The Patriots looked like a virtual lock for Super Bowl LIV through the first half of the 2019 NFL season.
It’s safe to say the narrative has shifted quite a bit as the campaign has unfolded.
New England’s Super Bowl aspirations still are legitimate, but the franchise faces an uphill climb as it tries to play on the first Sunday in February for a fourth consecutive year. There’s currently no pushover in the AFC playoff picture, and the Patriots still have multiple issues to address in the coming weeks.
But what would give New England the most trouble come January? ESPN’s Bill Barnwell identified a “playoff kryptonite” for each of the 12 teams currently in the mix, and he believes run-first teams will have the best chance of knocking the Patriots off.
The Patriots have a great defense around Gilmore, of course, but they’re going to do best against opposing offenses that revolve around throwing to one star wide receiver in the postseason. Teams that don’t rely heavily on the pass are likely to do best against the Pats, given that New England’s dominance really stands out through the air. Through Week 14’s games, the Patriots led the league with a -41.7% pass defense DVOA. To put that in context, while the 49ers are close to the Pats at -35.6%, the No. 3 Ravens are at -18.0% and closer to the Seahawks in 15th place than they are to the Patriots.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, arguably their toughest challenge in the AFC likely would be able to minimize Gilmore’s importance. The Baltimore Ravens can run the ball with the best of them, and it’s yet to be proven that they can be stopped. And if you zero in too much on the run, Lamar Jackson has proven he’s more than capable of making a few big throws to put an opponent away.
So while Gilmore likely would be able to silence “Hollywood” Brown, it might not even matter.