After their best win of the 2020 season, the New England Patriots remain in Cali for a Super Bowl 53 rematch with the Los Angeles Rams. If New England would like to keep any of their slim playoff hopes alive, they must finish off Thursday’s game with a victory.
Currently at 6-6, the Patriots are given a 13 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. Winning their last four games would significantly boost their odds up to 91 percent. But, a loss on Thursday would all but end their season, giving the Patriots just a 23 percent chance at the playoffs even if they win their last three divisional games.
As we said last week, New England is currently stuck in NFL purgatory. Perhaps they sneak into the playoffs and go on a magical run, or they miss the playoffs and miss out on the blue-chip players in the draft.
We’ll have to continue to just wait and see how the cards unfold, so while we are waiting, why not hop into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag:
@Patzfan5112 Is cam re-signing in the off season?
Getting right into it this week. We all know how this year has gone with Cam: he was really good, then really bad after Covid-19, and now he’s playing really strong football despite what the stats say. Most importantly, he’s now 6-5 as the Patriots starter this year. So when trying to forecast this offseason, obviously the Patriots will take a good, long look at their future of the quarterback position, but they will not be the only team that will do.
The case can be made that 10-to-12 other teams could see turnover at the quarterback position. With only four or five no-doubt first-round picks, that likely leaves a handful of teams that could need to find a new quarterback through trade or in the free agency market — which isn't an extremely impressive list of names after Dak Prescott. For Cam, that could lead to a nice payday, potentially up to $20 or $25 million in free agency.
When looking at the Patriots, they will certainly have the funds available to them to offer such a deal to Newton. But if they think it’s worth it or not is the question.
Barring a trade up, they will be out of range in the draft to select one of the top prospects at the position. New England will likely select a quarterback come April — Florida’s Kyle Trask being one to watch — but whoever is picked would most likely be best left on the bench for a “redshirt” rookie season. Bringing Cam back as the starter would put them in the best position to win in 2021 (especially with new weapons around him), but he could still price himself out of Bill Belichick’s comfort zone on a multi-year deal.
If Newton is not the answer, perhaps New England double-dips in the draft and with another cheaper, veteran quarterback in free agency.
@therosenburg Is Gunner gonna move up the depth chart?
The story on Gunner Olszewski has been a rollercoaster this year. Back in training camp, the reports were that he was playing like one of the best receivers on the roster. With obvious questions on the wide receiver depth chart, it looked like he could be a big contributor in his second season. Unfortunately, Gunner then was not able to see the field until Week 4 due to a foot injury. When he did return, his offensive playing time was minimal as he was used mainly as a return man in special teams — in which he was largely ineffective.
Now in back-to-back weeks, Olszewski has broken off huge plays in the return game and hauled in a 38-yard catch and run touchdown last week against the Chargers. Perhaps his foot injury was more of an issue than we thought and he is finally completely healthy, leading to improved play and confidence. If that’s the case, it would absolutely be worth it for New England to let him see the field more as a receiver these last few weeks.
@RosenRashkov #PostPulpit A lot of talk of lately about Bill busting the draft in the last couple of years. But what are your thoughts on how the turnover among the coaching staff affects the rookies development at the time?
I would not put the blame of rookie development on coaching turnover. The worst thing for the rookies recently has probably just been that they often don't see the field much in their first year. New England’s Super Bowl contending rosters the past few seasons have made it so they do not have to rely on first-year talent playing a large percent of snaps.
Look at 2019, for example; they selected Damien Harris in the third round but he only appeared in two games as the Patriots relied on their healthy veterans. Now, Harris has his time to shine and his development is clear as he currently ranks as PFF’s No. 1 running back this season. Chase Winovich was in a similar situation as Harris last year; he was used mostly as a package player due to New England’s front seven depth and has now developed into a three-down linebacker in Year Two.
So, when reviewing the draft picks in Foxboro, hold your reviews until the second season. Yes, it is frustrating seeing other rookies dominate around the league as New England’s often play small roles. It really does show how well the Patriots’ past rosters have been built, as they do not have to rely on rookies to help compete for a Super Bowl.
That is drastically different this year, though, as a handful of draft selections are playing major snaps. Speaking of this year’s class, players like Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, and Michael Onwenu look like home-run picks. However, definitely hold off on opinions until next year, as they went through the hardest offseason/season a rookie class has ever faced.
@larislive Who should we be rooting for this weekend between Vegas or Indy?
Statically speaking, the Patriots currently have a 14 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. A Raiders victory keeps the number at 14 percent, while a Colts win moves it slightly to 15 percent. So the statistics don't seem to make a big difference, but an Indianapolis victory would probably be best-case scenario for the Patriots.
New England currently holds the tiebreaker with the Raiders due to their victory over Las Vegas in Week 3. If the Patriots take care of business against the Rams Thursday night and the Raiders lose, New England would then jump them in the AFC standings.
@_ECBK What’s the toughest remaining game on the schedule?
The Patriots remaining schedule goes: @ LAR, @ MIA, vs BUF, vs NYJ. New England beat the Dolphins in Week 1 this season, but playing in Miami has always haunted the Patriots. The AFC East division-leading Bills will always provide a challenge. New England went toe-to-toe with them in a Week 8 loss as Cam Newton fumbled away a potential win. New England also had to battle against the Jets in Week 9, but it’s the Jets. Both of those games will also now be played at Gillette Stadium.
So with that, I’ll say this game against the Rams is the toughest one on the remaining schedule. To start, unlike the other three games, Los Angeles is a non-conference opponent on a short week, two obstacles that always provide a challenge. On the field, we know Jared Goff has struggled against Belichick’s defensive schemes in the past, but the Rams’ running game has been much improved of late. The Patriots were able to shut down their outside zone scheme in Super Bowl 53, but have struggled to stop it this year. According to PFF, New England’s defense has faced the second-most outside zone rushing attempts this season and is allowing the fourth-highest yards per attempt (5.0).
On the offensive side of the ball for the Patriots, passing the ball will continue to be extremely difficult. After not throwing for 100 yards in consecutive weeks, the 30th ranked Patriots’ passing offense now faces Jalen Ramsey and a Rams defense that has allowed the fifth fewest passing yards in the league. Much like Super Bowl 53, it could be another low-scoring game that the Patriots will have to grind out a victory — much like they have done all season.
@OlympusMaga If New England wins out and make the playoffs know no one will want to play them. Keep this momentum and they’ll be dangerous come January.
If New England ends the year in the playoffs, it would most likely mean they finished the year 8-1. No team likes to play a smash-mouth offense in January, especially one that’s coached by Bill Belichick. By reaching the playoffs, it also would most likely mean their defense has continued to take significant strides forward. If they stay hot down the stretch, teams would certainly not want to see the Patriots on their playoff schedule. Perhaps a 2011 New York Giants (sorry) Cinderella-type run could be in the cards.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!