Patriots Roster Reset

It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year. They are likely to add in one form or the other before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After being exposed by the Bills on wildcard weekend, the Patriots entered the off-season with a laundry list of needs. Unfortunately, they were snug to the cap already, having just under $10 million to spend at the onset of free agency. The Pats were in a challenging position, having multiple internal free agents and a litany of glaring needs.

Free agency is winding down, and the team is in full NFL draft prep mode. The Pats may be waiting for after the draft to add free agents, as those additions would not forfeit any compensatory picks next year. With an eye on the draft, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots roster as it stands today.

Quarterback

Rostered: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Retained: Brian Hoyer

Top Free Agents Available: Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Fromm, Blake Bortles

The Patriots took their quarterback of the future last May in the NFL Draft with Mac Jones. Jones was solid in his rookie campaign. The team is internally optimistic he will be the franchise QB for years to come.

Hoyer had a brief foray into free agency before re-signing with the team. Hoyer will provide leadership as Mac navigates an off-season where the young signal-caller lost offensive coordinator/QB coach Josh McDaniels.

Stidham is a camp arm and may stick around on the practice squad. I wouldn’t expect the Patriots to add anyone prominent to this group.

Running Back

Rostered: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White, Devine Ozigbo, Dalton Keene

Out: Brandon Bolden (Raiders), Jakob Johnson (Raiders)

Retained: James White

Top Free Agents Available: Sony Michel, Darrel Williams, Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Jalen Richard

This group is one of the more talented collection of players on the Patriots roster. Damien Harris should return as the 1A option. Rhamondre Stevenson is looking to continue his ascent into the top tier of NFL running backs in year two.

The Pats were able to get James White back with minimal guarantees as he recovers from a season-ending hip injury. White was off to a scorching start with Jones before the injury in week 3. If he can return to form, he will be in for a big year. White returning to form will offset the loss of Bolden. This off-season may provide Taylor with his best opportunity to unseat White as the passing back. Devine Ozigbo offers a camp body and practice-squad player.

Although officially listed as a tight end, Dalton Keene looks to benefit from Jakob Johnson’s departure. The Pats traded up in the 2020 NFL Draft to grab the H-back out of Virginia Tech. Now, Keene is finally healthy heading into the offseason. Look for him to get every opportunity to lock down the TE3/FB hybrid spot this training camp.

The Pats may add a free agent here (old friend Sony Michel), but are more likely to add a rookie as Harris enters the final year of his rookie deal.

Wide Receiver

Rostered: Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Ty Montgomery, Tre Nixon, DeVante Parker, Malcolm Perry, Kristian Wilkerson

In: Devante Parker (Dolphins), Ty Montgomery (Saints)

Out: Gunner Olszewski (Steelers)

Retained: Jakobi Meyers

Top Free Agents Available: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Julio Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Keelan Cole, Cole Beasley, T.Y. Hilton, Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, Adam Humphries, Isaiah Ford

Agholor, Bourne, and Meyers return as the top options for Mac Jones. The Pats added a bigger target in DeVante Parker, who will provide the young gun with a sure-handed receiver in contested catch situations — if he can remain healthy. Parker should be everything the Pats hope Harry would be. Montgomery was added to take snaps at running back, receiver, and all over special teams.

Malcolm Perry offers a fun, gadget-type player who may find himself in a camp battle with Montgomery for a single roster spot. Wilkerson offered a peek into his potential last year late in the season and will try to carry that momentum into a roster spot this year. Tre Nixon hopes to stay healthy and flash his big-play potential from college. Harry is a long-shot to be on this roster on kickoff weekend

The Pats were rumored to be in on several free-agent receivers this off-season They continue to be linked to Odell Beckham Jr. Isaiah Ford also has time in the New England offense and may make sense on a cheap deal. The Patriots are also looking at many rookie wide outs in the draft. It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year.

The Patriots roster is likely to gain another receiver before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded, but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Tight End

Rostered: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

Out: Troy Fumagalli (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Rob Gronkowski, Jared Cook, Blake Jarwin, Kyle Rudolph, Jesse James

The Pats spent here last year and spent big. Henry provided even more than the team could have hoped for in year one. Jonnu, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Smith has been present for off-season programs thus far, a difference from last year, as the team and player look to accomplish in year two of the mega-contract.

Asiasi has not lived up to his billing coming out of college and is entering make-or-break territory in year three. Throughout camp, Keene should push for the third spot in a battle with Asiasi. There’s not a lot available in the way of free agents, but the Pats will likely add a body here in rounds 5-7.

