

Last Week: 18

The Browns got a little bit of help on their bye week with the top two teams in the AFC North both losing. They’re still very much alive in the playoff race and it sounds like they’re getting some of their better players back. That’s not what you want to see if you’re one of their upcoming opponents.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

Last Week: 20

Gardner Minshew once again proved to be one of the best non-franchise quarterbacks in the league this week as he led a Jalen Hurts-less Eagles team to a dominating win over the Jets. He was efficient and unflappable, finishing with a 133.7 passer rating. His career might end up looking like Ryan Fitzpatrick’s when it’s all over, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

16. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6)

Last Week: 13

The Raiders are now losers of three out of four since the bye week. I don’t know if the distractions from a few weeks ago are still to blame for the inconsistent performances. But, they’ll need to pull off a strong finish if they want any hope of turning this broken season into something worth remembering. For now, they fall to the mid-point of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

15. San Francisco 49ers (6-6)

Last Week: 14

Just when I started to believe the 49ers might have found something special they go out and fail to get it done against the Seahawks. Then again, they tend to do that a lot throughout their history. So, I’m not reading too much into this loss yet. Lets see how they come to play the next few weeks. Games against the Bengals and Titans in two of their next three will tell us what this team is really made of.

14. Washington Football Team (6-6)

Last Week: 17

The Taylor Heinicke renaissance is real. Even if Ryan Fitzpatrick was expected to play again in 2021, I don’t think he would get his job as the starter back. Heinicke has helped this team go from bottom feeders to the top 14 of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. You read that right. The Washington Football Team is now a playoff team based off of 14 weeks of action. They don’t have much breathing room behind them. But, they do control their own destiny and could end up one game behind the division championship with an upset over the Cowboys next week.

13. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

Last Week: 15

Jonathan Taylor and co. were expected to beat the Texans, but sutting them out on the road by 31 points is still impressive. Also, yes, it’s definitely Jonathan Taylor and co. He’s an MVP candidate for a reason. His 143 yards and two touchdowns probably weren’t the difference in this specific game. But, he has been in so many for the Colts this year. They’re 7-6, in the thick of the playoff race, and in the top 14 of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings because of him.

12. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)

Last Week: 9

Have you ever seen a more wishy washy team with a record among the best in the NFL? I have. It was the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers. But, aside from that, the 2021 Baltimore Ravens are a prime example. They don’t really deserve to be 8-4 the way they’ve been playing this year. To their credit, they are, and that’s what will matter to the final standings. But, games like this stinker against the Steelers show why many struggle to consider them a serious contender.

11. Buffalo Bills (7-5)

Last Week: 10

A few weeks ago it looks like the Bills were poised to run away with the AFC East this year. Then, the sleeping giant that is the New England Patriots woke up. The Bills were unable to maintain their course despite the hot start and now they’re decidedly in second place. How could this have happened? I thought the years of Patriots domination was over. This was supposed to be a new era in Buffalo! Nope. Just more bowing to Bill Belichick.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

Last Week: 6

Two steps forward, one step back. Bengals fans shouldn’t be completely dejected after that game. After all, coming back from a 24-0 deficit to almost retake the lead was pretty impressive. But, they didn’t, and getting down 24-0 in the first place is a symptom of a greater problem for the Bengals right now. For now, they’re right on the edge of the top 10 in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

9. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)

Last Week: 11

I can’t say blowing out the Jaguars isn’t exactly a reason for a boost in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. But, a win’s a win no matter who the opponent is. Plus, with other teams falling out of the top 10, the Rams had nowhere to go but up. I want to see what they can do in their final five games, which look decently tough. Cardinals, Seahawks, Vikings, Ravens, 49ers isn’t exactly a juggernaut schedule. But, we should learn if this Rams team is legit or not based on what they can do with that.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)

Last Week: 12

The Chargers end their exile from the top 10 of the Week 14 Power Rankings with a win over last week’s No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals. They went into Cincinnati with what turned out to be a pretty good gameplan. They almost chargered it up in the middle of the game by blowing a 24-0 lead. But, they took advantage of some key opportunities in clutch moments and came away with a pretty convincing 41-22 victory.

7. Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Last Week: 7

The Titans probably did enough early in their season to be comfortably in control of the AFC South. With a relatively easy schedule to finish the season, they shouldn’t feel any pressure from the suddenly hot Colts for the division title. Anything is possible, but the Colts are a game and a half back so it would take a pretty surprising collapse at this point for the Titans to not run away with their division. Then again, maybe they should be focusing on the No. 1 seed right now and not being remotely healthy could cause issues with that.

6. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)

Last Week: 8

It’s been a rough month for this Cowboys team that has only won two games since their hot 6-1 start. They look like they may have taken advantage of an opportunity to get right against a struggling Saints team. But, all of the sudden the Washington Football Team is knocking on the door for the NFC East title. For now, the Cowboys remain in an elevated position in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. But, it could be different going into Week 15 if they don’t handle business against Washington.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)

Last Week: 5

Tom Brady threw four touchdowns against a Falcons team that I thought might be poised to give them some trouble this week. They didn’t. They seemingly had no answer for Russell Gage. But, other than that, the Bucs went ahead to 9-3. No. 5 might actually be too low considering they’re one of only four teams with no more than three losses.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)

Last Week: 4

The Chiefs convincingly beat the Broncos on Sunday Night Football and are now in pretty clear control of what has been a wonky year for the AFC West. Unfortunately, it’s tough to give them a boost in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings because they’re already up so high. I think their results are finally starting to catch up to where I’ve had them on the Power Rankings all year. This is why I never knocked them down too low. You can never count Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs out to completely fall off the map. Now that they’ve hit their stride, the rest of the AFC should be taking notice.

3. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

Last Week: 3

Not much movement here at the top of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. The Cardinals beat Andy Dalton and the Bears pretty convincingly. Which was nice. But, I can’t say they deserved to displace any of the other top 3 teams for that performance. The good thing is Kyler Murray is back and the Cardinals appear to be getting healthy at the right time. Personally, I’m really excited to see what this team can do in the playoffs.

2. Green Bay Packers (9-3)

Last Week: 2

A nice bye week to sit back, reflect, and get healthy is really what the Packers needed at this point. That said, they’ve proven they don’t need all of their starters to find success this year. That’s why they’ve been so high in the Power Rankings all season. And, that’s why they continue to feature so highly in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

1. New England Patriots (9-4)

Last Week: 1

The Patriots head into their bye week with a really nice win over the Buffalo Bills. It wasn’t super high scoring, but they proved they can be the better team in all phases of the game against anyone. I really don’t think there is any team currently looking better in the NFL. For that reason, they’re at the top spot in my Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. They will continue to stay here until someone gives me a reason to believe that will change.

Bills Week 9 Recap – Embarrassed in Jacksonville

The Bills Week 9 loss in Jacksonville was by far the worst game of the Sean McDermott era. They played undisciplined, uninspired football and lost without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Buffalo racked up twice as many penalties as they had points. The final score was a very not nice 6-9 in favor of the Jaguars. The team had shown small signs of weakness and dysfunction throughout the season but it was on full display in this game. Something is rotten within the team and they must get right quickly with the division race tightening up.

Bills week 9
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Good

Tyler Bass

Not all was bad in the Bills week 9 embarrassment. Tyler Bass was asked to kick twice and was perfect as usual. He continues to be automatic and a steady presence on an otherwise inconsistent team.

Isaiah McKenzie

McKenzie has been all but removed from the offense but his play in the return game has been impressive. He averaged 32.2 kick return yards on his 4 chances, giving the Bills offense great starting field position. He secured a difficult fair catch on a punt as well.

Defense

The penalties were ugly and plentiful. Otherwise, the defense held strong. They held a bad Jaguars offense to 9 points and only 218 total yards. They forced a fumble and only allowed 2 conversions on 13 3rd down attempts. There were individual plays where the defense could’ve been much better but it was an overall solid performance.

The Bad

Josh Allen

Allen had a bad day. He completed 66% of his passes for 264 yards and added 50 yards on the ground. He also had 2 bad interceptions, a fumble and zero touchdowns. Allen was running for his life behind a disastrous offensive line but he certainly deserves criticism for this game. He overlooked open receivers on key plays towards the end of the game when victory was still within reach.

Brian Daboll

There is only so much an offensive coordinator can do. There is no play-call that fixes a broken offensive line. That said, he still made some questionable decisions and hasn’t found a way to jump start the offense. With players as talented as Allen, Diggs, and Beasley you should have some go-to calls to get them the ball quickly and let them work. In back to back games, he has begun late game drives with quick short passes to Diggs to manufacture offense. Why not go to that well earlier and more frequently?

The Ugly

Discipline

This game was riddled with flags. The officiating was absolutely dreadful but not one-sided and definitely an excuse for the result. The Bills earned most of their penalties by playing undisciplined and making stupid mistakes. Multiplier players were hot-headed and got called for unnecessary roughness. This team looked frustrated that they had to be there playing that game at all. They are uncharacteristically playing very undisciplined football. McDermott needs to find a way to control this team.

Offensive Line

The Buffalo Bills offensive line is by far the worst unit on the roster and ultimately what keeps them from being a true Super Bowl threat. That has been a constant for the team and was evident in the Bills week 9 loss. The interior got bullied by a bad Jaguars front and cannot compete against the league’s best. The tackles were also exposed by the Jaguars pass rushers. Josh Allen (DE) was the most impressive player on either side of the ball, embarrassing the Bills tackles. Things will improve when Spencer Brown returns and Daryl Williams can move back inside but interior should be overhauled.

Reputation

The Jaguars have deservedly been the laughing stock of the league over the last 2 seasons. They hadn’t won a game on US soil since Week 1 of the 2020 season. They’ve had multiple embarrassing off field moments with their head coach this season. None of that mattered today. They played steady football and let the Bills embarrass themselves. Jaguars CB Shaquill Griffin spoke in post-game interviews about how the Buffalo sideline lacked energy and how that gave his team the feeling that they deserved to win. They wanted it more.

This is a stain on the Bills organization that will be very hard to remove. Losses this ugly can have a domino effect on teams. It will be tough work for Buffalo to shake off what happened in Jacksonville.

What’s Next

The Bills travel to New Jersey next week to take on the 2-6 Jets in a divisional matchup. What looked like a guaranteed win is now a pivotal game to stay atop the AFC East. The Jets defensive front is among the best in the league and the Bills will need to figure out a solution or risk another embarrassing defeat. Sean McDermott has built a culture of discipline and resilience in his time with the team. Let’s hope this Bills week 9 loss serves as a wakeup call and they get back to their winning ways.

Check back in later this week for a full preview!