After a horrific 33-6 loss on Sunday against the 49ers, the Patriots have continued to sink even further down in their division. With a competitive year coming from the 5-2 Bills and 3-3 Dolphins, this is the first time in a very long time that the Patriots are at risk of not making the playoffs.
With this harsh loss, the Patriots have dropped to third in their division with a 2-4 record. While this kind of record is unprecedented for the Patriots, these struggles are expected for teams who lose their top personnel from one season to another — especially if that personnel loss is Tom Brady.
Although Newton was able to pick up quickly in the Patriots’ first couple games of the season, he hasn’t done much more since; throwing 5 interceptions in his past two games. In these games, Cam has consistently underthrown his receivers and missed easy passes. While the 49ers do have a formidable pass defense, Newton should have still been able to get something (anything) going on offense.
At this point in the season, it’s still not clear if New England’s best shot to make the playoffs is through their division or not. With 2 additional wild card spots (1 in each conference) being added to this year’s NFL Playoffs, no one is completely sure how the distribution of playoff teams will look. With that said, despite having a season record of 2-4, the Patriots are 1-0 in the AFC East and only two games behind the Bills (3-0). Because of this, the Patriots’ next two matchups against the Bills next week and Jets after that are very important because there’s a possibility that they could jump from 3rd to 1st (at least divisionally).
Moving forward, if the Patriots aim to make the playoffs this season, Belichick and Newton must both address and correct problems that have occurred over their past several games. For Belichick, he must continue to make conservative play calls that have led to the Patriots’ long-lived success. By ensuring that Newton is limiting risky pass attempts in coverage, the Patriots would create a lot less turnovers and interceptions. Additionally, they would also have more of a control on the pace of the game as their Time of Possession would also likely increase.
For Newton, the most overarching problem he needs to work on is finding his place in the Patriots’ offensive system. By just watching the game against the 49ers, it was clear that Newton was not able to find anything that worked for him. On top of the interceptions, when he wasn’t able to find an open receiver, he was getting caught in the pocket or sacked. Instead of making an earlier pass or throwing the ball away, Newton has often held onto the ball until he has to take the sack.
While there’s plenty of adjustments that need to be made before the Patriots are legitimate playoff contenders again, there should still be time for improvements. With a big win next week against the 5-2 Bills, the Patriots would be put in a much better position to make the playoffs. Through a win, the Bills’ divisional record would drop to 3-1 and the Patriots’ would go to 2-0.
The Patriots would then move on to the currently 0-7 Jets the following week and would likely raise their divisional record to 3-0. Because of this, it is very possible that the Patriots’ game next week against the Bills could be a defining moment of this season for them. If the Patriots are able to capitalize on their next matchups and Cam Newton is able to limit his turnovers and complete more passes, I believe the Patriots will return to the playoffs again this season.