“The New England Patriots are the best team in the AFC,” Cowherd said on FS1.
Cowherd isn’t alone in his assessment. And he might be right. The Patriots have won six consecutive games, improving their record to 8-4 and moving them into first place in the AFC East ahead of a crucial Week 13 showdown with the Buffalo Bills (7-4). New England currently occupies the No. 2 seed in the AFC, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens (8-3), who defeated the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night.
But why exactly is Cowherd so high on the Patriots’ potential moving forward? Well, it boils down to how they’re built, with Bill Belichick constructing a team that looks like a Super Bowl contender.
“There’s seven or eight boxes you check to get to a Super Bowl,” Cowherd said. “Do you have an elite head coach? Check. Special teams above average? Check. A defense that’s good and creates a consistent pass rush? Check. Are you situationally smart on both sides of the ball? Check. Can you control the line of scrimmage? Check. You don’t beat yourself? Check.”
The Patriots’ weaknesses are few and far between. They might not be the flashiest team in the AFC playoff picture. But perhaps that’s a good thing as it relates to New England’s ceiling come playoff time.
“The only box New England doesn’t check: dynamic vertical playmaker,” Cowherd said. “Which you don’t have to have, but it really helps so you don’t have to score on nine- and 10-play drives. And Kansas City and Buffalo have dynamic deep threats.
“But those teams, let’s be honest, they make more mistakes, they don’t run the football at all, their offensive lines are kind of a work in progress and, by the way, the weather’s getting worse. New England never won Super Bowls with Randy Moss. Because teams that can score quickly and go over the top easily sometimes become too reliant on it. And Kansas City and Buffalo are not nearly as good at the defense, the run game, controlling the clock as the Patriots are.”
The Patriots were expected to take a step forward in 2021 after a lackluster 2020 in which they finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs on the heels of Tom Brady’s departure. Belichick opened up the checkbook to plug holes in free agency, stabilizing both New England’s offense and defense.
Mac Jones’ success as a rookie quarterback has been instrumental in the Patriots’ bounce-back season, though, and it likely stems from not having to do too much. The Pats just seem to take care of business, which can’t be said for a lot of teams across the NFL right now.
“New England has done this for 22 years,” Cowherd said. “The more boring they are, the more Super Bowls they’ve won.
“They were exciting for about three years — the Randy Moss years — and they kind of become reliant on Randy Moss to save them. They weren’t as good at running the football. They weren’t as good at the little stuff. And that’s just natural. When it’s easier to score and you’ve got big playmakers, sometimes you’re not quite as buttoned-up as knowing now they can’t fall behind. And they don’t.”
Cowherd believes the Patriots and Green Bay Packers are the cream of the crop in the AFC and NFC, respectively. The next few weeks — with two games against the Bills and one against the Indianapolis Colts — could go a long way toward strengthening (or weakening) the case for New England.