For the first time in more than a decade, the title of AFC East champion may not be the New England Patriots. The division has been blown wide open by some spectacular off-season moves, such as Tom Brady departing Foxboro for the sunny climes of Tampa Bay. Other notable players to leave New England included Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins who headed to Miami and Detroit, respectively. So it’s fair to say the Pats are up against it this season but they still have NFL mastermind Bill Belichick at the helm. Here are the must-win games for the Patriots if they hope to prove to the world they are more than just a record-shattering quarterback.
3 Must-Win Games for the New England Patriots
Week 10: vs. Baltimore Ravens
The New England Patriots were almost on auto-pilot when they headed to Baltimore in 2019. They were 8-0 with a league-topping defense that was dubbed the Boogey Men and fans were practically already planning their Super Bowl parties.
That all changed when the Ravens not only beat the Patriots but embarrassed them with a game plan that shattered the Patriots’ appearance of invincibility and saw them seal a 37-20 victory.
From there, it was 4-3 and a mortifying loss to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs. If the Patriots can right last season’s wrong, they will definitely make a statement to the doubters who think they can’t compete without Brady.
This time, the Ravens are heading to Gillette Stadium and will be overwhelming favorites, which should play in New England’s favor as they always like to prove a point.
This year, the onus will be on the Ravens to live up to the hype and Lamar Jackson to deliver his MVP performance that shredded the Patriots’ defense last time around.
The match-up, which has been awarded a prime time Sunday night slot, will be an important factor in seeding should the Patriots make it to the playoffs.
Week 7: vs. San Francisco 49ers
When Jimmy Garoppolo was shipped to San Francisco, many were questioning the sage wisdom from Belichick. Once the 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl last season, the same doubters came out of the woodwork. But they chose to ignore the fact that the 49ers mostly relied on their dominant running game and Garopolo barely threw a pass.
So it will be interesting to see how he fares against his former defense, one whose talented secondary remains largely intact, when he returns to Gillette Stadium for the first time.
The Patriots will be coming off their bye week so will have plenty of time to prepare for the reigning NFC champions and the Patriots offense will need it as the 49ers have their own formidable defense.
San Francisco held opposing offenses to just 169 passing yards and an average of 19 points per game, so Tom Brady’s successor will need to be at his best with his weapons firing on all cylinders.
Divisional rivals Buffalo take on San Francisco three weeks later so it could also prove to be a deciding factor should the AFC East title come down to a common games tiebreaker.
Week 16: vs. Buffalo Bills
The most likely contender to usurp the Patriots’ AFC East crown is the Buffalo Bills who have a talented young quarterback in the form of Josh Allen. The Bills have just gifted with a top wide receiver in the form of Stefon Diggs and a hard-hitting secondary.
Because of this, both games against the Bills will be integral to the Patriots’ success this season but with this divisional match-up coming in the season’s penultimate week, it could all be on the line at Gillette in December.
The Patriots are 35-5 against the Bills since 2000 and haven’t lost to them since 2016 so it’s fair to say Belichick will have a plan. But that last loss in 2016 came with third-string backup Jacoby Brissett under center, so it may be that the Patriots may need to find a new way to beat the Bill without superstar Tom Brady. Whether they can do this could determine who lifts the AFC East title this season.
The Patriots can’t even think about making another Super Bowl run until they can win their division in the post-Brady era and this season, that depends on if they can overcome the Bills.
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