We can agree that the 2018 Patriots are not one of the stronger Bill Belichick/Tom Brady editions. Measured against their own heightened standards, these Pats do not compare with most of the Gillette teams that preceded them. They can’t win on the road, the ever-handsome Brady has become a Nervous Nellie in the pocket, and New England’s run defense looks as if it was designed by Bobby Valentine.
Headlines in the wake of Sunday’s loss have been predictable. Tuesday’s sampler includes: “Meet the Suddenly Ordinary Pats” (Globe); “How The Grinch Stole The Patriots’ Invincibility” (Wall Street Journal); “Patriots Look Ordinary, Vulnerable” (USA Today).
At times like this it’s important to try to remember the secret weapon of the Patriot reign of the last 18 years.
It’s the time-tested, Walt Coleman/Pete Carroll/Richard Berman Factor.
I am talking about the horseshoe. The juju. The karma. I’m talking about the football gods that always shine on the House of Kraft. When all hope is lost, we need to remember that there’s almost always a Tuck Rule, a goofy slant pass, or a Patriot-lovin’ federal judge just around the corner.
In spite of all the bad stuff that has happened, the 2018 Patriots are not really in bad shape for this tournament. All they need is a couple of things to break their way over the next few weeks.
Wait for it. These are the Patriots, and this means that the best player on an upcoming playoff opponent will either get hurt or popped for PEDs. Some defensive back will have a chance to end the Patriots season when he intercepts a pass, but that guy will decide to run with the ball and he will be stripped of the ball and everything will change in the Patriots’ favor. Then somebody named Blake Bortles will wind up being the only thing that stands between the Patriots and a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Pats have been fortunate sons for 18 years. Why should this change now? It’s just about the best thing they have going for themselves at this dark hour.
So let the tomato cans start toppling from the shelves.
It goes without saying that the Pats need to win their final two regular-season games. But look who they are playing! The Bills (5-9) and Jets (4-10). At home. The Pats are already 12½-point favorites over the Bills. The Jets are the Jets. Thank you, East. Break out the moldy division-champion hats and T-shirts. If the Patriots don’t win both of these games, New England should simply withdraw from the NFL Tournament.
Beating the Bills and Jets, however, won’t be enough. The Pats are going to need some help. And I am betting that they will get that help. They always do.
The key, of course, will be securing the No. 2 seed, which is currently held by the Texans. This means we need the Texans to lose this weekend against the Eagles. That will vault the Patriots back into the No. 2 seed and assure a first-round bye for the ninth consecutive season. No Belichick-Brady team has advanced to the Super Bowl after playing on wild-card weekend and this group is ill-equipped to change the history. So look for the letterman-jacketed Texans to spit the bit in Philly this weekend. This is crucial.
Next up the Pats need a cushy opponent at home for the divisional round weekend Jan. 12-13. Take a look at the likely potential field: Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Chiefs, Texans, Colts, Titans. Which one would you most like to play at Gillette to advance to the AFC Championship game? I’m taking Bill (“it’s not my job to challenge the officials”) O’Brien and the Texans. O’Brien has never beaten Belichick. His quarterback probably would be throwing up in the huddle. It would be an absolute layup and propel the Pats into their eighth consecutive AFC Championship game.
Since the Patriots cannot win on the road, the AFC title game needs to be played in Foxborough and that means the Chiefs or Chargers must be toppled during the first two weeks of the playoffs.
Easy. Just for giggles let’s assume the Chargers lose on wild-card weekend, then the Steelers beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead in the divisional round. How great would it be to have Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger back here in Foxborough for the AFC Championship game? Do you really think the Pats could lose to the Steelers at home with a bid to the Super Bowl on the line?
So there you have it. The formula for success. These Patriots are not as good as they usually are, but that doesn’t have to stop them. There are still fluky things that can help the hobbled Patriots get where they want to go.
Never discount the Coleman/Carroll/Berman Factor. It’s about all that’s left.
The Patriot Way.