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The Patriots aren’t as scary as they once were, but they are still tough

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Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

There were plenty of folks who thought the Buffalo Bills were going to come into Foxboro on Saturday and knock off the vaunted New England Patriots. And for the first time in … umm … a really long time, it wasn’t a completely outlandish prediction.

The Bills are a good football team, and their 10-5 record reflects that. Josh Allen looks like the best quarterback from the 2018 draft not named Lamar Jackson. The Bills have some nice offensive weapons in Devin Singletary, Cole Beasley and John Brown. They have a stout defense.

And even though the 2019 Pats don’t seem to be the big, bad, dominant Patriots we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the last two decades (despite their current 12-3 record), they were still tough enough to grind out a solid, home win against Buffalo to clinch their 11th straight AFC East championship.

Patriots 24, Bills 17. Once again, the hats and T-shirts are back in New England, as if we could imagine them being anywhere else at this point.

It just goes to show that despite everyone wanting to write this team off and finally proclaim the end of the reign of terror, the Patriots aren’t going to let it happen quietly. They are headed to the playoffs, they will host yet another home playoff game at Gillette Stadium, and they will likely get yet another first round bye (barring something crazy happening against the Dolphins in the season finale).

Now, I would be lying if I said I was confident that this season was going to end with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick raising the Lombardi Trophy in Miami come Feb. 2. As great as they are, this particular Patriots team doesn’t seem built to win it all again, especially given the competition they will face in the playoffs.

I can’t see New England getting past Baltimore, and maybe not even Kansas City. But should the Pats overcome those odds and reach the Big Game, then they would likely face San Francisco, or New Orleans, or Seattle, or Green Bay — all of which would be extremely dangerous opponents. The odds heading into January seem to be stacked too much against them. I’m not saying the G.O.A.T. quarterback and the G.O.A.T. coach can’t find a way to pull it off, I’m just saying that I’m not feeling good about it.

But no matter which team knocks the Patriots out of the playoffs, should it happen, they won’t be able to do it with ease. Even though Brady is 42 years old and may be showing some signs of slowing down, he will always keep them in the game when the lights are bright. You can count on that.

You can also count on this particular Patriots team to make big plays on defense and special teams, which is always crucial to winning playoff games. Stephon Gilmore has solidified his status as the best cornerback in football, having snagged six interceptions and scored two touchdowns on the season. He basically put on a highlight reel last week in Cincinnati.

This defense forces turnovers. This special teams blocks punts. They do their job, and that alone will make them a difficult out for any opponent they face in the postseason.

And don’t forget that at least one team — whether it be the Bills, or the Texans, or the Chiefs, or whoever it may be — will have to travel to dreaded Foxboro, which is the most terrifying place you can find yourself in January. We’ve seen some crazy things happen at The Razor during the winter time over the years, and there’s no reason to believe that we won’t see more this time around.

I can’t promise that the Patriots will make it to south Florida, and if I were you, I wouldn’t wager on it. But I am confident that they won’t be a mere formality in the postseason, no matter which team they play. Brady will never just roll over. The Pats will give it everything they have, and they will make teams work to put an end to their run of three straight Super Bowl appearances.

Despite the haters and the critics and the Max Kellermans of the world, the Pats aren’t quite dead yet.