Patriots have the opportunity for more than just holiday cheer this year


You hear that noise?

It’s more than a knocking. Much louder and increasingly aggressive.

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It’s actually built to a borderline barbaric banging that’s impossible to ignore anymore.

Massive opportunity is not only at the Patriots’ NFL door it is seemingly trying to burst through it.

Long gone is a floundering New England squad convinced it was better than its 2-4 record, trying prove as much to the rest of the dubious world.

Now, amidst a mini-bye week following last Thursday night’s 25-0 dismantling of the Falcons in Atlanta to stretch its winning streak to five games, Bill Belichick’s boys head toward the ever important post-Thanksgiving schedule with the chance to prove that this already good year indeed may be something special.

Forget simply trying to compete as a rebuilding roster led by an impressive upstart rookie quarterback. Nope, New England is now a team with legitimate postseason aspirations and one that can claim it is playing maybe as well as any in the NFL.

Thanks to the Colts beating the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday, the idle Patriots slid into first place in the AFC East.

Meanwhile, Houston upset the banged up Titans in Tennessee. That dropped Mike Vrabel’s AFC-leading group to 8-3, just one game better than New England ahead of this Sunday’s matchup between the conference foes at Gillette Stadium.

That gargantuan drumstick of a game kicks off a month-plus of action for New England that could catapult a team that’s already proven that it’s playoff-worthy into the hierarchy of actual Super Bowl contenders.

Heck, only three teams in the NFL have more wins than the Patriots. No team has a longer winning streak. And as far as truly elite teams playing consistently winning football? Well, outside of New England those don’t really exist these days, although the once-struggling Chiefs are making their own midseason run.

Who saw this coming? Way back when Cam Newton was still competing with Mac Jones to lead a team built on big-money free agency spending many had reserved and reasonable expectations for year-over-year Patriots improvement. When the year started 1-3, even with New England showing some fight, there was no reason to believe that greatness might be brewing.

Now, though, having already matched the win total from a year ago, the Patriots almost have a Kevin Garnett feeling to them: “Anything is possible!”

After hosting the Titans, New England will then travel to Buffalo with a chance to solidify its hold on the AFC East, a grasp it had for essentially two decades but one that the Bills Mafia thought it had taken over with Josh Allen’s arrival as an MVP candidate and Tom Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay. As Lee Corso would say, not so fast.

That divisional battle leads into the bye week to prepare for a trip to Indy to take on the suddenly upstart Colts, followed by a hosting of Buffalo on the day after Christmas.

Talk about a busy holiday season! Hope the Patriots have already done their shopping. Four games against fellow AFC playoff contenders, including a pair against a talented, balanced Bills squad that’s supposed to be the measuring stick in the division and maybe the conference?

It’s a stretch that at one point in the process appeared to be a bit ominous and potentially season-altering for the worse. Now, though, it’s nothing less than a massive opportunity to not only do damage in the standings but for the Patriots to prove their mettle and maybe establish themselves as the team to beat in a year in which it’s appearing difficult for any team in the NFL to ascend to such a perch for more than a game or two.

Thanksgiving is here, meaning so too are the most important games on the NFL schedule. We’ve learned as much over the decades of the Patriots dynastic dominance. A year ago, post-Thanksgiving action was nothing more than disappointingly fraudulent “paths” to the postseason, blowout losses and the harsh oncoming reality of a playoff-free offseason during which a critical rebuild would need to be performed.

That work in free agency and what may end up being an historically good draft by Belichick and Co. in the rearview mirror, the Patriots aren’t just back to late-season NFL relevance they might just be on the verge of a something special. If you don’t hear opportunity knocking at the Patriots door, if you don’t feel the hope building by the day in Patriot Nation, well you may just be hopeless.

This is the time of the year where you simply have to believe, as anyone who has seen “The Polar Express” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” can tell you.

Because over the next five weeks, while the world is gorging on Turkey, trimming its trees and celebrating with holiday cheer from coast to NFL-loving coast, the Patriots are embarking on what could very well be a season-defining stretch of games.

Forget just returning to the postseason after a one-year absence, over the next four games New England has the chance to prove itself worth of much loftier winter goals.

Speaking of hearing things, I hear L.A. can be nice in February.

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