Even as recently as three weeks ago, when the Patriots were defeated in Pittsburgh for their second consecutive defeat, I was ready to write off their hopes for Super Bowl LIII. And I pretty much did.
I would never say, or even suggest, that Tom Brady was “washed up.” At age 41, he’s still better than 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the NFL. But nonetheless, it became more apparent in 2018 than ever before that he has indeed slowed down a bit. He still had a good season, but nothing quite like his MVP campaign from a year ago.
After that loss at Heinz Field — when it looked the Patriots were going to wait until the last day of the season to clinch the AFC East, enter the playoffs as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed and play on Wild Card Weekend for the first time since 2009 — Super Bowl hopes seemed slim. They looked even slimmer after Josh Gordon, Brady’s most clutch target in 2018, left the team.
But here’s the good news: the Pats are 8-0 at home this season, and as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, they might just get lucky enough to not have to leave the comforts of Gillette Stadium this January. It would almost be the “Patriot Way” wouldn’t it?
All they would need for it to happen would be the Chiefs choking at home in the divisional round. As we’ve witnessed in recent years, the Chiefs are notorious for choking in the playoffs. In a playoff game, we can almost always count on Andy Reid beating himself by not managing the clock properly.
But the Chiefs are different this year. Now it’s Patrick Mahomes’ team, not Alex Smith’s. In just his first year as starting quarterback, Mahomes deserves to be the league MVP. He alone can fix any problems the Chiefs may have on offense, which usually is not many. Their biggest weakness is on defense; with a semi respectable defense, Kansas City might’ve gone 16-0 this season.
For the divisional round, either the Ravens, Chargers or Colts will venture to Arrowhead. The Chargers won at Arrowhead this season, the Ravens came darn close, and the Colts are riding a hot quarterback and momentum. Any of those three teams could torch the Chiefs defense and come away with an upset.
It’s no guarantee, and it’s very possible that the Patriots could be traveling to Kansas City for the AFC title game. But just think about it; there’s a legitimate chance that the Pats, having won just 11 games and looking as vulnerable as ever when not playing in Foxborough, might not even have to go on the road.
And if that’s the case, then they will essentially have a red carpet to Super Bowl LIII laid out right in front of them. It couldn’t be more picture-perfect.