Maybe you hoped the rumblings of a Tom Brady-Bill Belichick feud would finally boil over and end with a messy divorce. Or maybe the drama-filled start to the 2018 offseason would cause the bottom to fall out and the Patriots would finally be a team with double-digit losses.
But nope. The death for the Patriots dynasty is coming in the form of a slow and unceremonious wilt. They’re still good enough to win the always uninspiring AFC East, but not nearly good enough to give Brady and Belichick a sixth Super Bowl ring.
The defense is No. 23 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 31 in rushing yards allowed per attempt. It’s a unit that’s just about average at everything and terrible at a few things:
Maybe that level of defense would’ve been enough in another year. Brady’s dragged lesser groups to the Super Bowl before. But now he’s 41, and his numbers are closer to the league average than the stats of the NFL’s elite.
His 97.6 passer rating is 13th in the NFL — well behind Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, and Russell Wilson, who each have ratings over 110. His 24 touchdowns are tied for 10th, and just over half the 45 of Mahomes.
The Patriots don’t run the ball very well either, and Rob Gronkowski is no longer the uncoverable rock golem who caught 11 or 12 touchdowns per season.
New England’s still 9-5, a record more than half of the NFL’s teams wish they had. But it’s also the first time since 2009 that New England has at least five losses. That was way back when Randy Moss was still a member of the team.
All good things have to come to an end, and it’s finally happening for the Patriots.
Panic index: On the other hand, the Patriots are still No. 5 in offense and a silly Dolphins miracle removed from a 10-4 record. That would have them in line for a first-round bye, which they still might get if the Texans slip up.
The Patriots have been to seven consecutive AFC Championships and the competition to get to an eighth are a pair of AFC West teams with a history of postseason collapses, and not many other teams worth being worried about. Don’t count out Touchdown Tom.
The Cowboys look like a one-and-done team in the playoffs
Dallas got destroyed by the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, getting shutout for the first time this season 23-0. Dak Prescott had his worst game in weeks, Ezekiel Elliott’s big plays didn’t matter, and the offensive line struggled.
Even Amari Cooper couldn’t get loose for explosive plays like he had in previous weeks. Had they won the game, they would’ve locked up the NFC East, so it should be a bit unsettling that they came out so flat with a trip to the playoffs on the line.
Dallas should still win the NFC East, but now they need to really get their act together before the Wild Card round. They own the tiebreaker over the Eagles in the NFC East and just need Washington to lose one more game. Then it’ll be up to the Cowboys to handle business as they settle into the fourth playoff seed.
Panic index: There isn’t much to panic about with the Cowboys’ overall chances to make the playoffs, but that game against the Colts should raise some questions about their ability to win a game or two. Their offense has been inconsistent all year — if they want to avoid one-and-done status, they’ll need to find a modicum of positive consistency.
Chris Boswell is going to cost the Steelers in the playoffs
Boswell signed a five-year, $19.72 million contract extension this August to bring stability to the Steelers’ special teams unit. Last fall, he’d made 35 of his 38 field goal attempts, even mastering the swirling winds of Heinz Field’s south end zone over the course of a Pro Bowl season.
What looked like a solid investment in the summer has left the club with buyer’s remorse this fall. Boswell missed a pair of field goal attempts in last week’s embarrassing 24-21 loss to the woeful Raiders, including a 40-yard try as time expired. While the Steelers tried to get Boswell back on track by bringing former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him, the presence of a veteran mentor didn’t help.
With Pittsburgh protecting a 14-7 lead, Mike Tomlin called Boswell’s number for a 32-yard kick. And despite the distance being even shorter than the two 33-yard extra points he’d already drilled, Boswell pushed the ball way right on a kick that never had a chance.
Fortunately he’d get a shot at redemption in the fourth quarter. Tomlin turned to him again with a little more than two minutes left in a 14-10 game. This time, Boswell’s 48-yard kick sailed straight through the pipes, helping his Steelers hang on for a streak-snapping win against their AFC rival.
Panic index: Tomlin gave him his seal of approval after the game, but that could be a product of a lack of reasonable free agent replacements more than anything else. No matter what, the Steelers are stuck with an inconsistent kicker, so every try, from extra points to 50+ yard field goals, is going to require a couple extra sips of Iron City if you’re in Pittsburgh this January.
The 49ers screwed up their chance at the No. 1 draft pick
All the 49ers had to do to stay atop the 2019 NFL Draft order was the same thing they’ve been doing for nearly five years: lose to the Seahawks. San Francisco had lost 10 straight to its Pacific Northwest rivals, with the last win coming in Dec. 8, 2013, when Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick were both still in the NFL and Frank Gore was still with, well the 49ers, because we know he’ll NEVER not be in the NFL.
It shouldn’t have been that hard for the 49ers to lose Sunday, either. They were 3-10 and just waiting for the sweet release of 2018’s death. The Seahawks were rolling as winners of five straight and just needed a win to clinch a playoff spot. Just two weeks before, the Niners lost to the Seahawks 43-16, the type of farce Seattle hadn’t seen since “The Ski Lodge” episode of Frasier.
I guess the 49ers must have pride or something. And yeah yeah, NFL players don’t tank. But their squeaker of an overtime win could end up being the costliest loss of their season outside of Jimmy Garoppolo’s handsome ACL tear. The 49ers improving to 4-10 not only knocked them from the No. 1 spot in the draft order, but it dropped them all the way to No. 4. The three teams now ahead of them — the Cardinals, Raiders, and Jets — probably aren’t winning another game this year.
So 49ers, congrats on beating the Seahawks. Just know that it probably cost you the chance to draft Nick Bosa, who could be — and this isn’t hyperbole — better than his big brother, Joey.
Panic index: FIVE YEARS. That’s how long the 49ers have been waiting to stick it to the Seahawks again. Let ‘em enjoy this one. This draft is so loaded with defensive talent that they’ll be able to grab another elite pass rusher with the No. 4 pick, even if he wasn’t destined for football greatness since he was in his mother’s womb like Bosa. Someone like Josh Allen (don’t worry: Kentucky passer rusher, not the Bills quarterback) could be a pretty good consolation prize.