How do we feeeel about being back in the playoffs? Awwwwwwwwww yeaaah!
Early in the season the experts tend to mix intuition and projections into their power rankings when there’s not much of a win-loss record to go by. Heading into the final game of the regular season it’s a different story. With the fates pretty much finalized for half the league, they become a statement slap of reality. Top contenders and teams with playoff spots on the line still jockey for position and seeding, but at this point the rankings don’t really tell the story of how the postseason will play out. For the teams that make it, playoff success will be more about matchups, health and depth, stamina and mental toughness.
The Patriots were ranked 3rd-4th and riding high heading into their bye week but a pair of losses dropped them like a stone down to 9-10th. Sunday’s fifty-burger on Jacksonville didn’t even move the needle. What does it mean for the weeks ahead? Not much. Pats started sluggish and were sloppy with penalties in both losses. Against the Jaguars they started fast, played aggressive and kept the mistakes to a minimum. That’s what matters. That’s what I’ll be looking for this Sunday afternoon when the Patriots head down to unfriendly Miami to face the Dolphins. Makes no difference the Dolphins are ranked 18-20th. They will be playing for pride, competition, and to complete the sweep of a hated division rival. The Pats are gearing up for a playoff run and will need to set the tone against an opponent that will play them much tougher than the Jags.
2021 started a new era in Foxborough, let’s see what we’ve got! Pats win by a fin.
Around the AFC East:
8th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): The Patriots have been dropping unholy late-season 50-burgers on bad teams for years now, but there’s something to be said for their ability to continue this party trick even with Tom Brady playing his home games 1,300 miles away from Foxborough. Mac Jones threw three touchdown passes in a 50-10 win over the Jaguars that clinched a playoff spot and kept New England in the running for a division title with one week to play. No matter how the AFC East shakes out, a grudge match between the Pats and Bills feels inevitable. We plan to watch this game.
8th - Harris Ahmadzai, Dylan Fraychineaud (New Arena): The Patriots enjoyed their afternoon tilt against the Jaguars. Mac Jones threw three touchdown passes, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for two scores a piece, and New England’s defense snagged three interceptions on the day. At one point, the Pats led 50-3. We don’t need to say much more.
8th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): In classic Bill Belichick fashion, they bounced back at home after a loss by dominating the Jaguars. They can still win the division, but it’s not likely.
8th - Dalton Miller (ProFootballNetwork): ‘Dangerous playoff teams’ category. The Patriots needed a rebound, and they got an undefended one against the Jaguars, who didn’t offer much resistance from the very start of the game. New England led 28-3 at the half, and they extended that lead to 35-3 on the first drive out of halftime. Mac Jones and the Patriots’ passing attack did whatever they wanted to, and the rushing attack didn’t have any trouble, either. New England faced just 4 third downs in their first five drives, and they converted on all four.
8th - Nate Davis (USA Today): They’ve scored at least 45 points in three games this season ... but won’t encounter the Browns, Jets or Jags in the playoffs.
9th - Karen Guregian (Boston Herald): What was the over-under on how long it would take Bill Belichick to reach the playoffs without Tom Brady? Year One with Mac Jones produced at least 10 wins, and an invite to the dance.
9th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Kristian Wilkerson was undrafted out of Southeast Missouri State in 2020, signed with Tennessee and was cut at the end of preseason. New England signed him to the practice squad, and he’s bounced between the practice squad and active roster a few times. He had the first four receptions of his NFL career, including two touchdowns, in Sunday’s win. Then he went back on the practice squad Monday. He probably made an impression and will be back on the active roster, but at very least he had a day he’ll never forget.
9th - NFL Nation (ESPN): New Year’s resolution: Stop asking Bill Belichick about resolutions. After the team’s Week 16 home loss to the Bills, Belichick was asked if he had any resolutions. That predictably didn’t go too well. Then he was asked a follow-up on videoconference six days later and he said, “Those would all be personal anyway, so they probably wouldn’t mean much to you anyway.”
9th - Conor Orr (SI): What fun throttling the Jaguars seems to be. After talk of a rookie wall, Mac Jones throws three touchdowns and completes nearly 75% of his passes in a win over Jacksonville. If I am any opponent in the AFC, I am underestimating this group at my own risk. Bill Belichick still has the juice, and Jones is developing as a fine downfield passer.
10th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The New England Patriots apparently aren’t big on long rebuilds. After missing the postseason last year, the post-Brady Patriots are back in the postseason in 2021 after spanking the Jaguars on Sunday, albeit likely as a wild card. The victory also gave Bill Belichick his 20th 10-win season, tying Don Shula for the all-time mark in that regard. It was a game the Patriots dominated in every facet, whether it was by gaining 181 yards on the ground or holding the Jaguars to just 253 total yards. But as quarterback Mac Jones told reporters after the game, the Pats are well aware that their main goal this season still lies ahead of them.
10th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): They’re being overlooked again, just in time to make everyone regret it.
10th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots righted themselves, following two straight losses, with a no-doubt-about-it victory at home Sunday over the Jaguars. They’re in the postseason field. But if the Patriots are forced to take to the road and fail to advance very far in the AFC playoffs, they’ll have to wonder what went wrong during their bye week that led to defeats to the Colts and Bills on the heels of their seven-game winning streak. That remains puzzling after the Patriots had seemed poised to keep getting better heading into the postseason.
10th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots weren’t challenged at all against the Jaguars as Mac Jones had fun winning and outplaying Trevor Lawrence while the running game and defense did the rest. Now New England has to turn in that kind of performance consistently against much better AFC teams.
10th - Danny Kelly (The Ringer): ‘The Contenders’ category, down from ‘the Top Shelf’.
10th - Russell S. Baxter (Fansided): The Patriots welcomed the struggling Jaguars to Foxborough and made easy work of the team with the worst record in the league. And Bill Belichick’s club wound up clinching a playoff berth in the process with their win and the Dolphins’ loss at Tennessee. The Patriots rolled up 471 yards of total offense – 181 on the ground. Mac Jones threw for 227 yards and three scores. And opportunistic New England picked off Trevor Lawrence three times.
10th - Nick Wojton (TouchdownWire): The Patriots beat the Jaguars, 50-10. Just by the score, you know how it went.
11th - Justin Leger (NBC Sports Boston): The Patriots snapped their two-game skid with a dominant victory over the Jaguars. It was a stellar performance for rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns in the 50-10 win. Kristian Wilkerson accounted for two of those TDs in his first NFL start. New England has clinched a spot in the playoffs and will finish off its regular season next Sunday in Miami.
11th - Ryan Dunleavy (NY Post).
AVG RANK: 9.3