Nobody has had more presumed last gasps than the New England Patriots.
That’s bound to happen when you have a 41-year-old quarterback, a gimpy Hall of Fame tight end, and an extended run of success that keeps outsiders hoping there’s a change of the guard on the postseason horizon.
As it stands though, the window has been “closing” for what seems like a decade now.
Albert Breer is the latest to sound the warning horn on MMQB, speaking with a number of NFL executives who discuss why the crossroads is — finally? — looming for the Patriots. It’s a pretty gloomy outlook for the future of the franchise while taking a realistic stance on the team’s confluence of problems in not having a backup plan to Tom Brady, a broken-down Rob Gronkowski, and a drafting report card that is somewhere in the realm of incomplete as it stands now for Bill Belichick.
The sky isn’t falling. Not for a team that heads into this weekend as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
But the sun is setting.
At some point. That’s all we really know for sure.
But then again…
This week’s picks
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 27, Vikings 23. “Quality matchup is Game of the Week first alternate. Tom Brady always the safe pick at home, where Pats have won 12 in a row. But Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs present XXL challenge for NE air defense. Outright upset in play, and lean Vikes with points.”
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots. “New England can smell blood in the water with a first-round bye up for grabs in the AFC. They’ll win by a score here.”
Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Patriots (-5). “The Vikings (6-4-1) dodged a bullet when a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no structural damage in cornerback Xavier Rhodes’s injured hamstring. He is a vital part of the secondary for a team ranked fifth in the NFL against the pass. Minnesota will need all the help it can get against the Patriots (8-3) now that tight end Rob Gronkowski is fully healthy for the first time in weeks and receiver Josh Gordon has somehow morphed into the reliable threat he never was in Cleveland.”
MMQB staff: Four out of six pick the Patriots (-5).
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “The Pats are 5-0 at home, with wins at Gillette over teams with winning records such as the Texans, Colts, and Chiefs, not that we don’t already know that they win a lot of games at home.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 30, Vikings 29. “The Patriots haven’t been as prolific on offense this year, but I think this will be a game where Tom Brady throws it a lot – and has success. The Vikings are good against the run and OK against the pass. The New England defense will get after Kick Cousins, who plays behind an average line. The Patriots will take it.”
CBS Sports staff: Three out of eight pick New England (-5). Six out of eight pick the Pats straight-up.
Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Patriots 34, Vikings 21. “Honestly, do you really see much difference in the Vikings with Kirk Cousins at quarterback than Case Keenum … other than a salary-cap hit? The Patriots are one of three teams unbeaten at home (5-0), where they average 35.4 points.”
David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Vikings 19. “Last week against the Jets, the Patriots did not look exactly like the team that usually has already had everything click into place for a postseason run. The Vikings could make things uncomfortable for them on offense and defense. On the other hand, Bill Belichick likely has plans for neutralizing that offense, because that’s what the Patriots do best this time of year.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Vikings 27. “The Vikings have not been as good on the road, and the Patriots have played their best at home. But Minnesota’s defense is stacked enough to make this more of a grind for Tom Brady. And New England’s defense has enough holes for Kirk Cousins to exploit with his talented wideouts, plus Dalvin Cook and Kyle Rudolph. Cousins will duel will Brady well, but the X-factor here is special teams. That’s how the Patriots will win a close one.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Minnesota (+5.5). “The only reason to believe the Patriots can win comfortably over the Vikings is if you say something along the lines of “visiting teams have a really tough time in Gillette Stadium.” And it’s true! But, assuming football (and not intangible pressures) dictates this one, it ought to be a close football game.”
SB Nation staff: Six out of seven pick New England.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 31, Vikings 20. “Vikings simply don’t match up well with a Patriots team that matches up well with pretty much everyone. This could get ugly.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Vikings 21. “One of the best games of the day feels like it could go either way, but I like the Patriots to pull it out late.”
MassLive staff: All Pats (-5). “It’s one thing to beat the Jets. Beating Minnesota is a much tougher challenge for the Patriots. The Vikings are currently the No. 4 seed i the in the NFC, but at 6-4-1, they’re just barely ahead of the pack of teams at 6-5.”
FiveThirtyEight: Patriots with a 67 percent chance of winning.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com:Patriots 34, Vikings 30. “Back in the spring, when the NFL schedule was released, I thought this would be one of the top games of 2018. Fast-forward to late November. While it is still purdy, this matchup doesn’t resonate like it did in April. Both organizations were considered front-runners for the Super Bowl, especially with the Vikings landing Kirk Cousins in the offseason. Yet, a rocky start by Minnesota coupled with the ascendancy of the Saints, Rams and Chiefs has made this would-be headliner into more of a really fun opening act for Sunday night’s game in Pittsburgh. The Patriots remain in the upper echelon of the league, but in order to beat the Vikings, Tom Brady must ratchet up his game a notch. Unlike in New England’s win over the Jets last week, Minnesota won’t let the Pats scurry on the ground into the secondary. If Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a no-go, that translates to an instant competitive advantage for Brady. We’ll all find out together.”
It says here: Patriots 17, Vikings 14. There’s no way this Patriots defense can shut down Thielen and Diggs, which means it probably will.