If we are being honest, the New England Patriots must get home-field advantage to reach the Super Bowl this season.
After a 10-0 start to the season, the New England Patriots have faltered to 10-2 with consecutive losses at Denver and then at home against Philadelphia. This has been arguably the most challenging season during the Belichick era. The “next man up” mantra has faded after so many players have been lost.
Over the years, the Patriots during the Belichick era have proven that they can overcome adversity better than anybody in the league. Most noteworthy, in 2008 when Tom Brady was lost for the season and Matt Cassel led the team to a 10-6 record.
Cassel who is currently starting for the Cowboys due to starting quarterback Tony Romo being lost for the year, barely looks like a power five college quarterback, yet alone an NFL quarterback.
While overcoming injury has been a strength for this organization, this year has proven different. The lost players have become too much to handle. Brady is taking way too many hits due to a depleted offensive line. Even when given time, the receiving group is struggling to get open. While the offense has a fair share of issues, the Patriots run defense is the key to a Super Bowl appearance.
The Patriots have been vulnerable against the run this season after last season giving up the second fewest rushing touchdowns, six. This year, the Patriots have already given up eight rushing touchdowns as they enter week 14 of the season.
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The Broncos and Bengals both have a stronger running game then the numbers suggest this year. Starting running backs C.J Anderson and Jeremy Hill started the season slow, but seem to be returning to form and running with confidence as the postseason approaches. The Broncos highlighted this weakness during their week 12 win against the Patriots.
The Denver Broncos beat the Patriots 30-24 in week 12 at Mile High Stadium. Not only did they beat the Patriots but they did so without much use of quarterback Brock Osweiler. Sure, Osweiler made some huge throws and there is no taking that away from him.
However, the Broncos found their advantage against the Patriots, the running game. As a result, the Broncos averaged 5.6 yards per carry while their stout defense held the Patriots rushing attack to 2.4 yards per carry.
The Bengals should not worry Patriots fans as Andy Dalton has proven to be turnover prone in the postseason. The Bengals success in the regular season under Dalton has not translated into postseason success as shown by the four straight playoff games lost. The Bengals running game cannot carry the offense with Dalton committing mistakes, especially against a Brady led offense.
The Bengals defense is strong but not strong enough to defeat a healthy Patriots offense. The Broncos are very capable of beating a healthy Patriots team and if they get home field advantage, they are very likely to do so.
New England may decide to sit their key players to enter the postseason healthier. However, with Brady’s struggles at Denver and the fact that this is the best Denver team he has seen in his career, Belichick must have this team in win now mode to get home field advantage. Resting players would be a major mistake.