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NFL Power Rankings: Can the Patriots salvage this season and make the playoffs?

Frank Schwab
·13-min read

It’s OK if you buried the 2020 New England Patriots and forgot about them. Everyone did.

Part of that is many fans wanted the Patriots to finally go away after almost two decades of domination. That’s OK, too.

Bad news, Patriots haters: New England isn’t dead yet.

Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history, and lifting the Patriots out of their early grave and into playoff contention would be one of his most impressive accomplishments. An upset win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night gives New England hope with nine games left.

The Patriots are 4-5. That looks like a big hole but don’t forget, there are seven playoff teams in each conference this season, maybe eight if key games are canceled due to COVID-19. The Patriots’ biggest challenge might be the strength of the AFC. There are five teams, not counting the division leaders, with 6-3 records. Only three will get wild-card spots. The Patriots have to pass at least three of those teams.

The Patriots’ remaining schedule has some potential wins on it, but will also be challenging.

Week 11: at Texans
Week 12: vs. Cardinals
Week 13: at Chargers
Week 14: at Rams
Week 15: at Dolphins
Week 16: vs. Bills
Week 17: vs. Jets

The Texans and Jets are two of the worst teams in football. The Chargers are 2-7, and even if they’re better than that record, they are masterful at losing games. The other four games are against playoff contenders. If we assume the Patriots need to get to at least nine wins, they’ll have to win two of those games. And there’s no guarantee 9-7 makes the playoffs in a tough conference.

The Patriots showed Sunday night they’re capable of playing winning football against a good team. It’s not pretty. New England needs to play a heavy ball-control style and let Belichick scheme up the defense, which is shorthanded due to free-agent losses and significant opt-outs due to COVID-19. When Cam Newton doesn’t turn the ball over, the Patriots have been pretty good. The Patriots are 1-4 in games that Newton had a turnover. They’re 3-0 when Newton plays a clean game (New England lost the one game Newton missed).

There aren’t many great reasons, other than Belichick, to believe the Patriots will end up in the playoffs. Their offense seems like something from the 1970s, with the lack of an explosive passing game. The lack of elite playmakers on offense is glaring and has been all season. The defense had a nice game on Sunday, but before that, it was giving up yards at an alarming rate. The Patriots are among the bottom five teams in yards allowed per play and net yards per pass allowed.

The Patriots will need to play turnover-free ball, run it effectively when they don’t have a great passing game for defenses to worry about, and play strong defense despite not having one Pro Bowl lock on that side. It’s not a formula anyone draws up at the beginning of a season.

But, like the villain in a horror movie, they are still alive after everyone thought they’d been killed off. Outside of New England, nobody is rooting for the Patriots to come out of nowhere and crash the postseason party.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton celebrates in the driving rain after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton celebrates in the driving rain after defeating the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Here are the NFL power rankings after Week 10 of the NFL season:

32. New York Jets (0-9, Last Week: 32)

Sam Darnold will miss another game with a shoulder injury. The funny thing is Joe Flacco might give the Jets a better chance to win a game or two, which could knock the Jets out of the top pick of the draft, which would mean no Trevor Lawrence and at least a small chance the beleaguered Darnold keeps his job in 2021.

31. Dallas Cowboys (2-7, LW: 31)

Andy Dalton was back at practice on Monday and will presumably return from a concussion. Make all the knee-jerk reactions you want, but Dalton still gives the Cowboys the best chance to win. And, crazy enough, they have just one fewer win than the top two teams in the division.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8, LW: 30)

The Jaguars gave it all they had and almost pulled off the upset at Green Bay, but gave up the lead in the fourth quarter and lost. The players won’t like it and the coaches don’t care because it’s hard to see them coming back next season, but the Jaguars winning would have been a bad outcome for obvious reasons.

29. Houston Texans (2-7, LW: 25)

Jack Easterby is the Texans’ interim general manager. He spent many years with the Patriots as a character coach. Bill Belichick said Easterby did a great job in that role. Should he be leading a front office? “Jack’s not a personnel person, no,” Belichick said. The Texans don’t get a lot of mention when we talk about the worst-run teams in the NFL, but that should probably change.

