It was easy to count out the New England Patriots after a 7-9 record last season and a 2-4 start this year.
NFL fans declared the Patriots dynasty dead after dominating the league for the better part of two decades.
However, last year’s failure was more of a reset because they’ve found their footing recently.
Bill Belichick’s squad has won six games in a row to claim the AFC East summit with an 8-4 record.
The @patriots have the smartest team in football-on both sides of the ball-instead of telling you-I wanted to show you “how” @mikereiss @mikegiardi @patriotsdotcom @benvolin @patsnationtm #patriots pic.twitter.com/oqD4QfT4Je
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) November 29, 2021
They also hold the second seed in the AFC after a convincing victory against the Tennessee Titans.
But their recent success suggests a strong chance of playing at Super Bowl LVI.
Here are three reasons that may bring the franchise’s 12th appearance in the big game.
3. They Have A Pretty Solid Run Game
The Patriots win football games if they have at least 100 rushing yards.
The Patriots averaged 86.6 rushing yards in their first six games this season.
During the last six, they are generating 144 yards per contest.
When told that Mike Vrabel said the Patriots have one of the best run games
Belichick: Mike’s really tossing the bouquets
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) November 26, 2021
In their last game against Tennessee, New England had 105 rushing yards and a touchdown courtesy of Harris.
Stevenson and Harris combined for 125 yards against Atlanta.
The rookie from Oklahoma had his best game with 100 yards and two touchdowns against a physical Cleveland Browns defensive front.
Their offensive line also gets the credit for creating the gaps that the running backs exploit.
2. Their Defense Is Swarming Opponents
This side of the ball has always been Belichick’s specialty.
However, it’s hard to ignore what the Patriots’ defensive unit has established during their last six games.
They’ve limited opponents to 10.5 points per game over that stretch, including three games of fewer than 10 points surrendered.
The shutout against the Atlanta Falcons was the highlight of their run as they tallied four interceptions and four sacks.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 26, 2021
Having dominant players in every phase of their defensive alignments makes them an elite unit in preventing opponents from scoring.
As of writing, Jackson has seven picks in 2021, one behind league leader Trevon Diggs.
Ryan Tannehill coming off a four-pick game, facing the Patriots' defense without Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones.
Bill Belichick: pic.twitter.com/Stm65kcv4Q
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) November 27, 2021
Their flustering defense gives the other team no chance to put up enough points on the board.
The Patriots’ defense is a big reason they’ve defeated teams by an average of 24.6 points per game during their unbeaten run.
After Week 12, New England ranks fourth in yards allowed (316.7), third in passing yards surrendered (200.9), and first in points allowed (15.8) per game.
1. Mac Jones Is Mastering The Ropes
It’s still a mystery how Mac Jones ended up at New England with the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The rookie from Alabama will not dazzle you with flashy plays.
Instead, he is cerebral in dissecting defenses like that quarterback that started in Foxborough before Cam Newton.
Some NFL fans are arguing for Jones to be an MVP candidate despite his comparatively low numbers.
The @Patriots have 3 straight wins by 20 points with the same rookie starting QB, Mac Jones.
The only other team/rookie QB to do that all-time was the Seahawks with Russell Wilson in 2012 (Weeks 14-16). pic.twitter.com/mc8KNVCuFd
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 29, 2021
But what you get from him every game is a consistent performance that puts the Patriots in winning situations.
His feel for the game allows him to take command of the New England offense with surgical precision.
As a result, he has completed over 70 percent of his passes and has thrown for 16 touchdowns in 12 games.
For a rookie, it’s pretty remarkable how poised Mac Jones appears. Steady. Never feels rushed or lost. Totally under control.
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) November 28, 2021
He had the second 300-yard game of his career against Tennessee and had zero interceptions.
With more experience under Belichick’s tutelage, Jones will only get better.