At least, not rational ones.
In just about any other year, rooting for the franchise to not make the playoffs would be sacrilegious. After all, this is an organization that made a habit of winning division titles with ease over the course of two decades.
But it’s time to face reality.
Bill Belichick isn’t the same coach who preached about doing what’s best for the team while dedicating what seemed like every second of his existence to doing everything possible to win a Super Bowl title.
And while Belichick the general manager has overseen some solid drafts over the last three years, that doesn’t excuse some of the terrible personnel decisions he’s made dating back to the latter years of the Tom Brady era.
From selling low on Jimmy Garoppolo to foolishly using first-round picks on the underwhelming (to be kind) trio of Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, and N’Keal Harry to overpaying for the likes of Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor during a record-setting free-agent spending spree, Belichick has undoubtedly made quite a few franchise-altering mistakes from a roster management standpoint.
Plus, it doesn’t take a football expert to see the Patriots don’t have the same level of detail and execution as they did when they employed a real offensive coordinator.
In other words: Belichick’s choices with his coaching staff have also played a significant role in New England’s fall from the NFL mountaintop.
Now let’s get back to the Bills game.
Let’s say the Patriots hold Josh Allen in check (a tall task), score enough points on offense (perhaps an even taller one), and avoid the costly penalties and turnovers that have become the new norm in New England.
A victory would send them to the playoffs for the second straight season — and likely end the exact same way it did a year ago when the Bills defeated the Patriots in the divisional round by the lopsided score of 47-17.
Earning a postseason berth might be a noteworthy accomplishment for some franchises, but that’s not the case in New England.
In fact, Robert Kraft made it clear, dating back to the spring of 2021, that he expected a playoff victory–not just making it to the postseason.
It’s obvious the Patriots need reinforcements across the board. Not only do they have to figure out whether Mac Jones is actually a franchise quarterback, but they might need to overhaul a skill group that simply doesn’t scare NFL defenses.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s no doubt New England needs to invest heavily at offensive tackle, a position that can be quite costly. Between Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots have two players who look primed to play elsewhere in 2023.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots lack a true No. 1 corner, a hallmark of all of Belichick’s Super Bowl-winning teams. Rookies Marcus Jones and Jack Jones have shown plenty of promise, but neither projects to be on the level of former Patriots Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib, Stephon Gilmore, or J.C. Jackson.
Plus, the linebacker position could still use more talent, speed, and playmaking ability. And outside of Matthew Judon and Josh Uche (who’s poised to enter a contract year), the Patriots don’t have any established pass rushers.
Ultimately, both the roster and the coaching staff have deficiencies that must be addressed. And it might take a serious shakeup to get the needle moving in the right direction.
Yet if the Patriots pull off an upset against the Bills, what’s stopping Belichick from telling Kraft that he did his job by getting the team into the postseason? What’s stopping the second-winningest coach in NFL history from refusing to take orders or guidance about football-related decisions if he manages to sneak into the playoffs despite all that’s gone wrong in 2022?
Losing, however, would drop New England’s final record to 8-9 and force ownership to confront the fact that a franchise that won at a consistent clip unlike any other now operates with lower standards and has paid the price.
Instead of being a genuine championship contender, the Patriots remain much closer to being pretenders despite having a legitimately good defense. Until Belichick gets a competent coordinator to run the offense, bolsters the offensive line, and finds some impact playmakers, his team will stay right where it is.
At the end of the day, it’s time to rip the band-aid off and objectively look at the whole picture.
Is Bill Belichick still the right guy to run the show?
Is Mac Jones capable of being Tom Brady’s successor?
Is the defense good enough to compete against elite offenses?
Those are all questions ownership will have to consider heading into the offseason. And no matter how the Bills game goes, Robert Kraft needs to have a serious conversation with his highest-paid employee about what the plan for 2023 looks like.
And if the 81-year-old owner doesn’t like what he hears, he may have no choice but to find someone else to run his team.