Patriots

What does Patriots' path to Super Bowl LIV look like? Let's play out the AFC

What does Patriots' path to Super Bowl LIV look like? Let's play out the AFC

Alas, the New England Patriots are mortal.

A perfect season is off the table after last Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But the Patriots still are in the AFC's catbird seat at 8-1 entering their bye week.

So, is another Super Bowl run in the cards for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady?

With 10 days to kill before New England's next game, we played out the entire remaining schedule of every AFC contender to predict how the conference playoff picture will shake out -- and if any team can knock the Patriots off their perch.

It's prediction time.

No. 1 seed: New England Patriots

Final record: 13-3
Wins: vs. Dallas, at Houston, at Cincinnati, vs. Buffalo, vs. Miami
Losses: at Philadelphia, vs. Kansas City

The Patriots drop another road game coming out of the bye and fall to Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs in a Week 14 shootout. But wins over an awful Bengals team and their downtrodden AFC East competitors (Bills and Dolphins) help them edge Kansas City for the AFC's No. 1 seed.

No. 2: Kansas City Chiefs

Final record: 12-4
Wins: at Tennessee, vs. Oakland, at New England, vs. Denver, at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Losses: at Los Angeles Chargers

The AFC's top seed is decided two weeks from now, when the Chargers upset Mahomes and Co. for the second time in as many games. Kansas City wins out from there, but that fourth loss seals its fate as the No. 2 seed.

No. 3: Baltimore Ravens

Final record: 11-5
Wins: at Cincinnati, vs. Houston, vs. New York Jets, at Browns
Losses: at Los Angeles Rams, vs. San Francisco, at Buffalo

The Ravens ride the Patriots victory wave to two more wins -- then stumble during a brutal three-game stretch against the Rams, 49ers and Bills. Baltimore wins out from there, but its schedule proves too difficult to earn a first-round playoff bye.

No. 4: Houston Texans

Final record: 10-6
Wins: vs. Indianapolis, vs. Denver, at Tampa Bay, vs. Tennessee
Losses: at Baltimore, vs. New England, at Tennessee

The Texans lose two of their next three and stumble on the road against the Titans in Week 15, but earn a revenge win over Tennessee in Week 17 to barely hold on for the No. 4 seed.

No. 5: Buffalo Bills

Final record: 10-6
Wins: at Cleveland, at Miami, vs. Denver, vs. New York
Losses: at Dallas, vs. Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, at New England

The Bills push to 9-2 before their schedule finally catches up to them. Four consecutive losses put Buffalo's playoff hopes in jeopardy, but a win over the Jets in Week 17 helps the Bills earn a No. 5 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker win over the Colts.

No. 6: Indianapolis Colts

Final record: 10-6
Wins: vs. Miami, vs. Jacksonville, vs. Tennessee, at Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina
Losses: at Houston, at New Orleans, at Jacksonville

The Colts win four of their next five games and have a home Wild Card game in their sights. But it all comes apart in Week 17, as the AFC South rival Jaguars defend their turf to drop the Colts all the way to a No. 6 seed.

Just missed: Oakland Raiders (9-7), Los Angeles Chargers (8-8)

AFC Wild Card Round

- No. 3 Ravens defeat No. 6 Colts
- No. 4 Texans defeat No. 5 Bills

The Colts' middling defense can't contain the dynamic Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, while Deshaun Watson wills the Texans to a win at home over a feisty Buffalo team.

AFC Divisional Round

- No. 1 Patriots defeat No. 4 Texans
- No. 3 Ravens defeat No. 2 Chiefs

Watson is a handful for the Patriots, but New England, as always, finds a way to win at home in the divisional round. The same can't be said for the Chiefs, as Jackson exploits Kansas City's pourous defense to lead the Ravens to a road upset.

AFC Championship Game

- No. 1 Patriots defeat No. 3 Ravens

Bill Belichick's club made a lot of mistakes in its Week 9 loss to Baltimore. It doesn't make those same mistakes at Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots edge the Ravens to punch their ticket to a fourth straight Super Bowl.*

*Bonus prediction: Patriots fans get their dream Super Bowl LIV matchup in Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers. Jimmy G nearly pulls off the upset, but Tom Brady mounts a game-winning drive to defeat the team he grew up watching.

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Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

The Patriots have downgraded safety Patrick Chung and running back Damien Harris from questionable to out for the game Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Chung has had heel and chest injuries but did play in the Pats' last game before their bye week, the Nov. 3 loss to the Ravens. Harris appeared on the injury report for the first time on Friday with a hamstring issue. The rookie third-round pick from Alabama has only been active for two games this season.

The loss of Chung could impact the Patriots most in their coverage of Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Taking on tight ends is something Chung has excelled at. 

ESPN Mike Reiss reports that Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse, out with a knee injury since Oct. 10, did travel with the team to Philly so he will likely be active for the game.

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Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

It was one of the most controversial calls in Patriots history...and it didn't come from an official.

It was Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was 10 years ago today.

THE DECISION

It remains Belichick's most talked-about moves this side of Malcolm Butler. In a Week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, the 8-0 Colts faced the 6-2 Patriots in a high-scoring affair. Leading 34-28 but backed up at their own 28-yard-line and needing two yards for a first down, Belichick chose to go for it on fourth down and try and keep the ball out of quarterback Peyton Manning's hands.

THE PLAY

Tom Brady completed a pass to running back Kevin Faulk, who was driven backward by the Colts' Melvin Bullitt. After a measurement, Faulk was ruled short of the first down. Three Colts plays later, a Manning-to-Reggie Wayne TD pass and extra point with 13 seconds left a 35-34 victory.

THE AFTERMATH

There was plenty of second-guessing of Belichick's move. Had he outsmarted himself? Why didn't he punt and show more faith in his defense? 

“We thought we could win the game with that play,” he explained at the time. “That was a yard I was confident we could get.” Belichick had maintained it was more like fourth-and-long-1, rather than 2. Where the ball was spotted after the Faulk play is still the subject of debate.

Those Pats would go on to lose two of their next three, finish 10-6, still win the AFC East but get smoked by the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in Foxboro in a wild-card playoff game. Manning's team won its first 14 games, then rested its regulars and lost twice before reaching its first Super Bowl as the Indy Colts and losing to the New Orleans Saints. 

TODAY

When Indianapolis reporter Kevin Bowen tweeted about the play's 10th anniversary on Saturday, it stirred up memories for former Colts linebacker Gary Brackens, who recalled the disrespect he felt from Belichick's decision to test the Indy defense. 

To this day, "Fourth-and-2" means only one thing to most NFL fans.

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