Perhaps the New England Patriots coach is too special for his own good.
No one is complaining about having Bill Belichick, who by every measure is the greatest coach in NFL history. Sorry, patriot haters, but that’s the truth.
But in the post-Tom Brady era, the Patriots are stuck. Belichick is carrying a good, not great roster—which, to be fair, Belichick has put together—beyond where he should go. But they are nowhere near a Super Bowl and not to the point where a rebuild would make much sense.
The Patriots face the Buffalo Bills Thursday night in a game that will be streamed by Amazon Prime Video. The Bills or Miami Dolphins are the class of the division. The New York Jets are going strong. But the Patriots are 6-5, in the hunt for the playoffs and for the mastery of Belichick, capable of a seasonal upset.
[Watch Thursday Night Football on Prime Video: Sign up for a 30-day free trial]
Perhaps this middle class is where the Patriots will reside until Belichick retires.
Patriots are stuck in the middle
The Patriots are not without talented players.
Rhamondre Stevenson sometimes looks like a top 10 running back. David Andrews is a great center and Michael Onwenu stood out at right guard. They’re getting career years out of just about everyone in secondary, and Matthew Judon has 13 sacks. But aside from Judon (who’s 30) and possibly Stevenson (who plays a devalued position), the Patriots don’t have many players you’d consider obvious franchise staples. Quarterback Mac Jones also didn’t make a breakthrough in the sophomore year.
But Belichick keeps the Patriots competitive. He had a bad roster in 2020 with a seriously declining Cam Newton and somehow went 7-9. The Patriots went 10-7 last season and made the playoffs. This season the Patriots are currently No. 8 in the AFC, one berth from the playoffs. You can count on the fact that the Patriots usually have great defense and often get more out of the offense than you’d expect.
The Patriots aren’t bad. They’re probably not even good. After running the NFL for 20 years under Brady, it’s a strange place for them.
The Patriots have a shot at the playoffs
Belichick has no plans to completely tear it down and rebuild it. First of all, he’ll be 71 next season. Very few coaches last beyond 70, and Belichick won’t want to start a five-year rebuild.
The Patriots probably think they’re not far off either. With six weeks left in the regular season, the Patriots have a 46.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders odds. If they hit that coin toss and make the postseason, they’re more likely to add some pieces in an effort to really contend than tear something down.
Usually when teams lose a great quarterback, they either get incredibly lucky with Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck to replace them, or they go through a really tough few years before they bounce back. Jones doesn’t look like the next Young, Rodgers or Luck, so the Patriots should be further down the AFC, hoping for better days in the near future. Because they have a stellar head coach, they haven’t hit rock bottom. A 7-9 season and no playoff berths were the bottom line. A lot of franchises can tell you it’s not that bad.
So as the Patriots take on Buffalo Thursday night as underdogs at home, it’s hard to know what to make of them. They don’t have bad talent, but they also don’t have many top-notch players. They have a shot at the playoffs, but right now they’re about 50-50. Even if they make the playoffs, it’s hard to see them making a deep run. They are no better than the third best team in their division and the Jets arguably have a more exciting roster going forward.
The Patriots do have an all-time great coach though. Right now he’s just taking them so far.