Offensive Line

Rostered: David Andrews (C), Yasir Durant (G), Arlington Hambright (G), Trent Brown (T), Yodny Cajuste (T), Drew Desjarlais (T), James Ferentz (G), Justin Herron (T), Mike Onwenu (G), Isaiah Wynn (T), Will Sherman (T)

Out: Shaq Mason (Buccaneers), Ted Karras (Bengals)

Retained: Trent Brown, James Ferentz

Top Free Agents Available: J.C. Tretter (C), Eric Fisher (T), Duane Brown (T), Daryl Williams (G/T), Riley Reiff (T), Trai Turner (G), Ereck Flowers (G), Brandon Shell (T), Ryan Bates (G), Nate Solder (T), Bryan Bulaga (T), Matt Paradis (C), Marcus Cannon (T)

This is perhaps the shakiest group of players on the Patriots roster. They return three out of five starters after losing Ted Karras to the Bengals in free agency and trading Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers. The Pats tried to retain Karras, but were unwilling to go as high in the bidding as the Bengals.

The Mason trade was a bit of a head-scratcher as a young, premier talent at this position, on an affordable contract, was only able to gain the team a fifth-round pick. The move was made to clear some cap space for the team, but the return seems hardly worth it. Onwenu should slide in at either guard spot, leaving the Pats a man short in their starting five.

Furthermore, tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are not known for their ability to stay healthy. Will Sherman, Yodny Cajuste, and Justin Herron project to battle it out for the top swing tackle spot, while James Ferentz currently projects as the top backup on the interior.

The Pats will look to add here both in free agency and the draft. The Pats could call old friends Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon to gain veteran depth at the tackle spots, while someone like Trai Turner or Ereck Flowers may make sense as depth on the interior. The Patriots may look to address these spots early in the draft, so don’t be surprised if they use their first selection on a player up front.

Defensive Line

Rostered: Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, Bill Murray, Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale

Out: Carl Davis (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, Larry Ogunjobi, Ndamukong Suh, Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eddie Goldman, Sheldon Richardson, Carl Nassib, Linval Joseph

Barmore was an absolute steal in the second round of the draft last May. He looks to continue to build on his impressive rookie season and offers stability in the interior of the defense for years to come. Lawrence Guy was his steady self, while Davon Godchaux showed flashes of why the Pats shelled out to get him.

Anderson agreed to a restructured deal to stick around after getting injured last year. Deatrich Wise restructured his contract to give the Pats some more space and continues to offer pass-rush ability and strong leadership in the locker room.

Cowart, Murray, and Eukale would preferably be practice squad/depth pieces but currently project to get considerable playing time if no additions are made. Carl Davis remains a free agent. It makes sense for both sides to continue their relationship. Trey Flowers and Akiem Hicks would be substantial additions to this group, and both are familiar with New England.

The Pats should add competition here in the form of free agents and rookies before training camp. The Pats may go to this group early in the draft, if the right players slide into striking range.  

Linebacker

Rostered: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, Anfernee Jennings, Matt Judon, Harvey Langi, Cameron McGrone, Raekwon McMillan, Ronnie Perkins, Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson

In: Mack Wilson (Browns)

Out: Kyle Van Noy (FA), Chase Winovich (Browns), Dont’a Hightower (FA), Jamie Collins (FA)

Retained: Ja’Whaun Bentley

Top Free Agents Available: Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Joe Schobert, Melvin Ingram, Anthony Barr, Landon Collins, Anthony Hitchens, Nick Kwiatkoski, A.J. Klein, Takkarist McKinley

Bentley returned to the team after leading them in tackles in 2021. Bentley is a more traditional linebacker who doesn’t fill a three-down role, but provides a big body against power-rushing teams such as the Colts and Titans.

This off-season, a common goal for the team has been the infusion of speed at every position group. None needed it more than this one in 2021. Hightower remains a free agent as a big lumbering type is slowly being phased out of the current rendition of the game.

The Pats swapped Winovich for Mack Wilson in a change of scenery trade that may benefit both players. Wilson offers a more undersized body linebacker than Belichick has liked in the past, but offers more speed. Judon was an absolute force before falling off after week 13 when he got COVID. He will force himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation if he can continue his pace for an entire season.

Josh Uche was a problem his rookie year, as many around the league identified him as a potential star in year two. The leap never happened, as he was injured early in the year and struggled to earn playing time later. Anfernee Jennings enters year three, losing his first two to poor injury luck. He might be in line to replace Hightower as a large, on-the-line body type. Perkins was a third-round pick last year and spent his rookie season as a redshirt. Perkins offers pass rush specialty with an upside to become an every-down player after a dominant college career at Oklahoma.

