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After falling to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, the New England Patriots looked destined to miss the playoffs. With a 2-4 record and seemingly no shot at stealing the AFC East back from the Buffalo Bills, it appeared as though Bill Belichick’s expensive spending spree would not lead to a postseason berth.

How quickly things can change, though.

Since suffering a 35-29 loss to Dak Prescott and Co. in Week 6, the Patriots have ripped off five straight wins. And by rediscovering their vintage form, the six-time Super Bowl champions have put themselves in a position to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Foxborough.

Suddenly the scariest team in the NFL, New England looks capable of winning a title even with a rookie quarterback. Ironically, in a sport that’s well-suited for the world of analytics and data collection, a single statistic shows exactly why no one should want to face Belichick’s team.

While their 7-4 record doesn’t put them at the top of the league in terms of winning percentage, the Patriots deserve tremendous praise for the way they’ve performed on both sides of the ball during their five-game winning streak. Not only have they shown marked improvement along the offensive line, but the passing game has taken tangible steps forward. And a defense that allowed the Cowboys to rack up the most yards (567) of the Belichick era has transformed into an elite unit.

By dominating the line of scrimmage, cutting down on turnovers, and making Zach Wilson, Mike White, Justin Herbert, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Matt Ryan pay for throwing ill-advised passes, the Patriots have racked up victories in convincing fashion. Their hot streak has allowed them to leap up the standings and make significant strides in one simple but key statistic: point differential.

By defeating the New York Jets (54-13), Los Angeles Chargers (27-24), Carolina Panthers (24-6), Cleveland Browns (45-7), and Atlanta Falcons (25-0) with relative ease, New England has a +123 point differential, which ranks second in the league behind Buffalo’s +145. However, according to ESPN, the Bills have had the easiest strength of schedule, which makes their mark look less impressive.

While the Patriots certainly haven’t had the toughest slate of opponents, they’ve done what elite teams do: dominate inferior competition and make talented ones look ordinary by taking away their biggest strengths.

In particular, the defense has become incredibly dangerous over the last month or so. After some early-season growing pains that included penalties, substitution miscues, and too much man coverage, Belichick has figured out a formula that works. With rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore emerging as a force alongside top free-agent addition Matt Judon, familiar faces like Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower back to their old tricks, and Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and J.C. Jackson all playing well in the secondary, the Patriots have climbed all the way to No. 2 in points allowed at 16.1 per game.

Interestingly, they’ve developed into arguably the league’s best defense despite getting rid of All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. That speaks volumes about the level of execution by the players and the well-devised game plans put together by Belichick and his coaching staff.

Plus, let’s not ignore the strong work done by the offense, either. Josh McDaniels’ stock has gone way up in recent weeks thanks to his play-calling brilliance and knack for putting players in positions to shine. Although the Patriots lack a true No. 1 receiver, they have a variety of wideouts, tight ends, and running backs who can contribute. McDaniels has done a fantastic job setting his rookie quarterback up for success by utilizing different personnel packages, incorporating a few trick plays, and getting the ground game going.

Meanwhile, Mac Jones has excelled at delivering the ball accurately and on time to whoever gets open.

With the offense and the defense both rounding into form and their special teams units also excelling (kicker Nick Folk may be a top-five MVP candidate on this team), the Patriots have simply outclassed the competition in every way. Moving forward, they can be even better, especially given their history of ramping things up down the stretch.

Belichick’s players have supreme confidence in the coaching staff, and it looks like the coaching staff trusts the players to do their jobs and execute their assignments.

Sounds familiar, right?

Are the Patriots perfect?

Of course not.

They certainly don’t have great depth at corner. They don’t have an elite receiver who keeps defensive coordinators up at night. And they don’t have a lot of speed at linebacker.

What they do have, though, is the greatest coach in NFL history, a veteran defense that features rising stars like Barmore and Dugger, and a blue-collar offense with two talented running backs, solid pass catchers, a top-10 offensive line, and a smart, tough, and poised quarterback.

As long as the Patriots stay on their current path, they will only become even more dangerous heading into the playoffs. In fact, they could win the division and earn a first-round bye.

Unfortunately for the loyal members of Bills Mafia, Bill Belichick is far from finished. And with the way his team is playing, every AFC contender should be frightened by the idea of facing the Patriots during the postseason.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference


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