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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Exploring the Patriots’ path to the playoffs

Related: NFL playoff picture: How the Patriots can still make the postseason

New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After an extremely forgetful Thursday night performance from the New England Patriots, their 2020 playoff hopes now look even slimmer. While New England watched from home on Sunday, they did receive some help though, as the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders suffered losses.

It would have been a perfect weekend for the Patriots if the Cleveland Browns were able to hold on to a victory in what was the game of the year Monday night. However, Cleveland (and “cramps”) was not able to stop the reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.

Looking forward, the Patriots will need help sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed. The path currently still lives and it starts with the Patriots taking care of their own business the next three weeks. So, to start this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag, let’s explore the Patriots’ path.

@mlip130 DO WE HAVE A CHANCE AT PLAYOFFS or should we tank And get a qb if so which one

To start, tanking is not an option in Week 15. It’s too late for that and if the Patriots want a top quarterback now in the draft, it will have to come via trade-up.

Now, onto the playoff chances. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Patriots currently have a two percent chance at making it. Here’s what they need to happen:

  • Patriots: Win their last three games (@ MIA, vs BUF, vs NYJ)
  • Ravens: Lose two out of their last three games (vs JAX, vs NYG, @ CIN)
  • Raiders: Lose one out of their last three games (vs LAC, vs MIA, @ DEN)
  • Dolphins: Lose two out of their last three games (vs NE, @ LV, @ BUF)

Saying the Patriots win out, that would hand Miami one of the two losses they need. Miami would then miss the playoffs with a loss to either Las Vegas in Week 16 or Buffalo in Week 17. The Week 16 game between the Raiders and Dolphins will have a massive playoff implications for both teams and the Patriots. The tricky part of the equation falls with Baltimore. After Monday’s win, they need to lose two more games this season and have one of the easiest schedules in the league. The Giants have been playing well lately, but then they would still need to be upset by the 1-13 Jaguars or 3-10-1 Bengals with their backup quarterback. Perhaps some Minshew Mania could be in store this weekend.

It’s a tough task, but not impossible. Here is perhaps the most likely case for New England to make the playoffs after all:

  • Patriots: W @ MIA, W vs BUF, W vs NYJ - 9-7
  • Ravens: L vs JAX, L vs NYG, W @CIN - 9-7
  • Raiders: L vs LAC, L vs MIA, W @ DEN - 8-8
  • Dolphins: L vs NE, W vs LV, L @ BUF - 9-7

@ISB_Jay With playoff chances getting lower every game, should the Pats start Cam or Stidham?

With these low playoff chances, the Patriots should use this time to evaluate what they have in their quarterback room. Through Jarrett Stidham’s two years, he has not had the privilege of starting a game and the benefits that come with it (week of practice, game plan, etc.). Using this time to give Stidham a start on full preparation could be beneficial and paint a clearer image of who he is as a quarterback.

In my opinion, we will not see Stidham starting unless the Patriots are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. We’ve heard Bill Belichick consistently back Cam Newton this year, stating he is the “best option” for them at the position all season long. If there are games to win with a potential playoff spot on the line, Belichick and the Patriots will go with their best player, which is Newton. Perhaps a loss to Miami this week — which would officially eliminate New England from playoff contention — could change those plans.

@TuckerRossCon Could Miles Byant be a big part of this teams future if Stephen Gilmore gets traded next offseason?

Myles Bryant’s increased usage these past few weeks should certainly be something to monitor about the future of this team. Carving out playing time in this loaded Patriots’ secondary as an undrafted free agent is an accomplishment of its own, and Bryant was rewarded with his first career interception on Thursday.

In terms of his future role with the team, his versatility certainly works in his favor. Throughout his time in New England, he has lined up as a free or box safety more than he has as a slot cornerback. Versatility is always valued, especially by Belichick — who recently commented on the rookie’s ability to play multiple positions:

“He’s a smart kid, he’s picked up things well, and he’s shown that he can handle multiple positions and multiple roles and function effectively in them. He’s done a good job for us.”

If Stephon Gilmore is moved this offseason, I'm not sure Bryant’s play would be a big reason behind that — specifically as he has been playing more safety and his cornerback snaps come in the slot. A Gilmore trade would showcase the trust they have in J.C. Jackson to take the next step forward, while clearing a large chunk off their salary cap.

@ajclauss3 As bad as the weapons are, can we say that the front seven is the number one need this offseason? No pressure, no run stuffers, no depth

Acquiring offensive talent should be the main goal this offseason, but the front seven will definitely be a priority for New England in terms of resigning their own talent and acquiring new players.