28. Denver Broncos (3-6, LW: 24)

Drew Lock has a 66.5 passer rating this season. Of all players with 100 attempts this season, only Sam Darnold has a worse rating (Darnold’s collapse is a story for another day). If Lock doesn’t play better over the last seven games, it would be very tough to sell Broncos fans on another season of him at quarterback.

27. Washington Football Team (2-7, LW: 29)

I don’t get Washington’s infatuation with running back J.D. McKissic. He had 43 receiving yards on 15 targets Sunday. He out-snapped Antonio Gibson, a better player, 62-33. It’s not like Gibson can’t catch the ball; he had more receptions than rushing attempts last season at Memphis. It’s a weird decision.

26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1, LW: 26)

The Eagles confused everyone by going for 2 when they cut the Giants’ lead to 21-17. It looked bad when the Eagles didn’t get it, though the numbers said it was (barely) the right call.

Analytics needs to be a big part of any team’s decision making, but there are times it seems like common sense would be better. Kick the extra point there.

25. Detroit Lions (4-5, LW: 27)

I’d love to hear Lions ownership honestly answer if Matt Patricia would have been fired had Detroit lost in overtime, after blowing a 24-3 lead. If the answer is no, I don’t know what more Patricia would need to do to get fired. But the Lions won, and Patricia can thank Matt Prater for the long field goal to keep that question at arm’s length another week.

24. Carolina Panthers (3-7, LW: 22)

The wheels have come off a bit for the Panthers’ defense, and it bottomed out Sunday allowing 334 passing yards and 210 rushing yards to the Buccaneers. The Panthers looked like a surprise earlier this season, but it’s a building year after all.

23. Cincinnati Bengals (2-6-1, LW: 18)

On a day in which no other Bengal had more than 48 yards against a tough Steelers defense, rookie Tee Higgins put up a 7-115-1 line. Cincinnati hit a home run with that second-round draft pick.

22. New York Giants (3-7, LW: 28)

I was skeptical of Joe Judge, but his players have been playing hard. And here they find themselves right in the middle of the NFC East race, trailing only the miserable Eagles.

21. Los Angeles Chargers (2-7, LW: 23)

You may have seen this stat already but it’s worth repeating: Only three teams have not lost this season by more than one score: the 9-0 Steelers, 8-1 Chiefs and 2-7 Chargers.

20. San Francisco 49ers (4-6, LW: 19)

Brandon Aiyuk, one of the team’s first-round draft picks, had seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. There’s probably not going to be a positive ending for this season, so seeing progress from some young players will have to be the focus over the last six weeks. The Niners seem to have a good one in Aiyuk.

19. Atlanta Falcons (3-6, LW: 21)

The Falcons get the Saints in two of their next three games, and New Orleans presumably won’t have Drew Brees for either. The Falcons aren’t exactly alive in the playoff race, but the games against the Saints — with the prospect of severely damaging their rival’s division title hopes — will have a postseason feel for Atlanta.

18. Chicago Bears (5-5, LW: 16)

In the first 29 minutes of the second half, the Bears had 14 yards of offense and one first down. It was indescribably ugly. Nick Foles’ injury looked bad and you feel for him, but from a football standpoint, Foles or any other quarterback the Bears turn to next isn’t going to be the answer.

17. New England Patriots (4-5, LW: 20)

Damien Harris will be a key figure for the Patriots the rest of the way. He had 121 yards on 22 carries against a tough Ravens defense. He’ll carry a lot of the load in what will be a run-heavy offense.

16. Minnesota Vikings (4-5, LW: 17)

The Vikings won’t be fun to play for future opponents. They have three legitimate stars on offense in Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. And Mike Zimmer’s young defense is getting better.

15. Cleveland Browns (6-3, LW: 15)

While the run-heavy game plan became necessary in a bad weather situation, Sunday is a reasonable path to success for the Browns. Nick Chubb had 126 rushing yards (many people wish he had gotten 127), Kareem Hunt had 104 and Baker Mayfield didn’t have to do much. Not many teams have two running backs this good, and the Browns are smart to ride them.

