Sitting at 2-3, with a matchup against the San Francisco 49ers on the horizon, the Patriots are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC playoff picture.
While it’s still relatively early in the season – and COVID-19 complications and injuries have had a major effect – it’s clear through five games this team doesn’t have the same offensive firepower as the vast majority of Patriots teams over the past few decades.
Experts around the league have mixed thoughts about how New England will fare the rest of the season and whether or not there’s cause for concern in Foxborough.
Starting with NFL Media’s Cynthia Frelund, she gives the Patriots a 56 percent chance to make the playoffs. That’s well behind the Buffalo Bills (83) percent and ahead of the Miami Dolphins (40 percent). The New York Jets are nowhere to be found in the video.
Fantasy Sports expert Bill Enright, speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Robin Lundberg, said he thinks the Patriots are “actually pretty good,” despite all the uncertainty surrounding the team.
Enright acknowledged that the Patriots aren’t good by the standards of a franchise that won 17 out of 20 AFC East championships, but he doesn’t think it makes sense to view this team through that lens.
“By regular, mortal, NFL standards, I think the Pats are a pretty good team,” he said.
He pointed out that the Patriots are averaging 5.1 yards per rush, which is fifth in the NFL. They’re still “incredibly well-coached” and have committed the fewest penalties in the league. The Patriots, Enright noted, are also fifth in the league in forced turnovers despite missing several key defensive players.
Enright expects the Patriots to finish the regular season 10-6 and make the playoffs. He didn’t specify if they’ll do so as a division champion or a wild card team.
Pat McAfee, speaking on his show, The Pat McAfee Show, said he was surprised the Patriots lost the way they did Sunday.
“They lost to Brandon McManus,” McAfee said. “Not even the Denver Broncos. They lost to a kicker who had one of the biggest days in the history of kicking.”
He expected the Patriots to waltz into the end zone on their final drive and escape with a 19-18 win. When they didn’t, he felt compelled to ask the question “Does this team stink?”
He said it’s possible Cam Newton will have an off game again and pave the way for Jarrett Stidham to enter, but he doesn’t think that’s likely. McAfee said it’s possible the Broncos dud was just an outlier, and he believes they’ll turn it around.
“I don’t think it’s time to panic,” McAfee said.
NFL Network’s Joe Thomas’s view is a lot less rosy.
“I know we’re not used to seeing it, but this is just who the Patriots are,” Thomas said. “They’re a .500 team.”
He noted that Newton is making a lot of mistakes and having trouble throwing the ball downfield. Thomas pointed out that Newton has only thrown seven deep passes all season, which is fewer than Sam Darnold, Nick Mullens, and Mitch Trubisky’s individual totals.
In addition, Thomas said the members of the offense can’t seem to get on the same page. Though the COVID situation and lack of practice time may be part of the problem, Thomas thinks the issues are larger than that.
He said they might sneak into the playoffs because of their defense and coaching, but he doesn’t expect them to make any sort of a run if they get there.
Said Thomas: “Their offensive firepower is just not there anymore.”
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