The Patriots on Sunday proved they’re not only capable of competing with good teams, but of beating them, too. However, New England, at 4-4, will need all the breaks it can get as it looks to return to the NFL playoffs.
Well, all of a sudden, everything seems to be breaking right for the Patriots.
First, look at New England’s upcoming schedule:
Nov. 7: at Carolina Panthers
Nov. 14: vs. Cleveland Browns
Nov. 18: at Atlanta Falcons
Nov. 28: vs. Tennessee Titans
One of those teams, the Browns, have lost three of four games and are managing a significant injury to their star quarterback, Baker Mayfield. They scored just 10 points Sunday in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As for the Panthers, their starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, suffered a concussion Sunday and is iffy for this weekend’s game against New England. The Patriots instead might have to stop … backup signal-caller P.J. Walker.
And then there’s the Titans, who might be without star running back — and MVP candidate — Derrick Henry for the rest of the regular season. Henry, who underwent foot surgery Monday, hopes to return at some point but almost certainly will sit out Tennesee’s Week 12 matchup with the Patriots. The Titans on Monday signed 36-year-old Adrian Peterson as Henry’s replacement.
Those three games suddenly look much more winnable for New England, which already was good enough to win them. And victories against the Browns and Titans could prove immense, with the Patriots potentially headed for AFC wild-card tiebreaker chaos.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. The Panthers, with Stephon Gilmore at cornerback, could win with or without Darnold. Cleveland’s talent on both offense and defense could help it overcome Mayfield’s current limitations. The first-place Titans, with Mike Vrabel in charge, could storm into Foxboro and pick up another signature victory.
But the dream scenario for the Patriots — a 4-0 stretch that puts them at 8-4 ahead of their first game against the Buffalo Bills — no longer is fantasy