14. Seattle Seahawks (6-3, LW: 8)

Russell Wilson’s interception into the end zone was a sign of a quarterback doing too much. Instead of taking a nice gain on a run, Wilson forced a pass to the corner of the end zone looking for more. It was picked off, and that was a turning point in the loss. It’s hard to ask Wilson to not press when he knows the defense can’t get any stops.

13. Miami Dolphins (6-3, LW: 13)

The Dolphins have won five in a row and the DeAndre Hopkins catch was a nice bonus to their day. They can win the division. It might come down to a Week 17 game at Buffalo.

12. Tennessee Titans (6-3, LW: 6)

The Titans looked overmatched against Indianapolis. The next three games are at Baltimore, a rematch at the Colts and then they host the Browns. The loss to the Colts makes it an absolutely critical stretch to their season.

11. Las Vegas Raiders (6-3, LW: 12)

The Raiders’ schedule is getting easier, and they handled a poor Broncos team. If the Raiders don’t make the playoffs, it will be a disappointment. They’re set up for a nice second half.

10. Buffalo Bills (7-3, LW: 7)

They lost on a great play. It happens. The problem is after the loss they have just a half-game lead over the Dolphins, who are confident and playing well. DeAndre Hopkins’ catch could have major playoff implications.

9. Arizona Cardinals (6-3, LW: 14)

Based on the difficulty of the throw and catch, too, it might be fair to call the “Hail Murray” the greatest Hail Mary play of all time. It was two great athletes making a once-in-a-lifetime play.

8. Los Angeles Rams (6-3, LW: 10)

The Rams’ defense is the best in the NFC West. And the offense is capable, even if it’s not as good as it was in Sean McVay’s first few seasons with the Rams. I’ll give them the edge in the division based on that balance.

7. Baltimore Ravens (6-3, LW: 3)

I don’t want to drop the Ravens too far. They are still a capable team, and maybe if it wasn’t a downpour in New England, they’d have pulled out a win. But the offense is going to have to find some answers, and soon.

6. Indianapolis Colts (6-3, LW: 11)

The Colts looked great in that win against the Titans, and they are in the driver’s seat to win the AFC South. Maybe this bump up the rankings is an overreaction, but you can talk yourself into the Colts — with their strong defense, great coaching staff and offensive line that still has the upside of being the best in the NFL — being a great second-half team.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3, LW: 9)

As long as the Buccaneers aren’t playing the Saints, they’re fine. Tom Brady has two touchdowns and five interceptions against the Saints, with 21 touchdowns and two interceptions in the Bucs’ other eight games.

4. New Orleans Saints (7-2, LW: 5)

The jokes about Jameis Winston’s interceptions will start as he presumably replaces injured Drew Brees for a while. But Winston isn’t just a turnover machine; he can also make plays. It will be an adjustment for New Orleans, going from the steady Brees to the Winston roller coaster.

3. Green Bay Packers (7-2, LW: 4)

We like to believe that because NFL players are paid a lot, they’ll treat every week like a playoff game. It just doesn’t happen that way. The Packers should easily beat a bad Jaguars team, but they were flat and on upset watch most of the day. They won’t be happy with how they played but getting a win on an off day was important. The Drew Brees injury also helps the Packers in their chase to get the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0, LW: 2)

A lot is made of Tampa Bay’s top three receivers, and rightfully so, but Pittsburgh’s top three aren’t too far behind. You can’t give JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool too much defensive attention because any of the three are dangerous and Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t mind spreading it around. James Washington isn’t a bad No. 4 option either.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1, LW: 1)

We’ll hear about Kyler Murray’s MVP chances or why Alvin Kamara isn’t getting more MVP buzz, but it’s because we’re already giving some Michael Jordan treatment to Patrick Mahomes. Voters got bored giving Jordan the NBA MVP in the 1990s and started passing it around to others. The same could happen to Mahomes, who has become the clear MVP favorite this season. Over the next decade, there will be more seasons than not when Mahomes could be voted MVP. How many MVPs he wins will depend on whether voters get tired of giving it to him.

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