Skip to main content

Even the greatest head coach in NFL history needed some lucky breaks to win six Super Bowl titles. And while Bill Belichick didn’t have the football gods on his side when Nick Folk’s 56-yard field-goal attempt against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clanked off the left upright, it seems like he’s had someone looking out for him during the New England Patriots’ five-game winning streak.

After all, while Belichick’s squad deserves credit for stepping up, it’s fair to question how much of their success stems from facing short-handed opponents. And thanks to yet another fortuitous stroke of injury luck, the Patriots have a prime opportunity to capture their sixth straight victory.

Bill Belichick just caught a huge break heading into a home matchup against Mike Vrabel’s Titans

The battle between Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel isn’t over already, but it certainly looks like the legendary coach has an excellent chance to send his former player back to Tennessee with a second consecutive loss.

Despite heading into Gillette Stadium with an 8-3 record, the Titans don’t appear poised to leave New England with win No. 9. After all, it’s hard to beat Belichick on any day.

It’s even more difficult when you’re missing key players.

Fortunately for the Patriots’ No. 1-ranked scoring defense, Titans star A.J. Brown will miss Sunday’s showdown. The Pro Bowl wideout suffered chest, rib, and hand injuries during a Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans. Tennessee placed him on injured reserve Saturday, which means he’ll be out for a minimum of three weeks.

Not having to face Brown represents a massive win for New England. A physically dominant receiver with an excellent blend of strength and athleticism, the 6-foot-1, 226-pounder would have presented a tough matchup. Instead, Belichick and his staff won’t have to spend a single second worrying about Brown doing damage against a secondary that’s been firing on all cylinders over the last month.

In addition, the Titans ruled out starting linebackers David Long and Rashaan Evans, starting right guard Nate Davis, and starting running back Jeremy McNichols. Of course, MVP candidate Derrick Henry remains sidelined with a foot injury, and Julio Jones recently landed on IR because of a problematic hamstring.

Needless to say, the Patriots have much better odds of moving to 8-4 simply due to the current state of their opponent’s roster.

Facing short-handed opponents has made it much easier for the Patriots to secure five straight wins

Tennessee’s brutal run of bad injury luck bodes well for Belichick’s chances of earning his 288th career regular-season victory. But even if the Patriots boast a six-game winning streak after Sunday, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a lock to make the Super Bowl.

After all, it would be unfair to overlook some of the breaks they’ve received along the way.

In Week 7, the Patriots faced a New York Jets team that did not have starting linebacker C.J. Mosley available. Plus, after forcing Zach Wilson to leave the game with an injury, they secured their first of five straight wins by stopping the flash-in-the-pan known as Mike White.

Two weeks later, New England received two major breaks when the Carolina Panthers lost starting center Matt Paradis and starting offensive tackle Cameron Erving to in-game injuries. Plus, it didn’t hurt to face a struggling version of Sam Darnold, either.

Remember that 45-7 blowout win over the Cleveland Browns? That came against an offense that just got rid of Odell Beckham Jr. and didn’t have Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt available.

While the defense deserves credit for pitching a shutout against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football, holding them scoreless doesn’t look as spectacular considering Matt Ryan didn’t have Calvin Ridley or Cordarrelle Patterson at his disposal.

The Patriots have allowed the fewest points per game (16.1) in the NFL, but would that mark be that low if their opponents had been at full strength? Yes, they’ve executed at a high level. At the same time, though, there’s no doubt they’ve benefitted from going against depleted offenses.

With A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, and Derrick Henry all set to miss Sunday’s matchup, New England once again gets to go up against an opponent who looks poorly equipped to compete against Belichick’s defense.

But if that leads to a sixth win, will that really be impressive?

New England must be considered a top Super Bowl contender in the wide-open AFC

The Patriots can’t control their schedule. They can’t control who suits up or who suffers a setback. They can, however, control how they perform on the field. And based on what they’ve done across their last five games, it’s clear they’re one of the best teams in their conference.

Does that guarantee Belichick will add another Super Bowl ring to his collection?

Of course not.

But with a strong offensive line, a tough, accurate quarterback, and an aggressive, opportunistic defense, he has the elements needed to win a championship. And while the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens may have better top-end talent, they’ve all shown weaknesses that could lead to premature postseason exits.

Ultimately, there’s a ton of football left to play. Injuries can strike at any time, which makes it entirely possible for the playoff landscape to get turned upside down over the coming weeks.

At this point though, the Patriots look like the strongest contender in the AFC. And if they keep getting lucky breaks the rest of the way, perhaps the Lombardi Trophy will make its way back to Foxborough sooner than everyone expected.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.


Bill Belichick’s Powerful Words Should Help Hall of Fame Hopefuls Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork Secure Their Well-Earned Busts in Canton