The New England Patriots can point to a terrible offensive performance against the Buffalo Bills in week 4. They can highlight the defensive collapse and failed goal line series against the Seattle Seahawks in week 10.
But the real reason the Patriots currently trail the Oakland Raiders in the AFC playoff standings is Roger Goodell and DeflateGate.
The Patriots suffered two major penalties from DeflateGate that stemmed from the pettiness of owners and Goodell’s inability to admit fault: the loss of a 2016 1st round pick (and 2017 4th) and a 4-game suspension for QB Tom Brady.
New England trails the Raiders in the standings because of the “common games” tiebreaker. The two teams share the Broncos, Bills, Texans, and Ravens as common opponents in 2016; the Raiders are 3-0. The Patriots are 2-1, with their lone loss coming in week 4 against the Bills.
The Bills beat the Patriots 16-0 as rookie QB Jacoby Brissett had to play through a serious throwing hand injury that required surgery. Brady led the Patriots to 41 points on the road against the Bills in week 8. There’s no question that the suspension of Brady played a pivotal role in the week 4 loss.
Additionally, the Patriots have missed out on the play of a first round rookie. As the defensive front seven continues to rotate at edge defender and linebacker, and as DT Alan Branch faces a suspension, it’s clear the Patriots could have used some talent up front.
Well, 16 of the 25 subsequent picks after the Patriots vacated 28th overall selection went to players in the defensive front seven, including seven of the next 10. Coverage linebackers like Deion Jones and Su’a Cravens would definitely help the defense. They could have also used slot WR Sterling Shepard (476 yards, 5 touchdowns) and WR Michael Thomas (681 yards, 5 touchdowns).
Would any of these players have tipped the scale of the Seahawks game in favor of the Patriots? Would they have won the week 4 game against the Bills? It’s all speculation, but the Patriots missed out on some obvious contributors.
The season is long and the Patriots could take the #1 seed over the final weeks- but it’s undeniable that a driving reason for the Patriots loss to the Bills in week 4 is the absence of Brady due to DeflateGate.
And that’s the difference between being the #1 and #2 seed.