It's the Patriot Way
Tom Brady is still the quarterback. Brady, who has thrown for over 3,300 yards so far this season to go along with 26 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions, has looked as good as he ever has. If there is one area that is of concern, it would be the defense, however even that side of the ball has improved tremendously throughout the season. After giving up an average of 32 points through the first 4 games of the season, this Patriots defense has held every team since to 17 points or less. In that span they held the Falcons to only 7, the very talented Chargers to 13, and the Oakland Raiders to 8 points in Oakland.
Now lets take a look at the teams that could be in New England's AFC path to yet another Super Bowl victory (in no particular order).
- Kansas City: At one point in the season, the Kansas City Chiefs looked prime to take on and dethrone the Patriots, but since starting 6-2 the Chiefs have fallen off the proverbial cliff, now 6-5 and only one game ahead of the Chargers in the West. The Chiefs still have a lot of talent, but I just don't see them being able to put it back together. If the Chiefs can even hang on and still make the playoffs, I seen them as being one and done, not even getting a chance to face Brady and the Patriots.
- Pittsburgh: The Steelers have at times, looked like the team to beat this season, while at other times, have struggled against some mediocre teams. Opening the season only beating the winless Browns by 3, only beating an Andrew Luck-less Colts teams by 3, and finally a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers by 3. They did however beat the NFC North leading Vikings 26-9 and a good Detroit Lions team 20-15. On both sides of the ball, this team has the talent to compete with anyone, but with that being said, I don't see them winning in Foxborough.
- Tennessee: This team has talent, but until Marcus Mariotta figures out how to be an NFL QB, I don't think they will make that much noise in the playoffs, if they are even able to hang on to a playoff spot.
- Jacksonville: In my opinion, on the AFC side, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the team that has the best chance to beat the Patriots in the playoffs. The Jags have an explosive running back in Leonard Fournette (who heads the leagues leading rushing attack at 154.3ypg), and the number one total defense in the league allowing only 281.8 total ypg. Within that spectrum, the Jags also boast the leagues best passing defense allowing only 168.7 ypg through the air. The Jaguars have struggled at times stopping the run this season, however, allowing over 110 yards per game. Quarterback play continues to be an issue for the Jags, as Blake Bortles has continuously shown he is not the answer, but as of now he has at least been serviceable. Even though I see the Jags having the best chance of beating the Patriots, I don't believe this will happen. I also think that if the Jags run in to a team like Pittsburgh, who has an explosive run game, they may be out before they even get a chance against the Patriots.
- Philadelphia: On paper, if any team should beat the Patriots, its the Philadelphia Eagles. this team leads the league with a whopping 31.9 ppg and also boasts the leagues sixth overall defense which includes the number one rushing defense. Carson Wentz appears to be the front-runner for MVP at this point in the season, and the Eagles offense seems unstoppable. All that being said, I think the Patriots would be a disastrous match-up for the Eagles. Sure the Eagles have an amazing run defense, but that is not where the Patriots do their damage. Its through the air on the arm of Tom Brady. The Eagles have a middle of the road pass defense. What does that mean? I think that would lead to a possible shootout, and while the Eagles are explosive, I don't think a shootout is what you would want against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I like the Patriots odds in that situation.
- LA Rams: Somewhat along the same lines as the Eagles, this is a very explosive offense, however something about them tells me they may be a one and done once it comes time for the playoffs. Jared Goff has shown tremendous improvement and the defense is very good, but I think this team may still be one year away from making a deep run.
- Seattle: The Seahawks are who we think they are. Still pretty good defensively, but have trouble scoring quite often throughout the season. Sure, they have Russell Wilson, who can extend a play as well as anyone in the league, but I don't think he'll be able to extend their season in the playoffs, seeing as they are able to hang on and make the postseason. Right now, their odds of beating the Patriots are way less than them even getting a chance to play the Patriots, which I think are very low. This isn't the same Seattle team from a couple years ago.
- Minnesota: In my opinion, the surprise team of the year. I didn't expect better than a .500 record for this team. And with the likes of the Packers and Lions in the division, I didn't think they would have a chance at winning the North. Fast-forward to now; the Bears being the Bears, the Lions struggling at times, and a broken collarbone and the Vikings find themselves at the top. I'm not sure if this is indicative of how good the Vikings are, or how much the rest of the division has struggled, but I don't see the Vikings making a deep playoff run. Meaning they should be no threat to the Patriots.
- Carolina: I think the Panthers are a good team, but I don't think they will be able to beat the Patriots. I do however, think they are my sleeper pick to win the NFC Championship. Cam Newton has struggled at times this season, but he also has the ability to make big plays at any time. The NFC South also appears to be the best division in all of football this year.
- New Orleans: Another surprise team this year, the Saints have completely turned it around on defense this year. Last year's defense was one of the worst in the NFL, this year they are much better and the offense is just as explosive as ever. The differnece this year however, is that Drew Brees doesn't have to do it all. Alvin Kamara has been one of the best rookies in the NFL in the backfield, and Mark Ingram is still a very good player. Something tells me however, that the defense will struggle come playoff time which could lead to an early out. If thats not the case then it would be an exciting NFC Championship between the Eagles and Saints.
- Falcons: Apologies beforehand to any Falcons fans, but I think the Falcons best chance to beat the Patriots slipped away then they were up 28-3 in last years Super Bowl. Something about this team makes me think they will not go very far in the playoffs. Before the season I didn't expect them to do much this year, as I thought they were overrated. I think overachieved tremendously last year, propelling them to the Super Bowl. I don't think they will get so lucky this year.
As I said above, I do think a few teams have a chance, but I also mentioned I don't see anyone beating the Patriots. However, if the pieces fall into place and the matchups align in a certain way, and I was forced to pick a team to beat, I think I would have to go with the Pittsburgh Steelers, if and only if, they can get home field. If not, it should be an exciting game between the Patriots and whoever makes it out of the explosive team filled NFC.