Raekwon McMillan was putting together a solid camp last fall, with multiple internal evaluators very high on him, before tearing his ACL and missing the season. If he can return to form, this group may be much better than expected. This group will also blend with safeties Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, and Adrian Phillips, as the Pats look to add speed to the interior of their defense.

Kyle Van Noy and Hightower seem likely to return on lighter deals as part-time players. Nakobe Dean of Georgia and Devin Lloyd of Utah are premier rookie talents to watch for in the draft.  

Cornerback

Rostered: Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones

In: Malcolm Butler (Cardinals)

Out: J.C. Jackson (Chargers)

Top Free Agents Available: Jackrabbit Jenkins, Joe Haden, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Kevin King, Trae Waynes, Fabian Moreau, Xavier Rhodes, Vernon Hargreaves

This is another part of the Patriots roster that has had much made about it this off-season, but is perhaps in better shape than many expect. Losing J.C. Jackson makes this a less talented group, no doubt about it, but his loss may be overstated. While he was a talented ballhawk, there is quite a drop-off between him and the top tier of NFL cornerbacks.

The Pats brought back Malcolm Butler and added Terrance Mitchell. Butler played at a very high level in 2020 before retiring in the 2021 preseason and not playing last year. How he plays in his return will largely determine how this group performs. Mitchell offers a competent NFL journeyman type who fits better in zone defenses. Last year, the Pats transitioned to more zone-based coverages and should continue that trend without a premier lock-down at the cornerback spot.

Shaun Wade has an outside chance of developing into the team’s next top corner, but hedging the farm on it would not be wise. Joejuan Williams is running out of time to prove he deserves a spot, as he joins N’Keal Harry as part of the failed 2019 draft class. Myles Bryant and Jonathan Jones provide the Patriots with two top-tier slot options. Jalen Mills played primarily on the outside last year after being signed as a jack-of-all-trades in the Patriots’ 2021 free agent spending spree. Due to the lack of depth, he may be forced again to play primarily outside in 2022.

The draft is extremely top-heavy at corner, with a severe drop-off after the top three of Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner, LSU’s Derek Stingley, and Washington’s Trent McDuffie. Belichick has had immense success in developing late picks or undrafted rookies and may go that route again if one of the top three doesn’t fall into their laps at 21.

Safety

Rostered: Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Joshuah Bledsoe

In: Jabrill Peppers (Giants)

Retained: Devin McCourty

Top Free Agents Available: Tyrann Mathieu, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Jaquiski Tartt,

The Pats kept their 2021 group together while adding Jabrill Peppers. They immediately are one of the stronger groups on the Patriots roster. McCourty returns after a solid season despite a slow start. He is starting to slow a touch, but continues to be a step ahead due to his understanding of Belichick’s system.

McCourty is the quarterback of the defense. Retaining him was an extremely understated development this off-season. Dugger began to flash his playmaking ability. If he continues to grow, the Pats will have their safety duo of the future after locking up Adrian Phillips last year.

Peppers offers a hybrid player who can play in the box, line up deep, play the slot, and match up on premier tight ends. He also may find himself as the top punt returner. Joshuah Bledsoe arrived as a rookie to much fanfare last year, but missed the season due to a college wrist injury. He will have every opportunity to make a run at a roster spot.

Edmunds and Mathieu remain big names on the free agency market, but the addition of either remains a long-shot to this roster. The Patriots could add here in the middle rounds of the draft.

Specialists

Rostered: Nick Folk (K), Quinn Nordin (K), Joe Cardona (LS), Jake Bailey (P), Matthew Slater (ST), Justin Bethel (ST)

Out: Brandon King (Colts)

Retained: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater

Despite strong individual performances from this group in 2021, the Patriots’ special teams were largely a disappointment throughout the year. Folk has made 55 straight field goals under 50 yards, as he has been one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL since joining the Patriots in 2020. Jake Bailey is a season removed from an All-Pro season. Joe Cardona not only shares a birthday with Bill Belichick, but also shares Navy ties. He’s not going anywhere.

Matthew Slater returned for his age 37 season, as the longtime captain agreed to a one-year deal. Slater (15) trails only Tom Brady (20) and Steve Grogan (16) for the number of seasons played for the team. Quinn Nordin has a booming leg, but needs to become more accurate. He should stick around as the heir apparent to Folk. The Pats may take a late-round flier on a specialist, but otherwise, this part of the Patriots roster is set.

Patriots Dolphins Preview: 5 Areas to Watch

A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of not only winning the division, but climbing all the way to the number one seed in the AFC. All of those dreams start with a win in Miami.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – SEPTEMBER 12: Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) catches New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on September 12, 2021, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fast Start/Play from Ahead

The Patriots are getting ready for their first-ever week 18 game against the Miami Dolphins. Against the Jaguars last week, it was the first time since their bye week that they quickly gained the advantage and held it throughout the game. The buildup of the team makes it important they get a lead; they’re built to run the ball offensively and rush the passer defensively.

It’s no secret opponents want to put the game in Mac Jones’ hands. Before playing the Jaguars, Mac had thrown four interceptions in the two games prior. While he did enough to put the team in striking range in both games, he was also part of the reason the Pats were in holes to begin with.

Compare that with the effort he put together against Jacksonville and he begins to appear as a snowball passer. When things are rolling in his favor, he plays confidently and more aggressively, often leading to better final stat lines and overall team outcomes for the Patriots.

Against the Dolphins, the Patriots must do to Tua what previous opponents have done to Mac. Both teams are built similarly and Miami would love to play with a lead and their impressive secondary. However, when the pressure is on Tua he has wilted of late. If the Pats can jump out to a quick lead and force Tua to beat them, the game shifts in their favor.

Health

The Patriots already ruled out starters Kyle Dugger and Dont’a Hightower, while Damien Harris is still nursing a hamstring injury. A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of winning the division, but that starts with a win in Miami.

Despite the desire to win, the Patriots also must keep an eye on the future as they will potentially be suiting up again in the Wildcard round next week. This shouldn’t be a game where the starters are pulled unless the outcome is virtually guaranteed, meaning the Patriots must come out of it without any additional injuries to monitor going forward.

Nelson Agholor will be making his return from concussion protocol against Miami. His departure from the Colts demonstrated how severely limited the passing game is for New England. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are competent receivers, they struggle to separate against man coverage. Agholor adds a speed element that opposing defenses must respect. Any injury to a starter for the Pats may provide fatal for their hopes in the playoffs.

Miami Weirdness

You probably don’t need a reminder that Miami is a house of horrors for the Patriots. Outside of Michael Floyd destroying a guy and a Wes Welker full field touchdown, there haven’t been many highlights for New England in South Florida.

This will be Mac Jones’ first trip to Miami. His teammates are sure to have made him aware of the multiple disasters that have happened here if he was oblivious. If this game is close late, the Patriots need to refrain from putting any tight ends on defense and do whatever is needed to secure the win.

N’Keal Harry

The Patriots elevated Kristian Wilkerson ahead of last week’s game and he responded with his first two career touchdowns. As mentioned in that game summary, N’Keal Harry’s career high is two touchdown receptions in a SEASON. Despite this, the Patriots did not elevate Wilkerson ahead of the deadline for Sunday’s game.

The return of Agholor may mean the value of Harry’s blocking is more important to the Patriots offensive gameplan than adding a very real fourth receiving threat.

Or perhaps the coaching staff is giving one final gasp at keeping his roster spot. While his physical style and ability as a blocker are impressive, defenses will start matching up with him as a second or third tight end, negating any possible advantage the Pats once had with him on the field. One thing that should be able to put to rest is Harry will not be returning punts against Miami.

The Scoreboard

Not their own, necessarily. But the Patriots and their fans should be watching the outcomes for other games as well. As of this writing, the Chiefs managed to escape a very game Broncos squad, erasing any chance the Patriots had to get the number one seed. However, they can still win the division.

While the Patriots are playing, the results of Tennessee/Houston and Cincinnati/Cleveland will have been decided in the earlier time slot. With those in hand, the Patriots will know if they are playing for a very real possibility of the number two seed.

Regardless of that scenario, the Jets will be taking on the Bills while the Patriots take on the Dolphins. If the Bills win, they win the division. If the Jets somehow beat the Bills, a Patriots victory gives them the AFC East title. Depending on the outcomes of the game today and on Sunday, the Patriots are in play for anything from the number 2 to number 6 seeds in the AFC.

Prediction

In the first match up, I predicted a close game that the Patriots snuck out in the end. A similar outcome is the most likely in the rematch. The Dolphins did not look good last week against the Titans. The Patriots defense, despite their injuries, will have a chance to again stifle the Miami attack. The Patriots offense will have its hands full with the Miami defense. A couple takeaways may blow this one open in favor of the Patriots. That probably doesn’t happen in Miami as the Pats sweat one out 20-17.

Patriots vs Jaguars Recap: Playoffs?? Playoffs!

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,

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.

Patriots vs Colts: A Rivalry Renewed

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

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.