Patriots forcing opponents to self-destruct could lead to late January games in New England

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The Off Day, Ep. 199: Recapping Patriots' big win over Bills
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Through 13 games, do we know just how good the Patriots are?

Not really.

The Patriots have won seven straight after opening the season 2-4, so will go into their bye week at 9-4 and on top of the AFC standings. They are also ensured of remaining in first place following Week 14 action because of their 7-1 conference record.

While they have outscored opponents 225-73 over the seven-game win streak, it’s hard not to notice a number of things have gone their way, particularly with injuries.

The Patriots have been extremely healthy during this stretch, while their opponents have not.

Against Carolina, Christian McCaffrey was on a pitch count and Sam Darnold was still at quarterback. Then the next several weeks Patriots opponents were missing key players due to injury: Nick Chubb (Browns), Kareem Hunt (Browns), Cordarrelle Patterson (Falcons), Calvin Ridley (Falcons), Derrick Henry (Titans), A.J. Brown (Titans), Julio Jones (Titans) and Tre’Davious White (Bills).

We don’t really know how the Patriots would have done against these teams at full strength, but what we do know is their recipe for success — win the coaching battle and capitalize on mistakes — is working.

Monday night’s win in Buffalo could not have been a more perfect of an example.

Given the miserable weather conditions (heavy winds), the coaching element of the game played more of a factor and Bill Belichick owned Sean McDermott. Clearly, Belichick was in his head as the Bills coach was very defensive after the game when asked what it was like going up against Belichick.

“Let’s not give more credit than we need to give credit to Bill Belichick in this one,” McDermott said. “Whether it’s Bill or anybody else, they beat us. You sit here and you tell me when we start with an average starting field position of the 40-yard line and he starts at the 23-yard line … and we were 1-for-4 in the red zone and they were 0-for-1 in the red zone — you give me that ahead of time and I would say, ‘I like my chances.’

“I don’t think, with all due respect, it’s not a Bill Belichick-type thing. It’s what are you doing with the opportunities you’ve got? We turn the ball over at the plus-30 something yard line, it’s sloppy football. I’m very comfortable in that situation.”

McDermott’s goal was to explain why Belichick didn’t deserve credit, but instead he brought up stats that illustrated just how much better the Patriots coach was.

And while the turnover battle finished even at one, all the Patriots needed were two field goals after an early Damien Harris long touchdown run because the Bills couldn’t capitalize on their scoring opportunities, going 1-for-4 in the red zone, including not scoring at all when they had first-and-goal from the 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter.

The Bills aren’t alone with this, either, especially against the Patriots.

The Patriots have certainly played well, but the biggest key to their success has certainly been not making mistakes and then capitalizing on their opponents’.

“We knew if we didn't turn the ball over, we'd be good,” Mac Jones said after Monday’s win, but that’s really been the motto in all these games.

Going into the season the thought was playing like this would be good enough to maybe compete for a division title, but at the very least be right in the thick of the wild card race.

Because of the poor play across the rest of the conference and no team having fewer than four losses, the Patriots now find themselves the No. 1 overall seed with a month remaining.

And looking at the rest of the conference with the current standings, this same style of play could be enough to get a few wins in the postseason.

Belichick against Zac Taylor, Brandon Staley, Kevin Stefanski and McDermott in a playoff game at Gillette Stadium, is there really much doubt on how that would go — provided the Patriots continue to play mistake-free?

The way things are going it feels like the only teams with a realistic shot at beating the Patriots in January are the Chiefs, Titans and Ravens — solid teams with successful head coaches.

Yes, this is projecting well into the future, but as things stand right now the Patriots could potentially play in the AFC title game primarily because of teams self-destructing and them taking full advantage.

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