The new-look New England Patriots clinched an AFC playoff spot on Sunday with a drubbing of the inferior Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. It'll be the franchise's 18th trip to the postseason under coach Bill Belichick and the 22nd trip under owner Robert Kraft, the most by any team since he took over back in 1994.
Entering the league's first-ever Week 18, the Patriots' playoff seed isn't set in stone. Although they currently own the conference's fifth seed with a record of 10-6 -- this means a wild-card road matchup -- they still have a path to the top overall seed and a first-round bye. No matter where New England finishes, NFL Red Zone host Scott Hanson believes the team is equipped to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 56.
"The Patriots are capable of beating any team that's in those top-four seeds. They're capable of beating every team," Hanson told The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday. "It's not necessarily saying, 'I think all their personnel is the best.' It's more like, 'You know, I think Belichick would find a way.' If you had to pick, could I really say, 'The Titans will find a way,' even if that game is in Nashville?
"I'd say, give me the Patriots. I know Bengals fans are probably howling at me right now, Bills fans are probably howling at me right now. But the Bengals are still young, and the Bills haven't gone on a respectable winning streak in the regular season this year... You've got to put together a three, four game streak to win the Super Bowl... So, give me the Patriots. I'll just throw it out there."
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has been head and shoulders above of his rookie competition. He currently leads all first-year passers in top categories, and owns a 67.6 completion percentage with 3,540 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. The team has also exerted dominance on the other side of the ball. Through 16 games, they rank first in the league in average points allowed, third in average yards, and tied for second in total takeaways.
New England will visit the Miami Dolphins (8-8) in a regular season finale on Sunday, with kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. The possibility of an AFC East title remains for the Patriots, but it's contingent upon a win in South Beach and a Buffalo (10-6) loss to the New York Jets. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Patriots have a 5-percent chance to clinch the division and a 3-percent chance to reach the Super Bowl.
The entire NFL conversation between Hanson and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.
You can follow The Zach Gelb Show on Twitter @ZachGelb and Tom Hanslin @TomHanslin.