The Patriots’ Must-Win Matchup Against the Dangerously Motivated Jets Is Only the Start of Bill Belichick’s Brutal Path to the Playoffs

If Bill Belichick wants to catch the legendary Don Shula sooner rather than later, he needs to figure out a way to fix an offense that’s mostly been unwatchable for the majority of the season. 

And he better do it quickly. 

With the New England Patriots coming off their bye with an unspectacular 5-4 record, the second-winningest coach in NFL history can’t afford any slip-ups, slow starts, or ill-advised decisions. In fact, if Belichick wants to coach his 45th playoff game in a matter of months, he has to utilize all of his game-planning brilliance to secure a victory over his former employer this week. 

Unfortunately for New England fans who’ve grown used to watching their beloved team defeat their biggest division rival on an annual basis, the New York Jets have gone from being a punching bag to a dangerous squad that possesses the potential to prevent the Patriots from earning a second straight postseason trip.

New England faces a must-win game against a vastly improved Jets team

Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit around the AFC East since Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa. While the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have made substantial leaps thanks to improved play by their respective franchise quarterbacks, both the Patriots and Jets still have a ways to go before they can be considered true Super Bowl contenders. 

Despite boasting the sixth-ranked scoring defense, Belichick’s team already faces a must-win game in mid-November. With the Dolphins and Bills looking primed to earn playoff berths, the Patriots are part of a deep group vying for the final wild-card spot. 

Of course, the 6-3 Jets also have their sights set on playing in January, which makes Sunday’s showdown at Gillette Stadium particularly important. 

After all, the Patriots can either put themselves in a position to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy or essentially wave goodbye to the 2022 season, depending on how they perform in Week 11. 

New England’s odds of making the playoffs currently sit at 46%, but a win over the much-improved Jets would boost that number to 58%. 

However, a home loss to Saleh’s squad would leave the Patriots with just a 29% chance of making the playoffs. 

Given the strength of the Jets’ front seven and the presence of terrific rookie corner Sauce Gardner, there’s no doubt an offense led by the undynamic duo of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge faces a monumental test Sunday.

Keys to victory for the Patriots to keep their playoff hopes alive

Although the Patriots escaped with a 22-17 victory over the Jets in Week 8, it’ll take a much better performance for them to earn a sweep. 

The most critical factor heading into what should be a highly physical matchup? 

New England’s offensive line. 

To no surprise, a unit coached by a former defensive coordinator has taken a sizable step back in 2022. Patricia simply hasn’t figured out a way to get the most out of a talented group that includes Trent Brown, David Andrews, and first-rounders Isaiah Wynn and Cole Strange.

As a result, Mac Jones has regressed in his second season to the point that the idea of rolling with fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe has actually seemed reasonable. 

If New England can’t scheme up a way to keep All-Pro candidate Quinnen Williams out of the backfield, it will be a significant challenge to move the ball and put up points. Plus, the Patriots can’t afford to let Carl Lawson (four sacks, 16 quarterback hits) and John Franklin-Myers (2.5 sacks, 12 QBH) take advantage of whoever starts at right tackle. 

Will Kendrick Bourne receive more playmaking opportunities? Or will a healthy DeVante Parker go back to getting the lion’s share of the snaps? 

Will Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith get utilized more in the passing game? And what about rookie Tyquan Thornton? Can Patricia take advantage of the wideout’s explosive speed and put pressure on the Jets’ secondary? 

If the Patriots fail to make any progress on that side of the ball, that will only put more stress on the defense to contain Zach Wilson, who’s looked nothing like the quarterback who tossed three picks against a feisty unit headlined by Pro Bowl pass rusher Matthew Judon and veteran safety Devin McCourty.

Ultimately, the Jets just need Wilson to take care of the ball, make a few plays with his legs, and let their defense make life difficult for Mac Jones.

A daunting schedule the rest of the way could cause major problems for Bill Belichick’s bunch

Bill Belichick during a Patriots-Jets matchup in October 2022
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick | Mike Stobe/Getty Images

For two decades, Patriot Nation could pencil in at least two victories a year. But these aren’t the same Jets that fell short on so many occasions against Brady and Belichick. 

Saleh’s ascension from the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers to head coach of arguably a top-10 team warrants tremendous praise. Sure, the Jets have to prove they can sustain success, but it’s impossible to look past the fact they’ve matched their win total from the past two seasons combined before Thanksgiving. 

As much of a challenge as the Jets pose now, thanks to a more talented roster and better coaching, the Patriots’ remaining schedule features matchups against other teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. 

Actually, few franchises can say they possess a more arduous path moving forward than Robert Kraft’s. 

Not only do the Patriots still have to play Josh Allen twice, but they also have to travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings in Week 12. Things will get particularly tough down the stretch with games against the high-octane Cincinnati Bengals (Week 16), Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins (Week 17), and the Bills to close out the season. 

So, even if Belichick works his magic at home against the Jets, he’ll have to be at his best throughout November and December to ensure the Patriots have a game that matters in January.

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