Patriots

In a season that’s been anything but predictable, here are 4 Patriots predictions with 4 games to go

With projections on Kendrick Bourne, Matt Judon, and more.

Kendrick Bourne's made plays all over the field in his first season in New England. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper)


Question: Doesn’t it feel like this Patriots season is passing by really fast?

The Bucs game, when Mac Jones and company provided the first hints that they can hold their own against anyone, was more than two months ago. The overtime loss to the Cowboys – which was encouraging and disheartening at once – that dropped the Patriots to 2-4 was way back on Oct. 17.

The Patriots’ current seven-game winning streak feels like it has happened rapid-fire, one impressive win after another. And now, somehow, just four games remain in the regular season. Time flies when you’re letting the rest of the NFL know on no uncertain terms that you’re back.

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This season has been anything but predictable. But that’s not going to stop us from trying. Here are four predictions with four games to go …

Jonnu Smith will be the offensive hero in an important win.

It’s tough to pinpoint the single biggest reason for the Patriots’ turnaround this season, because so much has gone right. The answer is probably landing starting quarterback Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick, given the importance of the position. But it’s also tempting to say it’s because Bill Belichick hit on almost every major decision in free agency, spending $163 million in guarantees to reload the roster with the likes of Matthew Judon, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Mills, and a half-dozen other important contributors.

The one ballyhooed signing who hasn’t been a high-level producer so far is Smith, who received $31.25 million in guaranteed money to come over from the Titans. The tight end is sixth on the Patriots in receptions (26) and receiving yards (271), and I don’t believe you, me, or Josh McDaniels thought he’d trailing Brandon Bolden in both categories come mid-December.

Smith has endured frustrating moments – his one-catch, four-drop performance against the Saints in Week 3 was one of the worst days I can recall a Patriots pass-catcher ever submitting – but he has remained upbeat and resilient, and works diligently as a blocker. His athleticism pops off the screen on the occasions when he has the ball in the open field. And hey, he was the leading receiver (OK, for 12 yards) and did receive one-third of the targets against the Bills. His big day is coming – maybe in the second meeting with Buffalo?

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Kendrick Bourne will surpass 1,000 receiving yards.

This one is going to be a challenge, but all the affable receiver has done in his first season with the Patriots is exceed every expectation, so why not do it once more? Bourne has 623 yards on 42 catches so far. He needs 377 yards over the final four games, or an average of 94.3 yards per game, to become the Patriots’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Julian Edelman (1,117) in ‘19.

Given that his season-high for receiving yards is 98 against Cleveland in Week 10, he’s going to have to submit a couple of his best games to get within striking distance. He’s up to it, I say. Bourne’s quest was hindered by the conditions against the Bills – he didn’t have a single target. But in the previous four games, he caught 16 of 18 targets for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

The hunch here is that he has a monster game Saturday night on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf against a Colts’ defense that has allowed 26 passing touchdowns, second-most in the league. Here’s hoping Bourne doesn’t come up just short of 1,000, like Deion Branch did in 2005 when he finished with 998 receiving yards. It seems to me Bill Belichick has become more conscious of such milestones in recent years.

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Matthew Judon will end up with the second-most sacks in a season in Patriots history.

This is subject to change, but I rate the best big-name free-agent signings of the Belichick era in this order. 1. Stephon Gilmore. 2. Rodney Harrison. 3. Judon. Considering Judon has played just 13 games as a Patriot, that is some heady company he’s already keeping.

But he’s become the heart-and-soul of the defense much in the same way Harrison did when he arrived in 2003. We knew the Patriots were signing a versatile, high-energy player, but did anyone expect this? He has piled up 12.5 sacks, tied with Chandler Jones in 2012 for the most by a Patriot in Belichick’s tenure. In fact, it’s the third-most in Patriots history, behind only two exceptional seasons from Andre Tippett’s Hall of Fame career.

Judon has at least a half-sack in each of the last five games, so he’s hardly slowing down as the season plays on. The prediction here: He’ll surpass Tippett’s total of 16.5 sacks in 1985, but won’t match his 18.5 from ‘84.

The Patriots will lose once more in the regular season.

It’s tempting to suggest they’ll run the table, yet another parallel from 2001 when the Patriots never lost another game after falling to 5-5 with an encouraging Week 10 loss to the Rams. But an 11-game winning streak heading into the postseason seems like a lot to ask.

I can’t tell you where that loss is coming from, though. I can’t see them losing to Carson Wentz and the Colts this week. The Bills showed some spirit in rallying Sunday against the Bucs before falling in overtime, but Belichick isn’t just living rent-free in Bills coach Sean McDermott’s head; he owns the entire complex. The Jaguars are a joke as long as world-class phony Urban Meyer is still around.

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It could be the finale against the Dolphins, I suppose. Things often get weird in Miami. However it shakes out, it will have been a heck of a satisfying journey from 2-4 to 12-5, with even greater possibilities ahead.

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