Everything is falling into place for both the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.
Entering Week 13, all is well in New England. The Pats have a 9-2 record and are sitting pretty atop the American Football Conference East. Teams that posed a threat early in the season have all stumbled to mediocrity. Tom Brady is healthy. Rob Gronkowski is healthy. And the defense has corrected its early mistakes. With four out of their remaining five games against soft AFC East opponents, the Patriots will earn a first-round bye in the playoffs and advance to play Pittsburgh in the Conference Championship game. It’s all so simple, isn’t it?
Every NFL season seems to begin with a great degree of uncertainty. The flurry of offseason moves, coupled with how little the preseason games indicate, makes any early-season speculation essentially meaningless. Sure, it is fun to watch your team win on opening day or to be first in their division for a few weeks. But the first quarter of the season, this year in particular, reveals very little about who will be playoff contenders. The true litmus test of a playoff football team is if it has the right people in the two most important places: head coach and quarterback.
This theory is most apparent in the AFC East. Despite being mired in the shadow of the Patriots for the better part of two decades, the Jets, Bills and Dolphins actually had respectable starts to the season. The Jets and Dolphins had 3-3 and 4-2 records, respectively, through six weeks and the Bills started their season 5-2. Almost on cue, though, each of those teams has given way to other contenders with better head coaches and stronger quarterbacks. The Jets and Dolphins have both lost five straight while the Bills have lost three of their last four games. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who were even with the Dolphins through six games have won seven straight. Everything is right in the NFL at the moment. The cream has risen to the top, while the bad teams have reverted to their losing ways.
A glance at this season’s successful teams, like the Patriots, Steelers, Saints and Panthers, reveals organizations that have good coaches and good quarterbacks. Most other teams struggle due to a revolving door at those two key roles, yet they perpetuate their losing ways by ousting their staff and players after poor seasons.
The Eagles have been remarkable this year in that they don’t fit the mold. The team has a league-best 10-1 record with a second-year quarterback in Carson Wentz and a head coach, Doug Pederson, who is in his first season with the team. Acknowledging that the Eagles are the exception and not the rule, this NFL season has gone according to script. Many teams enter the season with high hopes, but the only teams that have staying power have the right people in the two most important roles.
While each individual football game is still exciting to watch, tracking an entire campaign is dull and monotonous because of the very basic script each season follows. In the past 14 seasons, just four different quarterbacks have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. But as a New Englander, I am okay with that. This simple formula for NFL seasons has given me many enjoyable fall and winter afternoons watching my beloved Patriots thump the opposing “tomato cans” on a weekly basis. I will continue to enjoy spending my Sundays this way until a team can devise a new formula to win or until a new great quarterback/coach duo surfaces. But for now, everything in the NFL is in its right place.