The New England Patriots have been among the Super Bowl favorites since the beginning of the season. But lately, they haven’t looked the part. New England lost its last two matchups of the regular season, both road games to divisional opponents that missed the playoffs. Tom Brady is hurt, though the Patriots say he’ll be fine. Bill Belichick has made uncharacteristically poor coaching decisions. Suddenly, the Patriots don’t look so much like Super Bowl champions in the making.
But the playoffs offer the chance for a fresh start, and the Patriots will surely try to take advantage of that. If the Patriots make a few key changes, they can still win the Super Bowl. Here’s what they need to do.
The Team Needs to Protect Brady Better
The Patriots have dealt with a lot of problems this year, but star QB Tom Brady hasn’t been one of them. He’s still playing at an elite level, and he’s still the main reason to hope that the Patriots can win it all this year. But the Patriots need to work on protecting Brady better, or his reported injuries will worsen and cost the Pats dearly.
It starts with the offensive line, which needs to step up. Brady has been on the run for weeks now, and he needs a change. But it goes beyond that.
The Patriots coaching staff can help. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has to change the playbook a bit to ensure that the ball is getting out of Brady’s hands quicker (there were already some signs of this in Week 17, but not enough). Conservative play calling that protects Brady is a must in the playoffs, especially early on.
We’d even go so far as to say that head coach Bill Belichick should consider taking the unusual step of removing Brady late in playoff games, provided there’s a safe lead. Brady is this team’s most important player, and the Patriots should stop at nothing to protect him. Belichick’s strange mix of strategies in Week 17 – which saw the Patriots appear to quit on the game while at the same time continuing to expose Brady to hits – is to blame for Brady’s current state. Belichick got himself into this mess, and now he has to get himself out of it.
The Secondary Needs to Step Up
The New England Patriots don’t have a great secondary. There’s no way around that fact. The Pats let Darrelle Revis walk this past offseason, and the Pats now rely on Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler to be their shutdown corner. The Patriots rank 17th in the league in pass defense – fourth worst in the playoffs, ahead of only the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
That’s bad news in a playoff field that features top-notch quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning. To survive the playoffs, the Patriots will need to ask more of their secondary. That shouldn’t be too problematic, as the defense should be healthier in the playoffs than it has been over the past few games (SS Patrick Chung and FS Devin McCourty both missed time towards the end of this season).
The Team Needs to Get Healthy (And They Will!)
It’s not just the defense that needs to rest up before the playoffs. The whole Patriots team could benefit from some medical attention. Fortunately, the Patriots’ first-round bye gives the team some much-needed time to recuperate.
Over the last six games of the season (in which the Patriots went 2-4), the Pats lost nine players to injury. All nine of them will be back in the playoffs. That includes WR Danny Amendola, who hasn’t played since Week 11.
With the Patriots healthy again, the other goals on this list shouldn’t be as hard to meet. Take heart, Patriots fans: a healthy New England team can still hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
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