Patriots

Why Stephen A. Smith admits Patriots are legit Super Bowl contenders

Patriots

The New England Patriots are arguably the hottest team in the NFL with a five-game win streak after beating the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. 

The Week 11 victory over the Atlanta Falcons improved the Patriots' record to 7-4, good for the No. 5 seed in the AFC. They're also one loss behind the Buffalo Bills for first place in the AFC East division.

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The Patriots' turnaround from a 2-4 team into a legit contender has been impressive, and it's even turning some skeptics into believers.

That includes ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.

"Right now, they are, I have to confess," Smith said Friday on ESPN show "First Take". "Here's the deal: The Patriots defense is what does it for me. I'm looking at them and see (Kyle) Van Noy, (Devin) McCourty, (J.C.) Jackson, and they're the No. 2 ranked defense in the league. They are No. 2 against the pass and No. 2 against the rush. These boys are legit in that regard. So, for me, that's what stands out.

"Everybody looks at Mac Jones. Mac Jones is a damn good quarterback. He's got a really bright future, landed in the perfect system with the perfect coaches in Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick to guide him and bring him along. This kid Rhamondre Stevenson can run with the football. Damien Harris can run with the football, so can Brandon Bolden. They got three different guys averaging more than four yards per carry.

 

"I'm looking at the Patriots and saying, what wins in the playoffs, particularly when you have to travel? It's defense and the run game, and they have both -- that's what stands out. What's going to stand in their way? Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen could potentially stand in their way. Know what my problem is with all three guys? They're all young and have to go against Bill Belichick. Patrick Mahomes did it (and won) the year (the Chiefs) went to the Super Bowl. ... Belichick's defense has given Mahomes a rough go of it from time to time. Belichick is a genius coaching on that sideline. He knows what he's doing."

Here's the full segment:

The Patriots haven't clinched a playoff spot yet, and they still have a couple tough games remaining on their schedule, including a Week 12 matchup with the conference-leading Tennessee Titans and two games with the Bills. 

But Smith makes a great point. The Patriots have a top defense and a very effective rushing attack -- perhaps the two most ingredients for winning in the playoffs. It also helps to have the best head coach in league history patrolling the sidelines.

The Patriots are quickly becoming the opponent that no team in the AFC will want to play on Wild Card Weekend.