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Top 5 Threats to the Patriots Winning a Super Bowl: Reassessed

Previous: Top 5 Threats to the Patriots Winning a Super Bowl

So last week heading into the NFL Divisional Playoffs, I told you who I saw as the Top 5 threats that stand between the New England Patriots and yet another Lombardi Trophy. In case clicking that link above is too much work at the moment (we’ve all been there), I’ll give you a condensed version here.

5. Chiefs

4. Seahawks

3. Steelers

2. Cowboys

1. Packers

So now, with Kansas City, Seattle, and Dallas eliminated and Conference Championships rapidly approaching, we revisit this list and tell Patriots Nation who exactly we should be afraid of as the playoffs move forward.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Updated Threat Meter: 6 out of 10

Yes, it’s a little strange to say the only team New England is guaranteed to face in these playoffs is the least threatening. It’s also a little strange for your star receiver to violate team and league policy by live-streaming your coach’s postgame speech in which he refers to the team’s next opponent as “assholes.” Call Antonio Brown’s video what you will – funny, innocent, stupid – but there’s one label that’ll follow it all week long: a distraction. Now instead of preparing for what will be one of the biggest games of his career, Mike Tomlin is stuck answering questions about why his All-World receiver can’t follow simple instructions. Tomlin has denounced the video and said Brown will be “punished internally”, which I think translates to “we’re gonna take his phone away and make him think about what he did,” but questions will remain. Which is great news for Patriots fans, because as we know better than anyone, ridiculous off-field drama gets very old after a while.

As far as the actual game, these teams match up pretty evenly. Pittsburgh has managed to keep the core of their offense healthy for the first time, and although Kansas City kept them out of the end zone last week and held them to just six field goals, the Killer B’s still found a way to be effective. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards, Le’Veon Bell ran for another 170, and Brown caught 6 balls for 108 yards. When you combine that with a defense allowing under 250 total yards of offense, that’s how you win a playoff game on the road. That being said, I don’t anticipate similar success against New England’s high-powered offense. The Pats were tops in the AFC in almost every offensive category this year, including yards per game (386.3), passing yards per game (269.3), and points per game (27.6). The key to this game will be giving Tom Brady time to throw the ball, a luxury he did not enjoy in last week’s win over Houston. Pittsburgh was 9th in the NFL with 38 sacks this season, led by ageless James Harrison with 5, and whether it’s him coming off the edge or Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons coming up the middle, the Steelers have the potential to make Tom’s day a living hell. As long as the Pats offensive line does what they’ve done all year and gives Brady an adequate pocket, he can tear up this league-average defense.

2. Atlanta Falcons

Updated Threat Meter: 7 out of 10

If you read the post last week or even skimmed the top of this, you may have noticed something: the Falcons were nowhere to be found. That’s not because I don’t respect them as a team and think they have talent – I picked them to beat Seattle, after all – but more because I didn’t see them as a tough matchup for New England. But after last week’s 36-20 dismantling of the Seahawks in which MVP-candidate Matt Ryan threw for 338 yards and 3 TDs while completing passes to 8 different targets, my tone has shifted a bit. Not to mention the defense picking off Russell Wilson twice and holding Thomas Rawls to 34 yards on 11 carries. This Atlanta team is a legit contender, no doubt about it.

Defensively, despite how they looked last week, Atlanta needs some help. They let up over 25 points per game this season which put them at 27th in the NFL and were 28th in the league in passing yards allowed, giving up over 266 yards per game to opposing QBs. Although this is a testament to their offensive strength in that they could be this mediocre on defense and still win 11 games, there’s no doubt in my mind that Brady and OC Josh McDaniels are chomping at the bit to get out and execute against Atlanta’s weak secondary. Provided the Pats can execute offensively and Brady can spread the ball out as he loves to do, this matchup would come down to New England executing on defense against one of the most potent offensive units in football. Ryan is obviously a top NFL QB, proven by his 4,944 yards and 38 TDs on the year, but Atlanta has an onslaught of weapons that can disrupt even the most prepared defense. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are as terrifying a two-headed backfield monster as any we’ve seen in a while, and any Falcons discussion has to include Julio Jones. Jones finished 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards this year, and he recorded over 100 yards in 7 different games this season, including his ridiculous 12 catch, 300-yard performance in Week 4. Matchup-wise, Malcolm Butler with some safety help over the top could definitely give Jones a run for his money, which will leave the rest of New England’s D to neutralize Freeman, Coleman, TE Austin Hooper, and the rest of Atlanta’s weapons. It’s a tall order for sure, but one Matt Patricia will be happy to undertake if it means another Super Bowl victory.

1. Green Bay Packers

Updated Threat Meter: 8.5 out of 10

The Packers don’t have the longest current win streak in the NFL – they’re tied with New England with 8, while Pittsburgh has won 9 straight – but it’s still safe to say Green Bay is the hottest team in football right now. The Steelers and Patriots’ playoff births were never really in question as the season winded to an end, but when Week 17 rolled around the Packers were a loss and a Washington win away from missing the postseason entirely. They took the NFC North in primetime, then tossed aside the Giants and knocked off Dallas despite a depleted receiving core and find themselves a win away from the Super Bowl. They may not have the longest streak going, but they’re definitely the most confident.

Aaron Rodgers has played his ass off the last 8 weeks. His interception in the 3rd quarter last week was his first of the winning streak, and I think his 21 touchdowns and 69% completion rate make up for that just fine. Jordy Nelson was injured in their Wild Card win over New York and despite missing last week’s game remains a “long shot” to play in the NFC Championship. You have to think they’d be able to get him healthy enough to play in the Super Bowl provided they make it, but how effective he can be is a whole other question. On top of that, Davante Adams is now battling an ankle injury that Mike McCarthy thinks will keep him out of practice until at least Saturday. The rest of Green Bay’s receiving core has been stepping up big all throughout the winning streak, so they’ll manage, but the absence of Adams and Nelson could keep Green Bay out of the Super Bowl. As could another thing: their defense. Their defensive woes aren’t as detrimental as Atlanta’s but still present problems; they let up 24.3 points per game, 21st in football, and were ahead of only New Orleans in passing yards allowed per game. I sound like a broken record, I know, but this is a defense that Tom Brady can tear apart if he brings it like he can. And assuming this would be a hypothetical Super Bowl matchup, I’m projecting based on Brady playing vintage Brady big-game football. So Green Bay is definitely the biggest threat to New England because of their momentum, but it’s still a favorable matchup for the Patriots.

Which, at this point, is obvious. That’s why the Patriots are at +110 to win the Super Bowl even though teams led by Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger are still in contention, and that’s why opposing quarterbacks like Big Ben are saying stupid shit like “They’re the dragon and we have to slay them.” Nobody in Foxborough is assuming it’s going to come easy, and no true fan that knows the game is taking work off for the parade any time soon, but it’s New England’s trophy to lose at this point; and with Brady as pissed off and locked in as he is, I wouldn’t bank on that happening.


  • Youngest member of the RSJ team. Boston sports and not much else. 0 for 2 closing the deal on Tinder dates. Venmo: @SeanKeegan

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