The gap between the upper-tier and the middle-tier, even the lower-tier, has never been smaller.
But there is a caveat with the Patriots Super Bowl run, led by Tom Brady, who is quietly playing as well as he has ever played in his life.
Brady and the offense must get some extra help these days, particularly with Rob Gronkowski getting 12 months off and with left tackle Nate Solder flirting with some heavy duty free time with concussion issues.
For the Patriots to beat any NFL team of note from here on out – .500 or better – Brady & Co. on offense need some, not a lot, of help from the other two units of the team: Defense and special teams.
By help we mean, a special play on special teams and a key sack and key turnover on defense.
The Patriots defense, while having some decent moments of late, haven’t made the memorable play the last two weeks. And the Patriots paid once (on Sunday) and almost paid the week before against the Browns.
The Patriots also can’t miss a field goal, which really is unfair. But it’s true. Stephen Gostkowski can’t afford to miss a field goal, from anywhere.
If the Patriots can do all of that, make a play on defense here, make a 52-yard field goal, or maybe a 60-yard return there (see the Ravens on Monday night), then Brady will do the rest.
While this Patriots season has been wildly entertaining to watch – they are 14 for 14 in terms of hitting the Entertainment Quotient – and has been hugely successful (10-4 is tied for third best record), it could come to end in a hurry unless three things happen:
The offense, defense and special teams all do their job. Anything less on any given Sunday in January and it’s probably going to end like it did Sunday.
But if they get “other” two phases to do something, Brady will do his part and the Patriots can beat any team … Yes, any team.
Email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.