Bringing back defensive tackle Adam Butler should be one of the Patriots’ first moves this offseason, as Butler has proven to be a major factor on the defensive line the past few seasons. The same case could be made for Lawrence Guy, who has also been quietly dominant in his role since signing with the team in 2017. New England should look to bring in a big, defensive run stopper up front to complement Butler and Guy. They are still feeling the loss of Danny Shelton here from last offseason.

Staying on the defensive line, the Patriots acquiring a more consistent pass rusher would not come as a surprise. New England currently ranks 27th in the league averaging 1.5 sacks per game, a number that is down from 2.8 last season (12th in the NFL). Belichick has never been one to pay big dollars to a pass rusher, so perhaps he opts to select one in the draft or pulls off one of his (in)famous trades.

Adding more speed to the linebacking core should also come as no surprise. The Patriots took a step forward in this department when they selected Josh Uche in the second round of this year’s draft, but nobody should argue adding more athleticism to the position.

@TMurph207 What’s worse WR’s who cant get open or QB who cant hit an open WR ? What’s worse having no TE’s or Not using the TE’s you have ?

Question one: I would say having a quarterback who can't hit an open wide receiver, considering that’s largely their entire job. With that said, no quarterback on the Patriots’ roster now or in the future will succeed with their current wide receiver group. Players like Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd are nice pieces to have, but they are certainly playing a spot or two above where they should be on the depth chart. Opposing defenses currently aren't worried about New England’s weapons, consistently stacking eight defenders in the box and daring the Patriots to throw the ball. The Patriots certainly need to add some top end talent to their receiver depth chart this offseason to improve the entire offseason (look at how acquiring Stefon Diggs completely changed the Buffalo Bills offense).

Question two: not using the tight ends that you have. We know the story by now — tight end is the hardest position to learn in the Patriots offense and rookies were far behind due to the chaotic offseason — but the lack of targets to the rookie tight ends have been mind-boggling. With the current state of the New England offense, can targeting Dalton Keene or Devin Asiasi a few times per game really be that much worse?

@Nav2813 Fan from England. How bigger off_season will it be for the new England patriots. We need help on both side of the field and need to draft well. So who do we go for first. QB or a TE

This is one of the biggest offseason for the New England Patriots in years, and one that will define the future success, or failure, of this team. New England will be near the top of the league in salary cap space and have plenty of ways to create even more, so they will have plenty of financial flexibility to acquire new talent. Dishing out big money to free agents can certainly help a team get back to the playoffs, or it could blow up in your face. Teams that miss in free agency will continue to struggle, as they are paying players who are not producing.

Look at the Jets for example. The past few offseasons, they paid cornerback Trumaine Johnson $72.5 million and running back Le’Veon Bell $52.5 million. Once viewed as major free agent moves, the Jets are now paying those players to play elsewhere. In 2019, New York gave linebacker C.J. Mosely a five-year, $85 million. Mosely played in just two games his first year in New York and opted-out of 2020. Like Johnson and Bell, Mosely will most likely be paid by the Jets to play elsewhere next season.

Now while the Jets have missed, New England has hit on many of their larger deals. Signing Stephon Gilmore to a $65 million contract back in 2017 raised eyebrows, but Gilmore has outperformed that deal — winning a Defensive Player of the Year award and being a crucial part of a Super Bowl-winning team. Paying players big money is not an issue, as long as those players continue to play at a high level.

The same is true for the draft. If New England does move up to acquire a quarterback, for example, they do so with the future of the franchise in his hands. The Chicago Bears thought they had their guy when they moved up to draft Mitchell Trubisky in 2017. Turns out Trubisky was not the guy, and the Bears are left still looking for answers just three years later.

Any move New England makes this season will have major implications on the team’s future, so let’s hope they turn out like the Gilmore deal.

Let’s go fast:

@eugeneisotti Only one question . Why?

Why is what every Patriot fan is left asking themselves. Is this really what every other team goes through most years? Don’t think it is for me, let’s go back to winning.

@nfl_every Is Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer the better backup QB?

Stidham. The main advantage Hoyer seemed to have was his experience. After watching his start versus Kansas City, he made way too many mental mistakes and was careless with the football.

@83Southwood Why does Cam hold the ball for 8 minutes?

Cam’s pocket presence hasn't always been great this season, but it is tough to throw the football when receivers are struggling to get open.

@floydianship Will [the mailbag] be delivered on time?

You are reading it, aren't you?

@ColinTBurke Mister Rogers told us it’s okay to be sad some times. Is that still true?

Being sad is part of life, especially in 2020 and when our football team cannot win games. But, to end this week’s mailbag, let’s look for hope with a quote from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight:

The night is always darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”

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!