This Patriots season is starting to feel a lot like the 2021 campaign, both in terms of record and the opportunities that lie ahead.
New England once again is 2-3 through five games, and the path it’s taken to get to this feels eerily familiar.
And the trend will continue in Week 6.
Last season, the Patriots hosted the good-but-flawed Dallas Cowboys, who definitely had a more talented roster. They wound up losing in overtime, though you probably left that game feeling good about New England’s potential for a turnaround. This time around, the Patriots will visit the 2-3 Cleveland Browns, who also have a more talented roster but will feature a backup quarterback. We’ll see how New England fares in what should be another winnable game.
While we’re on this whole symmetry thing, the last two home shutout wins for the Patriots were last Sunday when third-string rookie Bailey Zappe got the start at quarterback, and against the Houston Texans in 2016 when third-string rookie Jacoby Brissett got the start. (The stats in those games were oddly similar, too, as were the talent levels of the opposing quarterbacks.) And, as fate would have it, Zappe and Brissett are in line to face each other this Sunday — unless Mac Jones returns. The sophomore signal-caller reportedly has a “decent chance” of doing that, for what it’s worth.
And that, of course, is the big difference between the two campaigns. Jones through five weeks last season was impressive and making Patriots fans feel good about the post-Tom Brady era. Jones through five games this season was so-so in the first three and missed the next two due to a high ankle sprain. The situation is such that many New England fans wrongly believe that Zappe should remain the starting quarterback when Jones is healthy.
However, assuming Jones returns sometime soon for the Patriots, they have an opportunity to go on a run similar to what we saw a year ago.
In 2021, New England won seven straight games from Week 7 through 13, with the first five victories coming against cupcake opponents. The final two were against the undermanned Tennessee Titans and against the Buffalo Bills in a windstorm. The Patriots were 9-4 when they took on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 15, and we all know what happened from that point forward.
The “easy” stretch of games started a tad earlier this season, but the slate is no less encouraging. By the time they host the Bills in Week 13, the Patriots will have faced (in order) the Lions, Browns, Chicago Bears, New York Jets (twice), Colts and Minnesota Vikings. The Indy game once appeared daunting, but Frank Reich’s team has looked terrible in stumbling to a 2-2-1 record and the Patriots get them at home this time. As for the Thanksgiving Night road matchup with the Vikings, who currently are 4-1, you can bet on Kirk Cousins in a primetime slot at your own risk.
Obviously, all of this is on paper, which means it ultimately doesn’t mean anything.
There’s no guarantee that Zappe and/or Jones lead the Patriots on a winning streak the next few weeks, nor will a winning streak matter if New England again craters during the final quarter of the season. At the end of the day, you only can manufacture so much optimism about a team that’s 21-24 since the calendar turned to December in 2019.
But, like last season, the Patriots have everything in front of them and a path to the playoffs despite a rough start. Let’s see what they do with it.