New England Patriots still the team to beat


On Sunday night, the New England Patriots lost their first game of the season, leaving them just a bit short of the perfect regular season that they were aspiring for.

Already one can hear everyone questioning if the New England Patriots are still the team the beat. My answer to that is that they are and it really isn’t even close, especially not in the AFC.

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The loss against the Denver Broncos was very unfortunate for the Patriots as a lot things in this game did not go their way. A slew of questionable penalties and no-calls were just the beginning and though one can use that as blame for the loss, I prefer not to because everyone has probably already discussed those. It all started with Chris Harper‘s muffed punt which set up the Broncos in great field position when they really needed it most. The Broncos on the other hand fumbled twice, but both times the ball ended up  back in the hands of the Broncos which was quite unlucky for the Patriots.

In the end, the injuries are what really ended it for the Patriots. With a slew of preexisting injuries prior to the game, the Patriots had two of their best players on the field leave the game due to injuries. Dont’a Hightower left the game with what is now believed to be an MCL sprain, which was a huge factor in this game as that left the Patriots without him and Jamie Collins, which hurt both their rush and pass defense significantly. The absence of their top two linebackers, who I would argue are both Pro Bowl caliber, really was noticeable in their rush defense from there on out.

Nov 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots tight end

Rob Gronkowski

(87) is helped by trainers after being injured during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Gronkowski’s injury really hurt the Patriots on and off the field. On the field it hurt them during overtime as Brady clearly just ran out of targets to whom he could throw too, as all the receivers on the field struggled to get open. Gronk’s injury hurt even more mentally though, as I don’t think there was anyone on the Patriots sideline who didn’t fear the worst for Gronk, which would have been a huge blow to their Super Bowl hopes.

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Thankfully the injury does not seem to be very severe, and it reminds a little of Antonio Cromartie‘s injury early in the season where it seemed like he tore his ACL, but ended up being fine and actually played the next week.

So the Patriots lost very narrowly to one of the better teams in the league without their two top wide receivers, their best defensive player and without the two previously mentioned players in Denver. The argument that this loss suddenly means that the Patriots aren’t actually as good as we all thought they were is nonsense.

Feb 4, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback

Tom Brady

holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy during the Super Bowl XLIX victory parade. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The five key players who are injured are Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Collins, Hightower and Gronkowski and the only player who is not expected to return in the next four weeks is Edelman, though many expect him to be ready for the playoffs. Amendola will likely return next week, as will Collins ,and Hightower and Gronkowski still don’t have a timetable but neither of them is expected to miss extended amounts of time which bodes well for the Patriots.

The Patriots finish the year off against the Eagles (4-7), @Texans (6-5), Titans (2-9), @Jets (6-5) and the @Dolphins (4-7). The Patriots will beat the Eagles even if all five of the before mentioned players miss that game. The Texans could be a bit more difficult, but I would be surprised if the Pats defense allows a lot of points against the horrible Texans offense. The Titans are a guaranteed win and so are the Dolphins in week 17 leaving them with the Jets game. They play the Jets on Dec 27. which is almost a month from now, and by then the Patriots will be healthy.

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Worst case scenario is the Patriots might end the season 3-2, though  that is highly unlikely. If the Broncos win out, the Patriots need to win out too, but  I think the Patriots winning out is far more likely, as the Broncos still have both the Bengals and the Steelers on their schedule. The Bengals on the other hand play both the Steelers and the Broncos, so the Steelers could really determine a lot in the fight for the top three seeds in the AFC.

The Patriots are a great team this year as they a very good on both the offensive and defensive side, especially when not missing most of their key players.  Defensively, Sunday  was another really good showing that just fell short mostly due to the lack of their top two linebackers and a few brilliant players by  C.J. Anderson and Emmanuel Sanders, who is one of the best receivers in the NFL. The Patriots are still a very safe bet for the No.1 seed in the AFC and with a healthy team they should and will be the clear-cut favorite to win the AFC and the Super Bowl.