As usual, the postseason in the AFC must go through the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Since the latter became the starting QB for them, the Brady-Bill Belichick duo has been the best franchise in the NFL, and they have often looked head and shoulders above the rest in the playoffs. Aside from Brady, New England’s roster has not necessarily been the most talented or most athletic, but they have consistently gotten it done from sound football in all three phases and elite situational football. Although Brady was not as sharp in the last month of the regular season, New England was still able to grab the AFC’s first overall seed. They then looked the part yesterday against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round.
Brady had 337 yards passing, and New England shut down the Titans “ground-and-pound” attack, holding Tennessee to just 65 rushing yards, according to ESPN NFL Statistics. Tennessee did start the game pretty well on both sides of the ball, as they scored first on an incredible one-handed catch by rookie wide receiver Corey Davis, who ended up having two touchdown catches. That success was short-lived, though, as Brady and the Patriots offense started playing with tempo. The Patriots would then go on to outscore the Titans 35-7 after the first quarter, and Brady would go on to pad more into his playoff resume.
This blowout was somewhat surprising, given that the conversation surrounding the Pats leading up to the game was based around ESPN’s Seth Wickersham’s report involving Brady, Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft and former backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo. That brought New England much-unwanted media coverage, but yesterday demonstrated why the Patriots are still so dominant in the postseason. Even with New England potentially losing both of its coordinators after the season, and the Belichick-Kraft situation having its shares of uncertainty, the Pats still look head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL.
The NFC quarterback situation, aside from Drew Brees, simply does not match up with Brady. In addition, New England’s defense is playing much better. In yesterday’s win, they registered a team playoff record of eight sacks against Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, and again took away their opponents’ best option. That’s a Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia staple. If New England can keep doing that, they’re nearly impossible to beat on the big stage, given how well-coached they are and considering they have the best quarterback ever.
For now, they appear to be the clear favorite in the playoffs. However, things could change after this season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Patricia is expected to be the next head coach of the Detroit Lions. That would be a significant loss for New England.
Nonetheless, Brady has defied the critics throughout the last few years in regards to his ability to still dominate, and the Pats still have Rob Gronkowski and plenty of other weapons. Regardless of who wins between the Pittsburgh Steelers (who never have a chance in New England it seems) and the one-dimensional Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady and New England are still the clear favorites next week and would be in the Super Bowl. Next season and beyond, it’s unclear if Brady can remain playing at this level, but it really wouldn’t be all that shocking. With Belichick and him still on the roster, however, it’s always championship or bust.