Why Patriots Can’t Afford Letdown Against Falcons With Titans Looming

Is this a trap game?


The 4-5 Falcons are coming off a 43-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, while the 6-4 Patriots are fresh off a 45-7 eradication of the Cleveland Browns. The Falcons also will be without star receiver Calvin Ridley, and dual-threat Cordarrelle Patterson might be out of the lineup, as well.

So, New England should cruise to a victory in Atlanta on Thursday night, right? Well, maybe, but the reverse outcome — and its potential ramifications — can’t be discounted.

You need only look at the Baltimore Ravens’ Week 10 loss to the Miami Dolphins to know that anything can happen on “Thursday Night Football.” Additionally, Atlanta’s road win over the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago indicates it, like apparently every team in the NFL this season, is capable of winning any game.

This matchup carries all the traits of a classic “trap” game. The Patriots, winners of four in a row, have a marquee showdown with the first-place Tennessee Titans looming on Nov. 28. Plus, as hot as New England is, it’s not as if Bill Belichick’s team has completely proven itself immune to things that can result in disappointing losses.

The short turnaround for Thursday night games often serves as a great equalizer, dragging all involved to outcomes closer than they likely would be under normal circumstances. The 2017 Patriots, who eventually lost Super Bowl LII, squeaked out a 19-14 win on the road against Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 5 “TNF” matchup. Winston threw for 334 yards, DeSean Jackson racked up 106 receiving yards, and Doug “Muscle Hamster” Martin ran for 74 yard and a touchdown.

Laugh all you want, Ty Law: Weird things happen on Thursday nights.

But the Patriots had better avoid suffering a letdown against the Falcons.

New England has bolstered its playoff chances significantly over the last month. Remarkably, the Patriots now have the ninth-best odds of winning Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. Once-preposterous scenarios — like the Patriots being in first place in the AFC by the end of Week 12 — now are on the table.

However, a loss to Atlanta on Thursday could send things spiraling in the other direction. If the Patriots lose to the Falcons and the (currently 8-2) Titans, they would drop to 6-6, with the conversation around them completely changing. New England is one of four AFC teams with six wins, while a whopping seven others have five.

If literally everything else goes wrong for the Patriots over the next two weeks, they could drop as low as 12th in the conference standings. Such is life in the preposterously wide-open AFC.

The Patriots must take care of business Thursday, enjoy their mini bye and then prepare for one of the biggest games of their season.

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