By Rohan Bommaraju — Sports Editor
The Patriots are back! A year after failing to reach a .500 win percentage and the playoffs, The Patriots are back in the postseason with the #5 seed in the AFC conference and a 10-7 record.
After rebuilding for essentially a year and a half and having one of the most prolific offseason Free agencies under Belichick, the Patriots have done the unthinkable and had a rebuild done in just under 2 seasons. 98.5 WEEI Writer and Digital Producer, Alex Barth, says that this season is a step in the right direction big picture wise. “NFL teams rebuild using 3-4 year windows, especially when the rebuild involves a rookie quarterback given the flexibility that contract allows. This season was essentially the foundation for this core, and a 10-win foundation is a great start. For example, players from the early Patriots dynasty teams have talked about how important the 2000 season was, even though they went 5-11, because of how they built as a group and learned what it takes to win in the NFL.”
The Patriots have already played two games against Buffalo this year, one in Buffalo and one in New England. These two games could not be more different. In the first game in Buffalo, New England was able to pass the ball an astounding 3 times and run the ball 48 times to cap off a 14-10 win. Whereas during the game in Foxborough, the Bills won 33-21, capitalizing on turnovers and dictating the game.
The Bills have had an Achilles heel the entire season, their run defense. If the Patriots can get an early lead they can exploit their run defense, says Barth. “The Week 13 game serves as a blueprint only if the Patriots can get an early lead, which is the most crucial part of this game for them. If they can do that, they can exploit the Bills’ weaker run defense. As for Mac Jones, the cold shouldn’t be as disruptive as the wind in the last trip to Buffalo.”
The Patriots have suffered from Corner depth all season, this week is no exception. After trading former Defensive Player Of the Year Stephon Gilmore to Carolina, the patriots lost slot corner, Johnathon Jones, to a shoulder injury in early October. With cornerback-two Jalen Mills currently on the Covid/Reserve list, his game status is up in the air pending two negative tests. Barth says that Joejuan Williams would have to step up seeing as he is the patriots’ projected second corner without mills. “The depth behind him is thin, and we may see them move a slot cornerback to the outside out of necessity, whether that’s Myles Bryant or promoting Cre’Von LeBlanc or D.J. Daniel from the practice squad. It’s going to be a big ask of whoever gets the assignment.”
The patriots need some of their big free-agent acquisitions to step up against Buffalo in the win-or-go-home playoff scenario. Barth says the offensive X-Factor for this game is Nelson Agholor. “The Patriots missed him badly in the first matchup. Without him on the field as a deep threat, the Bills took N’Keal Harry in man-press coverage and then stacked the box against the run and throws over the middle of the field. If Agholor can re-establish himself and draw safety help, it will open up the running game and intermediate passing game the Patriots rely on.”
Looking at the defense, Barth says that X-Factor is Matthew Judon. “He’s had a very quiet second half of the season, but if he can pressure Allen like he did quarterbacks in October and November, and force him to throw erratically, it will give the Patriots a chance. “