Well last week certainly wasn’t the result New England fans wanted. Their divisional chances went from slim to virtually locked out, while also falling three game below .500. None of this is positive news.
Despite all that, the Patriots played their best overall game in weeks. They played well enough to win, but not well enough to win against a good team. And for the first time in years, the Buffalo Bills were the better team. They earned the win making a play when they needed it, forcing a fumble on Cam Newton.
So where do the Patriots go from here? Simple. They win their next game against a hapless Jets team that looks all but locked into the top pick in next year’s draft. If they win their next game, they can start to get some positive momentum. Unfortunately, they need a lot more than momentum. Even with an extra playoff spot up for grabs this year, they need wins. But no matter what, a loss against the Jets all but seals New England’s fate as a non-playoff team.
If there is a turnaround, it starts against Adam Gase, Sam Darnold, and the Jets.
Here is what’s happening in week nine:
First Down: The New England offense has had a lot of issues lately as everyone knows. However, one huge reason the Patriots have struggled is a poorly performing front seven. Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler are really solid, but the run defense as a whole has been brutal.
Consider this: the Pats’ rush defense in their last three games has given up an average of 174 rush yards per game. That would rank them 30th in the NFL among the 32 teams. That 174 yards per game is just under 100 more than the top team in that span, the Los Angeles Rams, who allowed 75 yards per game.
The offense rightly so has its major flaws, and they at times are unwatchable. But if New England has any hope of getting to the playoffs, they need to fix their run defense, and fast.
Second Down: Doubling down on how the Pats’ road to the playoffs starts now, they are obviously not in an enviable spot. Sitting with five losses this early spells trouble later on, but it is not impossible. In fact, when looking at opponents strength of schedule left, New England has the second-easiest remaining schedule left. Their opponent win percentage is .418. Only the Cleveland Browns face an easier slate (.398).
Obviously those numbers are inflated with two games versus the winless Jets, but it still allows the Patriots to make up some ground if they can sort out their offense, fix their defensive woes, and limit turnovers. Those are big question marks, but the schedule is set up for them to be able to make a run if they step up.
Third Down: So far this year the Patriots have been pretty lucky with injuries. They haven’t been hit as hard as teams like the 49ers or Chargers. Despite that, football is an intense, physical sport. And this week you started to see the effects of going into the ninth week of the NFL season. The Patriots had 18 players on the report. Those 18 players represent more than one third of the entire active roster.
Even more unfortunate, of those players 13 of them are starters on the team. Included in that group are: Lawrence Guy, N’Keal Harry, Stephon Gilmore, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Damien Harris, Shaq Mason, J.C. Jackson, and Isaiah Wynn.
Now just because players are listed does not mean they will not play. In fact, most of those players will likely see the field. However, it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle just how physical the game is and how much of a beating these guys take week to week. Every play is a car crash for them and despite them playing, none of them are likely anywhere close to full health at this point.
Fourth Down: Going off the above section, there is a chance that N’Keal Harry is once again unable to go this week. If that were to the be the case the New England offense would once again be limited with their skill position players. Despite that one player that has been producing of late is Jakobi Meyers, who leads the team the last two weeks with 10 receptions for 118 yards on 16 targets. Meyers has proven he belongs with his route-running and strong hands at the point of attack. He has also proven he can take big hits and hang on to the ball. Meyers’ production is something to keep any eye on for fantasy players as he seems to have developed good chemistry with Cam Newton. And with Julian Edelman on injured reserve, and Harry uncertain of when he will be back and how he will perform, Meyers seems to have earned the top spot in Newton’s mind.
Prediction: Jets 23, Patriots 21
I know. This seems crazy. It seems like an overreaction. However, I think it is justified. First the facts. Both these teams have not been good thus far. Neither of these teams are Super Bowl contenders. Despite that this can still be a good game. Now I am not saying Adam Gase is a better coach or will be the better coach Sunday. However, I think the Jets will do enough to move the ball, something they have been better at lately, against the Patriots’ defense. The Patriots will be ahead late, but will be unable to get a stop and the Jets will kick the game-winning field goal, preventing a potential winless season against their hated rival.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani